by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
A near-dead genre
I feel kind of old when thinking back to playing space combat classics such as Descent: Freespace, Star Wars: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and of course the excellent Wing Commander games. They were part of a – for the nineties – staple genre that fell into decline during the latter half of the previous decade and I’ve never understood why. There is nothing quite like doing battle against overwhelming odds in a well made, story driven space shooter. So why aren’t there more of these? Indie developer Seamless Entertainment must have asked themselves the same question, coming to the conclusion that the space combat genre would be an excellent niche to cater to. Their game, SOL: Exodus, is a valiant attempt at reviving the space combat genre.
In SOL: Exodus, the player is thrust into the shoes of a combat pilot attached to one of the last remaining carriers of Earth’s exploration force, the UCS Atlas. Its task of finding a habitable planet to relocate humanity to before Earth’s sun melts down complete, the Atlas returns only to find Earth in shambles. Mankind, in blind despair, flocked en masse to the church of the Children of the Dawn, led by Aric Corbin. This sinister figure now controls much of what is left of Earth and its resources but to what extend remains a mystery to the crew of the returning Atlas. Corbin leaves little to guess about where it concerns the Atlas, however. Outgunned, the UCS Atlas fends off Corbin’s initial attack and vows to lead mankind to its new home.
It’s life Jim
Initially, SOL: Exodus impresses with a decent 3D engine and voice acting that would not be out of place in a title from one of the leading game publishers. It is unfortunate that this impression does not stick but fades away at a rather alarming rate.
The simple tutorial does a fair job of familiarizing you with the game’s capable controls before dropping you into the hot zone. Once it does, however, the game dishes one disappointment after another. Enemy fighters seem to be made of egg shells and are crushed so quick that it is impossible to even gauge the level of the AI. Actually, that’s not true, as there is no AI. Enemy ships have one target, and one target alone and will not stray from their scripted path. You’re not usually the target: something else is and all you do is play ‘tower defense in space’ and shoot at everything that passes by. They will shoot back while they are on-route to their targets, but that is about all the resistance you should expect.
That doesn’t mean the game is easy. The game insists on endless streams of enemy fighters, spawning a new batch as soon as the present amount dips under a certain number. The sheer volume of fighters alone would not be much a problem – they die easily, after all – but when capital ships join the fray and start closing in on whatever you have been tasked to defend, you simply don’t have time to worry about those fighters anymore. Focusing on destroying the capital ships, you’ll quickly learn that they are not easily taken down. No matter how many guided missiles you shove up their arse, they’ll keep on flying until the Atlus points you to the spot where you can hack into their systems to reveal their soft spots. A fun gameplay mechanic, but while you wait for this event to trigger the capitals are happily pounding away at their target, leaving you feeling helpless in the process. At some point, I drove my ship into an enemy capital ship in frustration, only to bounce off it without any damage at all, finding yet another flaw.
But not as we know it
Fortunately, enemy weapons – can – cause damage. When your damage indicator dips too low, you can dock at the Atlus for instant repairs. This is not particularly realistic, but appreciated nonetheless due to the fact that enemy fighters will continue to spawn until you reach the mission’s main goals. Docking also refreshes your supply of guided missiles which is a vital instrument when defending against incoming bombers.
Your ship can be upgraded through a simple role-playing mechanic. You earn points during your missions that can be spent in areas such as armor and firepower. If that sounds a little too simple, it’s because it really is too simple. There are no new weapons, nor does the cockpit betray any hint of your upgrades. In fact, you will hardly notice anything at all after these small, incremental upgrades.
As the initial, positive impression wore of, I found myself wanting to press on in order to have as much material for this review as possible. Unfortunately, one frustration was too much to overcome for me to complete the game. Every time you don’t make it to the hangar in time and get blown up, the mission starts from the very beginning, serving up the narrative each and every time. As some of the mission introductions can take several minutes to complete and death when dealing with capital ships is so frequent, I got so fed up that I threw in the towel and uninstalled the game.
I could sum up SOL: Exodus in three words, namely “a frustrating experience”. There is a promise of more, a promise of fun when first starting the game but it does not last beyond the opening mission. It is boring, repetitive and has very little to warrant its – admittedly low – price tag, even to those craving to play a space shooter after having been deprived of them for years. Not recommended.
Good voice acting, decent graphics