The Solus Project is an Early Access game that was first made available on February 18, 2016. It comes to us from Grip Games and Teotl Studios and is the successor to 2010’s “The Ball.” A copy of the game was provided for review purposes, but the game can be purchased on Steam for $14.99 USD.
A couple years ago, I remember my great friend Jeremy Stratton did some live streams of a unique looking adventure/puzzle game called The Ball. At the time, I thought the game looked really interesting, but I never did any research on it, so it left my mind until a few weeks ago when I received a PR email relating to The Solus Project. The title caught my eye, but without expecting much I skimmed the email, finding a pleasant surprise when the e-mail mentioned that this game is a sequel of sorts to The Ball. That alone made me a bit more intrigued, and then I read on, finding that this was a survival game, set on an alien world, dealing with lost civilizations, and involving dangerous environments.
The game takes place in the year 2183. In the year 2115, scientists discover a rogue class-B star that’s on an eventual collision course with the Earth. In preparation, they begin designing several large ark-like vessels that can carry a fairly substantial amount of humans, plants, and animals, and begin an interstellar journey to find a new home. In 2149, three large Prolus ships are launched, heading to a safe zone just outside of Pluto. In 2151, the Earth is finally destroyed. Eventually, a special endeavor is organized whereby five ships will leave the Prolus area and travel on long interstellar journeys to one of five potential candidates for a future home for humanity (Interstellar, anyone?), each journey being at least 15 or so years each way. Based on the year mentioned on the computer, your character has (2183), so it seems that their specific mission began back in 2168.
So, with this setting, we take on the role of an astronaut/pioneer aboard one of these ships, in this case TSP-3, which arrives in the orbit of the planet Gliese-6143-C. The world has a red surface and large, vast oceans filled with islands. The climate seems to support life, and thus the world is one of the five selected as a viable candidate. Yet, as the ship pulls nearer to the planet itself, a flash of light is seen and some sort of energy pulse smashes into the ship, blowing it apart within just a few seconds. Escape pods are launched and the survivors of the attack are jettisoned down to the planet’s surface. We take the role of one of these individuals, whose pod lands on an island all by itself, with no one else in sight.
After you exit your capsule, you (thankfully) quickly pick up a PDA called WILSON. This device will be a lifesaver for you in many ways. First, it can act as a communication receiver, which is certainly a useful thing, but it’s also what monitors your vital signs and other factors critical to your survival. In the game, your core body temperature, overall wetness (which factors into things like hypothermia), amount of sleep or lack thereof, thirst, and hunger levels are all vital to your survival. How immediately vital they are, though, depends somewhat on the difficulty selected when you begin the game (more on that later). WILSON also informs you of your environmental conditions and will alert you to things like “climate anomalies” (such as a tornado or dangerous lightning storm). Although I’d certainly say that The Solus Project is an adventure game, the survival elements drastically impact how you’ll have to play. It’s important to keep your strength up by regularly eating and drinking, of course, but due to the extreme climatory changes that happen on the planet, you’ll have to carefully consider things like when it’ll be okay to enter the water or not. In this case, if it’s a relatively mild day or, in the case that you’re underground, a relatively normal temperature, you can likely get wet and dry within a reasonable amount of time. However, if you’re wet and it suddenly starts to get cold outside, that water will begin to freeze on your clothes and skin and your core temperature will quickly start to drop, necessitating the need to quickly seek out a high heat source and dry yourself off.
Thankfully, the game caters to all sorts of different playstyles. On “Exploration” mode, the need to constantly eat and drink is greatly reduced, while on “Balanced” mode it’s considered an average difficulty in that regard. There’s also a “Survival” mode that’s far more hardcore than those two, for those wanting a much higher challenge. For me, because I try to look at things with a realistic lens (or as realistic as possible), I found that the Exploration mode was likely the most realistic of them all. In this mode, the amount of food you need to eat and the water you need (essentially, the rate required to consume them to stay alive) seems normal. Because I know that normal humans can get by with a modest amount of food and water, I find that needing to consume gallons of water a day to stay alive is a bit unrealistic. I think that if you consume a good 2,000 or 3,000 calories (the game keeps up with those figures), that’s more than enough, short of major exertion requiring a bit more to maintain your energy levels. So, for me, Exploration mode required keeping up with a modest amount of food and water, but allowed me to explore the game a lot more without unrealistic demands. Plus, you still need to keep up with your intake and watch your humidity, temperatures, and exhaustion levels, so that challenge is always there in the back of your mind.
The game isn’t just about surviving, but about exploring the depths of this alien world while ultimately trying to find electronic pieces to put together and create a signal tower to radio out to the command ships to let them know about your crash and the world you landed on. Thus, there’s a clear goal in mind, and the need to eat and drink will drive you forward deeper and deeper into this alien planet. The survival aspect, though, will have you carefully planning out each expedition from your safe zones, making sure that you carry enough food and water, and that you keep an eye on the weather conditions before setting out since, at any time, severe storms could spawn lightning or a tornado of devastatingly-high winds that could quickly end your journey. But, very early into the game, it’s apparent that you’re not the first intelligent life to set foot on this world and, in fact, there’s a question that remains as to if there’s still some sort of life present here. Caves open up into vast underground structures and buildings. Tombs are found all throughout the land. Skeletal remains hint at humanoid life, and you’ll find monoliths and stone plates depicting the history of an ancient civilization. You’ll find yourself thinking that these aliens may have been benevolent, but then later on you may find clues that suggest that things may not be quite as they seem on the surface. All of this is on your mind while you also seek out the crash sites for your crew mates to determine if they, too, made it out alive.
One of the really cool things in the game is the sheer volume of secrets you can uncover. Some of them are very cryptic and require you to locate several hidden switches that unlock different doors or gates and then to figure out where these doors are located and where they lead. Usually, the reward is some interesting bit of lore or an artifact of some sort that will improve your innate abilities slightly. None of these secrets (at least the cryptic ones) are required to advance through the game, but finding them will give you a nice sense of personal accomplishment while also boosting up your abilities a bit. Some upgrades, though, are actually very important. Throughout the game, you may come across wreckage of your ship that will have supply boxes with some goodies in them (such as food, water, or a device you need), and sometimes you’ll find batteries or backpacks that will increase the output of your flashlight or increase your overall storage capacity. You’ll also find yourself having to do some light crafting as you go, such as taking a metal rod, finding roots to bind around it, and a source of heat to create a torch (or, better yet, find oil for the roots first so that you’ll have an endlessly-burning torch…at least until it gets wet!). So, sometimes you’ll need to get creative with some of the objects you pick up to create tools that will help you further advance in the game.
As of this writing, this game has yet to be finished. When I first picked it up, only the first part of the game was released, which ended when you entered a cave on the second island that contained a large electrical cable. Now, the second part of the game (another 3-5 hours of play) has been released. My understanding is that the final product should be available later this year, but even as the game stands now, there’s an awful lot to try out for the relatively-low asking price. The graphics are outstanding (so many scenic areas are desktop-worthy), the sound effects and musical tracks are excellent, and the overall gameplay is very well-balanced and fun. Although it does have an unsettling vibe and often makes you uncomfortable, many of the scares and threats come from the environment you’re in and your visceral will to survive. While later, yes, you might encounter things that are a direct threat to you, you’ll likely be more scared about a violent tornado that spawns near you than the idea of something lurking just beyond your field of vision.
Even as an Early Access title, The Solus Project has a lot to offer you, and I have no qualms at all recommending that you pick it up. If you’re at all into survival or adventure games (say, if you enjoy Myst or some other game like that), this game would make a well-deserved purchase!
Overall, I’m fairly confident in awarding this game a score of: