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The Solus Project Review (PS4)

The Solus Project came as something of a surprise to Playstation VR owners. Starting out as a normal screen based game on Steam, it soon came with an optional VR setting for HTC Vive and Oculus owners. Shortly after, it arrived on the PlayStation Store with the same screen / VR options. As a game developed by a small group of people it will likely astonish with the depth of VR capability, placing it among the very few VR games in existence that places the player in a fully explorable world.

The Solus Project Review (PS4)

Introduction

The Earth is no more. A desperate clutch of surviving humanity takes to the stars in a final ditch effort to find a new home. As one of these astronauts, we find ourselves separated and stranded from the rest of the fleet. As bits of debris fall from the sky, we are forced to make ends meet on this mysterious alien planet. The central focus of The Solus Project is to constantly remind the player that they do not belong here. We inhabit a vulnerable character who does not fight. This character is at the mercy of hostile and deadly plant life, weather and traps.

The Solus Project is available for purchase now on Steam, The Playstation Store and on XboxOne's Microsoft Store

Story

Soon after we crash land on this mysterious planet, we discover a crucial recorded message. It suggests our human counterparts in the stars have some notion that we’re stuck down here. From this point forward, the overriding objective of the game is set; establish communication with the fleet.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - Crash landing

Between the beginning of the game and achieving this objective, exposure to plot threads are few and far between. We rarely hear dialogue from the person we play as. Even more rarely do we hear communications from our friends up in the stars. This is by no means a complaint. Players will soon learn The Solus Project’s greatest strength is to allow the player to figure things out by themselves as they explore an alien world, steeped in mystery. Each line of dialogue or discovery that prompts speech can be literally hours apart, adding to their significance. In light of that, it wouldn’t be fair to explore any of The Solus Project's story details in this review without risking serious spoilers. 

All I can say is, around thirty minutes into The Solus Project, the player will find evidence of an ancient alien civilisation. Information on this is slowly drip fed to us, relying on sheer intrigue to keep us turning around every corner. There is an odd duality of the ancient alien storyline and the getting home storyline. One outweighs the other heavily and as players continue onward, they’ll likely wonder which of the two is more relevant to The Solus Project's final outcome.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - Mysterious text

All the while, the story found in The Solus Project is a linear one. I say this because, anybody would assume from the images found here, that this could be an open world adventure. Yet, story beats and dialogue sequences unfold as a result of direct player discovery along a linear route with great stretching views. 

Gameplay

As mentioned at the start of this review, The Solus Project can be experienced normally on screen or with a VR headset. Naturally, as a headset owner, I wasted no time jumping into the VR mode. Here I was thinking VR games with move controllers would eternally limit the player’s movement. After all, we don’t have joysticks on Move controllers. Without getting too bogged down in the button mapping, I will say I was impressed with how Teotl Studios made free movement so easy. Using the Move controllers to move freely and jump when needed felt unnatural to start with. But I’m confident whoever picks up The Solus Project for  its VR offering will get to grips with it fairly quickly.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - Alien windmill

Perhaps in my case, the controls were a little too easy to grasp as I barrelled ahead in the game, beating its tutorial screens to the punch. Near the start of The Solus Project, I was often told how to do something long after figuring it out on my own. The result was having to craft the same thing twice which, in a roundabout way, meant I was making life harder for myself by…getting on with the game. This slightly jarring moment came as a sharp contrast to the excellent presentation on show in Solus’s opening five minutes. Small gripes aside, when the game stopped trying to hold my hand, things quickly got interesting.

Now, truly free to go wherever I wanted, descending into cave systems would reveal alien artifacts. These can be collected to boost player stats and resistance buffs. The astronaut will surely need to find at least a few to survive the game to conclusion. We do not inhabit a super soldier. The astronaut is not a fighter at all. And the gameplay mechanics reflect this incredibly well. If the player gets the astronaut wet, they must then figure out how to dry off and warm up to prevent hypothermia setting in. We have to make sure we’ve consumed enough calories and water to have the energy to go on. All of these things play into quality of sleep, which saves the game and heals the astronaut. Even finding somewhere safe to sleep is a small task in itself. If night falls, we’ll start getting very cold and even heavy rain is a threat to our well being.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - The depths

Surviving all of this comes down to a simple crafting system. Despite its simplicity, some thought will need to go into combinations of items to get what you need. Perhaps it’s best to think of The Solus Project as a sci-fi version of Castaway. Except, sadly, we don’t have a ball to carry around with free Wilson customisation. Planning and proper thought will have to go into exploring deep alien cave systems, inside of which are nestled alien temples. While we may be safe from the elements, other dangers can lurk in the depths. No, not the simple solution of nasty monsters. The Solus Project is smarter than that. Food is a lot harder to find down here and some corridor sections swell with water, dependant on the tide. We could swim through but we’d be cold and wet and risk dousing our flaming torch… Our only source of light.

Cleverly, despite the lack of monsters to eat us, these cave systems succeed in putting you on edge. One slip up with your resources could put you at a severe disadvantage. To keep track of your physical state, you’ll need your trusty PDA. In VR, it was great to physically hold up the PDA to read it while using the other move controller to press its buttons. I could bleep my way through this interactive menu screen for several things. These include checking objectives, seeing information on scanned mysteries, select sleep time and review my physical condition. It’s clear to see that the novelties of VR have not yet worn off on me and similar physical quirks were enjoyable when holding up a torch to better light up a cave. The Solus Project has earned my respect with how well they’ve integrated an otherwise normal indie so thoroughly into VR mechanics. 

Graphics & Sound

The Solus Project’s first images are those of space. With the camera hovering above distant planets, we get off to a visually impactful start. As we descend into our new adventure, the escape pod is incredibly detailed with personal pictures of family and pets lining the walls. In this small capsule of intricate design, we can spot an altitude meter to the left. Both graphics and sound in this opening moment are great. The pod heats up as we enter the planet’s atmosphere, and all kinds of rattling and plummeting sounds can be heard. We really get the sense that this crash landing is going to hurt.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - Disaster strikes

A shame then, that transitioning from this scene to the next was poorly handled. We expect to hear a great crashing sound and a rattling camera. Instead the screen fades to black, stays black for about a minute, followed by a long loading screen… Then, like magic the game begins. There’s no great reveal of an alien horizon or a struggled climb out of the pod. I feel the game could have benefited from this greatly and it shouldn’t have been too difficult to do. This jarring transition sadly speaks for the rest of the game. Occasionally, we’ll get so far in a cave and we’ll be welcomed with another long black screen before the load. For a moment, I thought the game had simply crashed.

The Solus Project also risks putting players off with its lacklustre graphical presentation. In contrast to the wonderfully detailed escape pod, stumbling around the first playable moments afterwards will feel visually underwhelming. Textures are both angular and softly detailed. Sure, the stretching views we see in loading screens look great. But when we’re in amongst it, The Solus Project definitely has to fall back on its air of mystery to carry players through. With that, I would recommend that you at least discover some alien mysteries before you give up on the game. Honestly, as soon as these discoveries gained some traction, I forgot about the underwhelming visuals. A bit like watching a great anime show and forgetting you’re reading subtitles. When playing on a normal screen, The Solus Project's graphical misgivings are lessened massively, due to the more compressed image. As a result, many VR owners may feel more comfortable not using their headsets for this one.

The Solus Project Review (PS4) - Temple entrance

Sound design compliments The Solus Project to yet further distract from these underwhelming visuals. Players will hear distant debris plummeting from the stars above and crashing far away. Trickling water features in caves are crisp and can even lead you to the source, should you listen carefully enough. What little we have in the way of music and voice acting fits the tone of The Solus Project perfectly. When certain discoveries are made, musical cues will push you on, adding to significance of what you just found. Suffice it to say, The Solus Project’s sense of mystery and drama would be non existent without its carefully timed musical cues and ominous noises emanating from the depths of cave systems. Despite my comments on its graphics, The Solus Project’s world remains a poignant one. It’s designed in such a way that this place truly feels alien. Nearby planets can even be seen orbiting above in the night sky, moving through their rotation. 

Conclusion

Who is The Solus Project for? Well it’s great that you can play the game with or without a VR headset for starters. Its story definitely deserves to be heard by those with the patience to get through it. That’s the key when deciding if this game is for you. Are you a patient gamer? For our older readers out there, they’ll get a good sense of what The Solus Project is offering if they combine Myst with The Forest. It may be too easy to feel put off by the visuals when first stepping away from that escape pod. But ultimately, The Solus Project succeeds with strengths found in other, more subtle areas. The first cave exploration and the risks that come with it, will doubtless stick in the mind for some time to come. And the story on offer is one of intrigue and mystery.  

PROSCONS
+ Great atmosphere of intrigue and mystery– Super long load times
+ Survival mechanics are perfect– Visuals fall short at times
+ Well told story even with the sparse dialogue– Slow to gain momentum
8.5
Great

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