In The Solus Project, you control the last survivor of an expedition designed to save the human race. After a rogue celestial object blasts the Earth into a floating pile of rubble, the last vestiges of mankind survive on colony ships in search for a new home. From these ships, smaller exploratory vessels were launched to determine the viability of three possible golden worlds. Our story focuses on Gliese-6143-C, a large planet that shows promise as a habitable world. All goes well until a bolt of green energy blasts the ship out of the sky and onto the surface below. As a sole survivor of the incident, it's your responsibility to restore communications with Solus Project command for rescue and determine whether or not the humanity can survive on Gliese. Standing in the way of that goal is a harsh lesson in survival as unpredictable weather patterns and a mysterious creature hiding out in the ruins of a long-dead alien civilization threaten your progress.
After investing hours with this planetary survival adventure, I’m convinced that The Solus Project is actually two different games. Navigating the surface of Gliese-6143-C and scrounging for sustenance is similar to the games like Rust where you must brave the elements by crafting supplies using the planet’s resources as well as those found from the wreckage of the explorer ship. On top of that, managing the player’s well-being means keeping her (of him) fed, warm and dry. I really love how The Solus Project uses extreme weather patterns to keep the player moving and seeking out for a shelter. Warm and sunny afternoons can easily give way to sudden tropical storms while quiet evenings can be interrupted by massive tornadoes and blistering winds.
The worst scenario, however, is when the scrounging missions are interrupted by freaking meteor showers that rain hot, rocky death from above. Waiting out these natural phenomena have a tendency to ramp up the tension as you try to remember the locations of protected campsites for safety and shelter. Sleeping advances time but also offers a healing boon depending on how long you rest. Bear in mind that sleeping out in the open runs the risk of being interrupted by rainstorms and other unpleasant happenstances. Death is a close friend in The Solus Project and the threat of hunger, dehydration, hypothermia and fall damage is enough to doom mankind to a total extinction if you’re not careful.
Exploring under Gliese-6143-C is pretty different from its surface. Underground adventures were mostly unexciting because of their linearity. The cave system follows a design of extremely long passages connected by the occasional wide open room housing alien temples, homes and other notable structures. While time on the surface is marked by scrambling for the shelter and crawling towards the water and food sources, spelunking deep below involves walking through tunnels and uncovering a secondary narrative. The tunnel passages are punctuated by stone tablets marked with symbols that provide insight as to how an alien civilization prospered after their first contact.
The alien living spaces are refreshing to see after crawling through so many dark passageways. However, these places don’t have substantial value beyond some light puzzle solving. There’s a lot of window dressing, including a large number of crates that - nine times out of ten - have nothing in them (so why bother wasting the energy to open every one you find?). There comes a point where things finally pick up after an encounter with creatures that resemble the smoke monster from the TV show Lost. These enemies provide a real sense of danger as they actively search out for all heat and light sources, forcing the player to come up with creative solutions to evade attention. The thing is, while I welcomed the change of pace, I honestly felt the mechanics of the encounters shoehorn unneeded stealth mechanics. Case and point: the first smoke monster had me scratching my head as to how to avoid attention. After failing a few times, I chose simply to sprint past it. I took some damage - nothing that a few hours sleep couldn’t fix - and the monster chose not to pursue after me.
The Solus Project makes a really good first impression. It has a vibe that made games like STALKER and Metro 2033 so enjoyable to me (note: the developer, Grip Digital, is based in Prague and the Czech Republic). I also love the idea of being stranded on an alien planet and forced to survive and find a way back home. After a few hours though cracks begin to show in the facade. There are few qualities that I’ve come to expect in open world games and I’m surprised to find them missing here. For one, the game is in dire need of a map. The surface areas you’ll explore are quite large and dotted with helpful landmarks and points of interest, and still I got lost. A map would mean better navigation, another issue I had trouble with. When not walking towards a big green objective marker, some mission objectives are vague “Explore” commands which essentially means “Wander around until you run into a specific, unmentioned point of interest.”
I’m also not a fan of the limited inventory space. Initially, you’ll only have ten slots to carry items with. There’s a lot of stuff you’ll want to keep on hand, such as water bottles, food rations, medkits (if you can find them) and other essentials like a makeshift torch, tools, and the trusty teleporter. There’s also a ton of useless items that, oddly enough, are given value labels like “very rare” and yet, they don’t serve any greater function. What am I supposed to do with the ship’s radio? Oh, I can play music. That’s cool, I guess. What about the shields? I can’t physically fight anything, so why bother making it something you can carry around? If there were some sort of storage or decorating mechanic a la Skyrim’s homestead DLC, that’d be cool.
I was about five or six hours into the game when I realized The Solus Project is compatible with the PlayStation VR. I more or less stumbled upon it after playing a different VR game and noticed a “Switch to VR” button on the main menu. I thought this would be really cool because up until now, I’d just been sitting on my couch eight feet away from the TV. The feeling of being transported to Gliese seemed exciting - until I had to use the Move wands to play. I had grown accustomed to the DualShock controller and without any tutorial on how to use the wands or provided with a screen that outlined the controls, I was stumbling around blind. Had I known about VR compatibility from the start I might have enjoyed it more, though I doubt it would have made the game substantially better.
The Solus Project kind of feels like No Man’s Sky without starships. The survival aspect is more robust and requires full attention to different health systems. The game could use a bit more polish in places, like better inventory management, more worthwhile exploration and more interesting caves. Overall, The Solus Project is a pretty solid adventure that left me feeling surprised with how it hooks into at certain moments. Although it ended up being one of those games I played to have something to do while catching up on podcasts, I caught myself getting more and more intrigued by the whole affair.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.