Originally released in early 2016, The Solus Project now hits PS4 in its full-length form. The spiritual successor to developer, Teotl’s The Ball, this new single-player survival game melds exploration and puzzle solving into a claustrophobic maze. Far from being an open world design, the environments are chained together through expansive corridors and brain teasing arenas.
Earth has become unviable for life, and now you play as a researcher on a planetary scavenger hunt as the entire population of your species hangs in the balance. Along your intergalactic journey, fate or misfortune strikes you in the form of an explosion, hurtling you to the closest planet in a single-occupation escape pod. The landing cringles your bones, but you must step out and discover the status of your crew mates, if they even managed port on this strange world.
The geography is far too familiar, yet the climate reminds you that this is no Kansas. Surviving becomes the largest priority within the first hundred steps. The end goal is to establish contact with one of your sister ships still coasting through space, but the objectives between now and then pile up faster than you have time to prepare. You begin on a beach, soothing at moments and well-lit by a massive star commanding the horizon, but it becomes all too clear that the dark and desolate caverns are your only path to connect with another soul.
The Solus Project makes inventory management essential to success. When temperatures plummet to artic depths, and hikes span over an entire evening, resources like lighter fluid, canteens, and food reserves become the difference between life and death. And death will knock often. If you advance into a section ill-prepared, the elements will make you aware of your blunder. Dying is a major mechanic of the game since tutorials are nowhere to be found. You are thrust into this alien planet with no knowledge and the gameplay mimics that language barrier.
Doors to new areas are unlocked by extensive exploration. Without scouring every inch of an area, you could miss a vital loot item that could ease your pain moving forward (as I did one time by abandoning my search for the final component of a torch). You are forced to plan out the legs of your journey with zero available foresight. All you have to go off of is your prior mistakes. This trial by fire sharpens you as a player, and heightens the sense of achievement after clearing particularly grueling gauntlets.
The UI is entirely condensed to a handy PDA that creeps up into sight whenever you peer downwards. All of your critical internal and environmental measurements are displayed in simple units. In this place you can die in numerous ways: Starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, etc… You learn to check your little digital friend constantly.
The visual landscape of the game is most stunning when you look above the horizon. The vegetation and terrain elements are serviceable, but will not have you immersed by detail. The graphics become even more flat in the underground areas, but what the visuals lack, the audio makes up for ten-fold. The ominous yet restrained score adds a terrifying color to an otherwise bland underworld where you spend the bulk of your journey. The sound design grows menacing once your health level begins to dip, creating a tense-filled race to whatever might save you around the next corner.
The point and select controls seem to have been directly ripped from the original PC development of the game, and really limits your interactivity with the objects you collect. Entirely experienced in first-person, the game starts to disconnect you from your environment inexplicably. After collecting the same items continually and utilizing them in cookie cutter ways, I started to intentionally complete challenges by unnecessarily difficult methods. The repetition weighs the gameplay down so much because the journey is excessively lengthened. The statements that the game spends 12+ hours setting up could have been communicated much more efficiently.
Spread across the gigantic map is a healthy amount of lore coming in the forms of letters, carvings, or pictograms. They tell a unified narrative, but only once you travel deep into the wilderness. At the beginning of your trek, these story fragments seem inconsequential, but they are merely puzzle pieces without a box to reference. The writing persists as one of the shining moments in the game’s framework, and those who thoroughly enjoy a complete play-through will be enticed to start over and digest these micro-chapters within the context of the fully realized plot.
The Solus Project is genuinely terrifying at moments and regularly intriguing when it is not forcing you through tired dilemmas. The sense of urgency hits heavy at pivotal points in the expedition, and death goes beyond punishing. A quintessential survival game meets an alien dungeon-crawler; The Solus Project will have you worried for more than a few reasons.
Here is The Solus Project PlayStation Launch Trailer:
The Solus Project is available for purchase through the Playstation Network at https://goo.gl/zEqGeZ (for US) and https://goo.gl/N3BBfC (for UK). PlayStation+ members will also receive a 20% discount in Europe, effective now until October 1, 2017.