by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
A Blood Red Planet
What do you get when you take the likes of Dead Space and Starcraft and throw them in a blender? A bloody cascade that is The Red Solstice. Pitched as an 8 player co-op experience, The Red Solstice mixes horror and strategy in both online and offline modes, and the end result is compelling for all the right reasons. Grab your gear, lock and load, and get ready to make planet fall.
Though advertised almost solely on the co-op aspect of the game, The Red Solstice actually encourages players to play the single player campaign first to both learn the ins and outs of the game, as well as to experience the story. This is also, oddly enough, where I found the meat of the game to be. Though I'll get into co-op when the time comes, I'm just going to come out and say that the meat of the experience is in the Single Player mode, and the Survival mode (a single player version of the Multiplayer experience.)
One Side Of The Coin
In the single player campaign, players take control of a special forces unit deployed to the colony of Tharsis to extract a high value target, a corporate big wig going by the name of John Erebus. The transmission spoke of a violent insurrection by rebel forces before all contact was lost. What the unit finds upon arrival, is anything but the mission originally entailed.
With the majority of the colony going dark in the midst of a massive storm called The Red Solstice, the two squads are separated and left to find their target, as well as what exactly what went down. The first level is as one would expect, a tutorial level, that fills you with all the need to know info about the ins and outs of controlling your men. As you go through the motions, you also quickly learn that there was a bit more than an uprising at play at the colony.
A deadly virus known as STROHL, the same plague responsible for wiping out a large portion of the human population on Earth, has been released on the colony. This is where my reference to Starcraft meets Dead Space comes into play. The Red Solstice is for all intents and purposes a small scale RTS focused around the survival of the two squads deployed rather than base building, map domination, etc. It might be more appropriate to at times describe it as a top-down squad based horror even. The STROHL infected populace, even on the normal difficulty, are a very worthy adversary. In fact, under normal circumstances, it'd be unwise to take on this enemy in a singleplayer setting if it weren't for the Tactical Mode, which I absolutely loved.
Outside of tactical mode, you move your squad as one unit throughout the levels and when you're going from point to point more often than not this is suitable. But there are many times where you will need to defend a position, or offer cover fire for one squad mate that would be borderline impossible at the normal speed of the game. Tactical Mode slows down time by 90% and gives the player time to catch their breath, as well as tactically assess the situation.
If you're a god-tier RTS player, you might not think that's anything special, but most people aren't at that level so this is a great addition for the single player if you ask me. Especially considering that the speed of most STROHL units combined with the often cramped lines of sight in the game, this doesn't give players an edge, but levels the playing field so that they can actually progress through. Though the story itself feels rather generic, the missions themselves are very fun. The single player campaign spans the course of 10 missions, and while I'm still carving my way through I did have to take a break to assess the other two modes.
The Flip Side
This is where my experience with The Red Solstice got a bit difficult. As much as I've been enjoying the single player, I was expecting even more from the co-op experience but I'm... uncertain of what I found to be honest. In the interest of disclosure, I am unsure if the review copies were different from the Early Access version and that is why there seemed to be few people to play with, but the online component seemed fairly empty when I went to check it out. I did however, get into one lobby with a few people and the experience was mixed.
Needless to say, like any co-op game, it's best played with friends. With a group of random people, the experience will vary. What it came down to was three incompetent players, one competent player, and myself doing what I could to actually help the team advance. We failed the mission in the first twenty minutes. My co-op experience overall wasn't great, but I could see the potential in there; if you have 8 friends willing to jump on board it looks like it could easily be one of the best co-op experiences of 2015. The online component is set after the single player campaign and features randomized objectives in different sectors of the colony with an hour time limit to complete your mission. Some objectives seem like they could get repetitive, but considering most of the gameplay is surviving the STROHL onslaught you won't have time to notice that you've done quite a bit of the objectives before in slightly different ways.
Survival is a great alternative for those who don't want to deal with random players, it is best described as the single player experience with the multiplayer idea. If you're like me, you'll probably die a lot but have fun doing it; Survival and Multiplayer are both much more relentless than the singleplayer campaign from what I've seen. Brutality should be a subheader for the game's title, because it comes packed with plenty.
Without a doubt, I'll be playing more of The Red Solstice in the coming days. The story itself feels very much like filler content, but the missions in the single player and survival do have their hooks in me. With the full release, I hope to see the multiplayer population start booming so that I can see the side of the game I feel the developers wanted to shine most, but whether the co-op aspect floats or sinks, I can easily say that the single player alone is enough worth checking out.
Fast paced RTS action with rarely a moment, Single Player and Survival shine brightest
Co-op currently seems to lack a community, overall story leaves much to be desired