Developer: Hourences, Grip Games
Publisher: Teotl Studios
Release Date: 18/09/2017 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR) 2016 (Xbox One, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
Format(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
When I initially got hold of PlayStation VR, one of the things I was most excited for was exploring exotic environments but with the new found immersive nature offered by the headset. Actually being able to feel like you were really part of strange worlds really appealed to me, so naturally every time a game offered an experience that let me explore an unknown environment I was ready to jump on board.
The Solus Project is the latest title to hit PlayStation VR that lets you visit a strange and mysterious location, with the game set on a distant planet full of odd sights and treacherous weather conditions. I’ll be the first to admit I was blown away when simply looking at the game world, but despite offering a wonderful locale to explore the gameplay mechanics themselves didn’t always live up to the spectacular sights that home them.
The Solus Project puts you in the shoes of a Space Explorer who finds himself the lone survivor of a crew of colonists who were seeking out a new home after the fall of Earth. Following a mysterious explosion on your craft, you crash land on a distant unknown planet on your escape pod. With the terrain unknown and full of dangers, you’ve got to survive the treacherous conditions of the new planet as you look to find a way to communicate with any other survivors that might be able to rescue you. It’s your traditional space-survival situation, with plenty of mystery and intrigue to be found as you watch the story unravel.
Despite The Solus Project giving off the impression that it’s just a sci-fi exploration tale about surviving the desolate conditions of an unknown planet though, it does take a couple of horror-driven turns as you progress through the game. I don’t really want to go into too much detail here so that I don’t ruin any surprises for players, but let’s just say that you might not be alone on the planet…
Treat this as a review of the VR version of the The Solus Project, because it’s how I primarily spent my time playing the game. I did dip into the ‘normal’ version for a short while just to see how it looked – it’s an incredibly impressive looking game and you can definitely notice the downscale in visuals when playing with the headset on, though that doesn’t mean it’s still not pretty to look at when playing in VR. A lot of the things I mention will apply to non-owners of PlayStation VR too, though 99% of my time with the game was spent using it.
Everything looks phenomenal when you start the game, with huge explosions in Space following along with some impressive looking planets and Solar vistas on show. One thing I can always appreciate about VR is the sense of scale offered, but when you’re actually out in Space where everything is essentially endless it’s difficult not to be even more in awe of it all. The same sense carries over when you’re actually exploring the planet though, with The Solus Project doing a good job of making you feel like you’re this tiny presence in this huge new world. Seeing an unknown landscape in front of you full of mysterious wonders all whilst huge planets in the distant sky hang over you is simply amazing, and I often spent time simply staring at everything around me and taking it all in. That awe I felt was without witnessing the jaw-dropping weather effects too, which made for some of The Solus Project’s most impressive moments. Don’t get me wrong, playing in VR obviously makes everything a little bit rough around the edges with some drab textures on show here and there, but it never stopped me feeling blown away by the game’s world.
From a gameplay perspective it’s easy to look at The Solus Project as a bit of a ‘walking simulator’ at times, especially since working your way across the world and simply taking in its sights makes up the bulk of your experience. However, there are some ‘survival sim’ elements present too to ensure that you’re put to the test in surviving through the ever-changing daunting conditions of the world. You’ve always got to make sure your character is kept warm, is fed, and also that they don’t get caught up in a meteor storm – you know, the usual when working across an unknown planet. Seeing all of the dangerous hazards is pretty phenomenal in VR though and, despite the fact my life was at risk, I couldn’t help but to get excited every time the game put me into a nasty situation just to simply enjoy seeing everything unfold in front of me.
The survival elements of some games can be a bit of a hindrance, but I never found it a burden in The Solus Project. It’s not just because I loved avoiding the likes of twisters, huge rainfall, or meteor storms – I simply didn’t mind making sure my character was in good health too. The explorative elements of the game always ensure that you’re finding plenty of items to keep you safe, whilst the almost linear vibe kept you trodding on in the right direction. If you’re not a fan of survival sims, you shouldn’t worry; The Solus Project not only keeps the survival aspect of the game at a limit, but ensures that they’re actually meaningful too.
Whilst the bulk of the game is based around simply traversing across the environment and surviving, The Solus Project still throws plenty of spanners in the works by having the player interact with objects in a variety of different ways. However, it doesn’t necessarily instruct you on how exactly you do this.
Let’s take the opening scenario of the game for example. You’re stuck in small area with the ruins of your escape pod surrounding you, but you can’t progress because of some netting that’s blocking your path. It’s clearly pointed out that you can cut through this netting so obviously that’s the solution to progressing; however, there’s seemingly nothing around you that can be used to cut it. In honesty I came incredibly close to simply giving up on the game at this point because I was convinced it was broken – I’d searched every nook and cranny of this area for a good while to no avail, so it simply felt like the game had bugged out on me or something. Then, after climbing every inch of my surroundings and potching around with my inventory (all whilst mashing a few buttons and hoping for some minor success), I managed to combine two rocks that I’d picked up to create a ‘sharp rock’. Not only was the concept of combining items not explained to me, but the actual end product from using the two felt baffling.
Seriously, it was almost enough to make me just give up on the game to begin with. It’s a common trend that occurs though, with new gadgets and items that you find never being properly explained from a gameplay perspective – it’s just up to you to find out what to do. Now this isn’t always a problem… I mean, experimentation is a big part of gaming, so having to actually work out what to do isn’t a big deal. However, there were too many instance in The Solus Project where I was left baffled at its unexplained gameplay mechanics that I’d be remiss not to bring it up.
Oddly, the only way you can play The Solus Project in VR is by using two Move controllers, despite the fact that the game is fully playable with just the Dual Shock controller when playing outside of it. There are two options in place for this: you can use the face buttons on the Move controllers to move your character, or alternatively you can use the ‘point and teleport’ method that has become the most popular form of traversal in VR titles. Admittedly, using the Move controllers could feel slightly awkward at first, but it shouldn’t take you too long to get used to them – there’ll be plenty of moments of frustration when you’re going through the learning process, but it does click eventually. It seems a little stupid that you can’t just use the Dual Shock controller when playing in VR though; not only have plenty of other games done it, but the Move controllers don’t really add anything meaningful from a gameplay perspective.
You don’t have to manually use items in the game by using motion actions, but instead simply point at interactive items and press a button to use them. This means you won’t be hammering, cutting, or grabbing at items with the Move controllers, but simply looking at them. It makes you wonder why the Move controllers are so important to the game and why the developer made them a compulsory part of the experience, especially since they do nothing other than let you look at items close up to your face. Still, it’s completely playable with them so it’s not too much of a problem, even if it is slightly odd that they’re forced upon you.
The Solus Project is one of the most attractive and awe-inspiring games I’ve played in VR, yet it’s let down by some poor gameplay choices. It’s not that playing the game is boring or doesn’t entertain you, but rather that some systems are overly-convoluted and are never fully explained in the first place. I don’t want video games to hold my hand, but at the same time I want to have some idea of what to do – especially in a game that allows you to make a ‘sharp rock’ by simply combining two rocks together. I mean, what’s up with that?!
Still though, by the time I was finished with the game I’d been left with a positive impression rather than a negative one. Some of the things I saw simply blew me away and I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon, regardless of whether or not there were plenty of moments of frustration in between seeing these spectacular sights. I think simply taking in the wonders of the world is reason enough for PlayStation VR owners to give The Solus Project a try, regardless of whether or not some of the other aspects of the game could feel a bit dull in comparison.