“In its own right, it certainly has promise, but out there against its competition, I feel it may struggle…”
Solarix is an intense Science-Fiction horror game with a heavy focus on stealth gameplay elements, developed by indie studio Pulsetense Games and published by KISS ltd. Aiming to encapsulate the thrill of old-school sci-fi horror titles alongside the play styles and graphics offered by next-gen technology, Solarix is an ambitious first game from Pulsetense Games. Taking visible inspiration from recent titles such as Alien Isolation and Outlast as well as older ones like System Shock, the game sets out to bring together some of the best aspects of the genre defining games of its kind. Does it appear to be succeeding in this early preview build? I played to find out.
The story afoot in Solarix is vague in the beginning, and I felt like I knew a little bit too little about what was going on and what to expect. I did my research on the game before playing it, and thought that perhaps they didn’t want to give too much away, but even after playing for a little while I still found myself a bit confused. The aspects which were clear were that there had been some sort of viral outbreak in the space research facility at which our protagonist works. Quite how this has affected our character personally is not immediately clear, but what is clear is that bad stuff is going down because of it. The facility is in darkness, furniture and fittings are broken and scattered, and there are armed soldiers patrolling the grounds. There are also several different voices trying to communicate with us, all of which seem to have some pretty major issues, and one of which in particular is slightly psychotic and claims to have “cut up” our brain… The game very slowly reveals plot points through audio logs, story and dialogue, but it does feel a little as though you are quite under-informed when you start playing. Plot points do become more clear as you go, but perhaps not quick enough to avoid the feeling that you’re not quite sure how you fit in or why you are doing the things that you are.
In terms of gameplay, I feel that there are two sides of this to examine in Solarix. The first is its horror aspects in their own right. There are very good, and in some ways quite unusual and interesting. What is rather unique is that you are trying to stay in the darkness in order to remain unnoticed by the guards on patrol and whatever else might be lurking out there. In your average horror game of course, you will do pretty much anything to stay out of the dark, so this creates an interesting problem. You really don’t want to get caught out around the next dark corner, but you also don’t want to be noticed by staying where it is light. Talk about psychological dilemmas, but it works well in the game’s favour, adding that extra psychological element to play. If this isn’t intense enough for you, then the lighting effects and sounds of the game will probably get you instead. There are times where you do stop in your tracks and don’t want to go to certain areas, or don’t know if you should, because of the sheer intensity of the lighting and sound playing on your thought process. This is done very nicely indeed in Solarix. Combine this with the confusing albeit disturbing nature of all of the different voices influencing your decisions, and Solarix creates a strong all round horror game mix… aside from the enemies.
This brings us nicely onto the second aspect of gameplay to consider in Solarix too. The soldiers, who make up your main opposing force in the game, are not frightening. They too are a little disturbed, and we are informed that they “know they are dying”, and so presumably are infected by this virus. Sadly however, they are stupid, and by stupid we are talking Assassin’s Creed I-just-sat-on-a-bench-and-am-therefore-invisible stupid. They can’t see you in the dark, and so you are encouraged to hide in the darkness to pass them by. But in some cases, they cannot see you in somewhat low-light when they are six feet in front of you, and that is just a little bit silly. It also takes away from the stealth aspect of the game, as you suddenly realise how not difficult it is to stay out of your enemies’ sight.
Other gameplay elements are mixed in terms of whether they are good or not so good. Moving around, and particularly crouching, is pretty buggy, though this can be put down in part to this being an early build of the game. The fact that you can shoot out lights to create more dark to hide in is a nice feature, as it the ability to pick up objects around the world and use them as distractions. Some of the items you obtain are a bit bizarre and sometimes seemingly unnecessary as gameplay elements. You have a hacking tool for example, but there is no skill to using it. You also obtain a close range electric shock weapon which if used on the back of an enemies head can knock them out, but you can use it from about five meters away which in my opinion kinda makes it just another sort of gun… The controls are a bit of a maze at the moment too, but once again this can be considered a standard early build issue. Otherwise then the only other point worth mentioning is that there is little direction in the game. You have objectives and a basic map, but it is easy to get lost and therefore frustrated. At times, it can feel as though you are playing some kind of 3D hidden object game, but for the most part you can figure things out eventually at least.
One final point which does deserve a mention before we head into a summary is the game’s graphics. They are very good indeed, and whilst there is some visible rendering to do before the final release, you can see that the developers are trying to make the most of what next-gen tech has to offer to them. The rain in particular is nice to look at, so kudos for that! Overall then, Solarix is a game which shows great promise for a first attempt at a full game by Pulsetense Games, but is also one which has some issues to address before its final release. The story is there and you can see what they have tried to do in revealing it bit by bit, but you do need something to hold on to at the beginning so you at least have some idea what is going on. The horror aspects of the game are very good, as are some of the gameplay elements, but others such as the enemy A.I. and the controls and movement issues are areas which could use some attention. The graphics are very good indeed however, and you could go as far as to say impressive for an indie studio, particularly the aforementioned rain. My main question of the game at this point however is will it stand out against competitors and similar, bigger-name titles? In its own right, it certainly has promise, but out there against its competition, I feel it may struggle…