Return To The Blood Red Planet
In 2015, I had the pleasure of getting my hands on The Red Solstice to review. Set on Mars in the heart of a viral outbreak, I described it as an experience that felt like throwing Dead Space and Starcraft into a blender. It was a blood soaked, gore spattered, and very fun time and something that felt pretty fresh even if it didn't seem to have the long lasting impact on the industry that other titles have made. Now, two years later, it's time for me to return to Mars in Solstice Chronicles MIA. This time, it's not a squad based tactical RTS but a lone wolf (and his drone) twin-stick shooter. A departure from what I'd loved about The Red Solstice, I booted up the game for the first time with a fair amount of skepticism, and a great concern the developer had possibly made a mistake taking this route.
A Man And His Drone
Pinned down deep behind enemy lines, the plot of Solstice Chronicles takes place in parallel with the events of The Red Solstice. A lone marine of the corporate powers that be finds himself on the receiving end of a STROHL infected onslaught, holding out as long as he can until he's finally overwhelmed. As chance would have it, while he's captured and awaiting his inevitable doom, an unlikely ally would appear. A cheerfully sarcastic drone, that was property of none other than the resistance forces that the marines were putting in check before the outbreak began. But, the drone has a protocol to protect all human life and since the marine is the only still-living human it can find at the time, a comradery is born.
More than the gameplay itself, I love the back and forth banter between these two throughout the game. The voice acting is far from perfect, but hearing the two interact you can feel a real symbiosis between these characters; a real instance of mutual success or mutually assured destruction if they do not rely on eachother's strengths and help shield their weaknesses. I'm glad I was able to appreciate their character interaction, because much like The Red Solstice, Solstice Chronicles MIA suffers from a very underwhelming story overall that basically just serves as a brief gloss over of what we're shooting at, and why.
Speaking of shooting, as previously noted this game is a depature from the first game centered around the Red Solstice. Going from an RTS to a twin stick shooter is quite the leap, and off the top of my head the first comparison I could make of a series that had done something similar is the two times that the XCOM series tried to have third-person shooter spin offs (they were not great). I can say that while it was fair of me to have concerns based on those incidents, I am happy to say that I was proven considerably wrong. Not entirely, but considerably. You control the marine and get special abilities from the drone as the game goes on and upgrades are earned, but often I only ever really used the drone's blocking ability to slow down an enemy or the function for the drone to go find more supplies. Prefering a controller over a keyboard for a twin-stick shooter (for obvious reasons), it's a fairly fluid experience that has a good share of epic moments fighting the swarm of infected, while also having a bit too much slow-segments for my liking.
Controls are responsive, gunplay is accurate, the fight between ammo management is almost more exciting than mowing down enemies themselves, and overall it has the makings of a solid shooter experience. When it shines, it's during hold-out segments or times when the threat level has gone extremely high when you've managed to anger everything on the level and you feel like hell is coming down on you. Then there are the times when you're slowly walking through the dark, weapon readied just waiting for something to pop out that... seemingly never does. You may get a lone enemy here and there, but nothing all the amazing to write home about. The same can be said of the boss battles, they're there and they're okay, but nothing to amazing. Just functional.
The maps also feel like a step down from The Red Solstice as well, and though it's not as noticeable in the heat of the moment, during quiet sprawls it becomes pretty apparent not as much love went into the environment creation as it did into the controls and the character dynamic between the drone and marine.
The thing I can say I like the most is that I'm glad to see that the developers intend to do more with Solstice series, and I hope that Solstice Chronicles MIA is just the first of many more entries set on the carnage and destruction of the STROHL onslaught. The ability and genuine want for them to try new things, and to do them rather effectively, makes it unknown what to expect out of future entries. On one hand, I'd love to see a return to the RTS of the original game. On the other, this was rather enjoyable as well. They could expand into even deeper territories by making a game where you're spreading the outbreak of the infection.
It's a pretty large field of possibilities they could dabble in here. Solstice Chronicles may lack some of the charm that made the first game one of my favorites of 2015, but it still stands on its own two feet as a good game in its own right, held back once more by a weak narrative, weaker level designs, and a fear of throwing too much at the player at once. Please, throw more at me. Please.
Very responsive controls, fluid combat, just enough ammo to survive but make you concerned, exciting hold out and defend segments, dynamic between the drone and marine is fantastic.
Uninspired level designs, throw away boss encounters, too many quiet moments, still severely lacking a worthy narrative.