Going to Mars for the Red Solstice

Sci-Fi fans know there are always certain tropes that will get attention. Aliens. Exploring or colonizing other planets (especially Mars). Super viruses that destroy all life. Space marines. Artificial Intelligence. A destroyed Earth.

Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.

The Red Solstice combines a number of buzz-worthy tropes into a single game, but is it enough to keep someone entertained?


==The Pitch==

The year is 2280 AD. Humanity colonized Mars and a recent group of humans has escaped from the deadly STROL virus that wiped out life on Earth. The politics of Mars are in a state of flux, going from a socialism to something like a corporatocracy (the latter thanks to the humans that escaped from Earth), and there are signs of a new rebellion.

You are a space marine, trekking out with your squad to take care of the necessary jobs, such as extracting important people that are trapped by a revolutionary group. What starts off as a rescue mission goes much deeper as you realize that the STROL virus is on Mars and has begun to spread throughout the area, with you and your squad in the thick of it.

==What You Get==

In addition to the story, you get a game that is a tactical squad-based game with an eight-player multiplayer function and upgrade mechanics that are both equipment based (finding new weapons/armor) and level-based (more health, more armor, etc). My time with the game was spent on the standard campaign (mostly due to odd hours), so this review may not help you if online gameplay influences your desire to purchase a game.

==The Good==

One perk (some may call it a flaw) are the nods to similar games like StarCraft. The voices given to the characters are gruff and reminiscient of the Space Marines from the first StarCraft game. In fact, the game plays similarly to the squad missions from that game (i.e. take Tassadar or Raynor through a specific base without getting killed).

Map For Level 1
Remind you of anything?

Mechanically, it plays like a cross between StarCraft and Alien Shooter; you click on the unit to move, set the destination, and can either set it to auto-attack (attack/move in StarCraft) or click on the individual targets to shoot (Alien Shooter). This makes it pretty simple to get into for anyone who is an old hand.

The tutorial portion of the game is useful, as there is plenty to learn. The game mechanics include an in-stage level-up system (and XP boosts are often hidden, promoting exploration), cover/fortifications mechanics (something often overlooked in squad-based games), and actual ammunition/weapon type mechanic (with sub-weapons like mines and explosives), and my personal favorite: Tactical Mode.

Tactical Mode

Tactical Mode drops the speed down to about 10% normal, allowing you to allocate your team to different areas based on specialty/loadout. For example, when I hit an area that I needed to get into, but still needed to defend the door due to incoming enemies, I hit Tactical Mode to set two of my squad with decent HP/range to guard, with the faster characters going in to scout. Fun stuff there, as I could take my time to give orders but knew that it wasn’t fully stopped, adding some urgency.

There’s also a bit of an RPG mechanic. As you play and explore, you gain “Energy”, which is basically XP to level up members of your squad. Everyone levels up together, so you don’t have to feel as though you need to level up certain people (like your squad leader to keep him alive). You also gain new weapons and armor as you play and discover them, allowing you to change the loadout of your squad as you progress.

Level up screen
Level up screen between missions. Still early in the game.

==The Bad==

As mentioned above, the nods to other games can be a deterrent. Some of the aliens/STOL creatures are reminiscent of the Zerg, even down to the underground passages they use to travel (Nydus Canal, anyone?). The endless waves (unless you meet set criteria in the level) also strengthen this feeling that you are taking on the Zerg (or, for those of you who have also played Alien Shooter, the endless waves are surely reminiscent of that!).

Underground canal for STROL beasties.
This just screams “ZERG!” to me.

I found the voice acting to be subpar and a bit annoying, honestly. This may not matter to some people, but I’ve always had a thing about bad voice acting (one of the reasons why I tend to watch subbed instead of dubbed anime). This really did kill it for me, as I was finding myself wanting to turn off the voices and just read the text, but I stuck it out for a while to give a proper review. Don’t pick this up for good voice acting, even if some of the voices and voice types are a nod to other games.

Talking after battle
It seems they want the chance to talk often.

One of the major killers of this game was the repetition. It seemed like the game revolved around “Go to place, move through infected place, kill things, get to the next point.” In some areas, the need for tactics just fell to the wayside; I would set my chokepoints or guards, run off to do my thing in a building (sometimes without an ally), then run back to continue on through the hordes. Realizing I was doing the same thing every time didn’t help matters when most of the situations were similar; you didn’t have the freedom to change things up too much if you wanted efficiency.

Beefy guys guard doors, leader and runner blitz in, shoot stuff, then leave. Not too much fun after the fifth building.

Another nail in the coffin was the feeling that the game doesn’t know what it wanted to be. Some elements point to being a standard strategy game (teams, cover, useful environments), yet there are a few survivor horror elements tossed in (limited ammo, tons of enemies/zombies, endless waves), dungeon crawl elements (linear-style maps with dead ends, if find enemies you are going in the right direction), and typical action motifs (I never ran out of ammo for my rifle).

Looking bored at the meeting.
The boredom on their faces is similar to my own.

I’ll be upfront: I stopped the game shortly after two hours of gameplay because of this. Any game that makes me feel like I’m just repeating myself each time and doesn’t make me feel like I have much of a choice in how I approach things gets a bit dull for me.

==The Verdict==

In the end, I am giving The Red Solstice a sad 1.5 buns. Rating 1.5 Stars

I really wanted to like the game, honestly. Colonized planet, space marines, zombie-virus like plague, monsters that look like aliens, a legitimate squad game with worthwhile mechanics. . .but it just had too many turnoffs for me. The game felt like it didn’t have enough originality, often pulling elements from already existing games that did these same things as well if not better.

If you enjoy tactical squad based games, The Red Solstice has a few things going well for it in the gameplay department, but I couldn’t get past the repetition and (what I felt was) a lackluster story. Maybe someone else could and really get into this, but this just wasn’t for me.

The Red Solstice is available on Steam for $19.99 (currently on sale for $9.99 as of this writing).


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