The Solus Project review
The idea of being dropped into an unfamiliar environment while using only our wits and resourcefulness to survive is a notion that has endured throughout the annals of gaming history. In no small part it’s something which arguably taps into a more primal part of our being; the ability to survive and provide for ourselves.
In an attempt to capture this most timeless of challenges is The Solus Project, an effort which relocates that idea from the typical desert islands and snowy tundra to a far flung alien planet nestled in the deepest regions of space. The problem, somewhat disappointingly, is that the level of execution just doesn’t do justice to the compelling and engaging concept that lurks at the heart of the experience.
A great concept let down by mediocre execution
After finding yourself marooned on an alien planet in an effort to find humanity some new digs (because evidently and somewhat unsurprisingly, we’ve screwed over our own planet and so need to go house hunting as a result), you awake with your ship in pieces around you and must figure out not only how to survive, but also how to unearth secrets of the planet that now serves as your new home.
What this means is that for the bulk of the game, you’ll be spending your time trying to stave off hunger, thirst, tiredness and the extreme temperatures of the planet as you scavenge, forage and craft your way to survival. In real terms this isn’t nearly as interesting as it might initially seem, because what this entails is that you’ll be spending an awful lot of time snooping into supply canisters, picking up bits and pieces from the environment and not doing a lot else.
More than just learning to feed yourself, scavenging from the environment also helps you to work your way deeper into the planet, too. Two rocks, for example, can be smashed together to create a sharper rock that can be used to cut through vegetation and other such obstacles, while oil and fire can be combined to create a handy torch which will light your way through the foreboding darkness of the alien planet’s deeper cave systems. The problem with the inventory and crafting systems however, is that, with a total lack of tutorials, it isn’t always clear how to access and sort through your inventory, let alone craft whatever it is you’re supposed to be crafting. It’s disappointing because, quite honestly, a little bit of hand holding in this regard would go a long way.
Helping you along in your endeavour to stay breathing is a handy PDA style device which contains a text based readout of your calories, thirst, rest, temperature and many more vital measurements aside. Honestly though, you spend far too much time worrying about the minutiae of your vital measurements than you do about actually doing anything meaningful; the amount of time spent staring at a bunch of numbers as they increase and decrease can be depressing to say the least.
Beyond that, the rest of your time is spent juggling your initially limited inventory space, dropping items, gear and equipment to make room for whatever it is that you need to use, and because the game provides an abundance of resources for you to use (even on the default difficulty setting), The Solus Project ends up feeling much more like a game of musical chairs for your inventory rather than a gritty and engaging survival simulator.
That said there are moments, sporadic as they may be, when the survival mechanics just click and in no small part this is owed to the somewhat impressive weather system that The Solus Project employs. From the moment you load up the game, the weather cycles through various states, encompassing everything from bright sunlight, to overcast skies before finally devolving into a maelstrom of wind, rain and sweeping tornados.
It’s perhaps in these moments of waking peril, where you find yourself huddled up in a cave clutching a barely lit torch, as a thunderous tropical storm blasts rain and lashes wind across the planet that The Solus Project brings the atmosphere and begins to fulfil its premise. It’s just a pity that such occasions are sadly few and far between.
When you’re not eating the local flora, scavenging for supplies or shovelling tinned food down your gullet, The Solus Project has you proceeding from one waypoint to the next, often solving the odd puzzle along the way. Largely, these puzzles involve the use of a remote teleportation device where the player can throw the device and then teleport to wherever the device ends up landing. Though far from presenting innovative conundrums for the player to solve, the puzzles in The Solus Project nonetheless provide a reasonable distraction from the repetitive drudgery of its survival mechanics.
A flawed and disappointing use of PSVR
On the face of it, The Solus Project would seem to be a perfect fit for PSVR, and yet, the reality couldn’t sadly be further from the truth. At the top of the laundry list of things that are wrong with the PSVR implementation of The Solus Project are the visuals. Even when played on a PS4 Pro, the visuals are rendered in an extremely low resolution, resulting in low detail environments, blocky edges and low fidelity image quality that make the game look appear akin to a poorly optimised last-gen title.
The low resolution has more frustratingly tangible effect on how The Solus Project plays too, since the PDA that you’ll need to spend so much time looking at become almost painful to do so as the legibility of the text suffers immensely as the direct result of the screen resolution drop when compared to the non-VR version of the game.
Perhaps the biggest offender of all, however are the controls. With no Dualshock 4 control scheme in sight at this point, it falls to the PlayStation Move controllers to get the job done and, quite honestly, they fail pretty spectacularly. Using a mixture of head tracking, teleportation and walking (the latter can be toggled), even navigating the environment can prove to be a chore, let alone having to interact with objects and the game’s UI.
And that’s the other thing; when you get stuck into VR mode, there are no tutorials whatsoever on how to play it outside of a controller layout image which does little else than impart to the player a basic list of commands that can be carried out using the Move controllers. All of this is such a shame, really, because as I’ve alluded to earlier; The Solus Project would seem to be a prime candidate for a superlative VR experience, but it’s just nowhere near that sort of calibre at the moment.
Without a doubt, there remains a great deal of creative mileage in the whole interstellar, castaway concept, it’s just disappointing that despite boasting such early promise, The Solus Project fails to realise that scenario in a way that’s both compelling and engaging.
It isn’t just the fact that the execution of The Solus Project is so lacking, it’s that it also fails to provide fun so consistently, which perhaps greater than anything else, is a more relevant measuring stick of its success, or lack thereof.