Last year’s The Solus Project has come to ps4 – and PSVR. The game is a first-person exploration and survival title set on an alien planet; your character has crash-landed on the world he’d been scouting to be a new home for humans. The story goes some really wild places I won’t spoil for you, but at times it feels as ethereal as the Myst series while maintaining its own uniqueness.
It’s actually hard to know where to start with Teotl Studios’ and Grip Digital’s The Solus Project, since every mechanic in the game is deeply meshed into another. You need to make friends with your PDA, which always contains readouts of your vitals and the environment surrounding you. Your PDA will tell you when you’re hungry, thirsty and tired, but it also has your body temperature and your health, which is handy because often during The Solus Project your greatest adversary is the alien environment. You wade through freezing waters, get stuck in the rain, get caught in hailstorms and meteor showers, run from tornadoes and more. The PDA will always let you know how you’re holding up, and in order to stay healthy and alive, you need to scavenge, craft and upgrade.
In the beginning of the game, you’ll find food and water near your crash site. These will of course replenish your calories and hydration, which are visible on your PDA, but these stats are always on the slow decline since you’re using energy exploring several large islands on this planet. As you continue to explore and work your way towards your next goal, you’ll find more sources for food and water. For example, early on you end up in an elaborate cave system and you can find steady trickles of water dripping from the ceiling. Luckily, you should’ve found an empty water bottle by now, which you can fill at the water source to keep in reserve for later. You’ll also find local food to eat, which takes care of your hunger problems for some time. Often, crafting is a necessity to continue through the game – combining two rocks makes you whittle one down to have a sharp edge which can be used to cut netting, hanging tree roots, cans of food, etc. If you want a torch you need to find a pipe, pick up some loose roots you’ve cut down, combine them and then add lantern oil. You get the idea. It’s equal parts Fallout and Don’t Starve, but very low-maintenance.
As you roam the world looking for a way to reestablish communications with your base and be saved a la The Martian, you’ll learn more about the rich history of the planet. Humanoid skeletons with elongated heads, booby traps, mechanisms that emit odd ringing sounds, tombstones and historical markers inscribed with quick sentences about the civilization inhabiting the world – and the strange visitors who came from the sky to enlighten them. As I said, it gets pretty insane near the end, so I’ll leave the story at that.
Alongside the unobtrusive survival system, I also really enjoyed some of the simple puzzle-solving that came with the game. I found myself swimming through half-frozen waters in a cave and getting hypothermia before I could light a campfire on the other side and warm myself up, only to realize that the tides change with the time of day and all I needed to do was sleep for a few hours until the water was low enough that I could run from one boulder to the other and only be exposed to the cold water for a second at a time. It’s clever. The exploration is nothing to sneeze at, either. The studious gamer will find countless artifacts and monoliths on their adventure – artifacts which give perks and buffs to your character for varying amounts of time.
However, The Solus Project is not without its problems. Occasionally, some parts just don’t add up. Look at the food sources, for one. During my playthrough, I found myself at one point chowing down on a three-foot sack of yellow-green goop sitting next to a sarcophagus. The sitting fruits and vegetables I’d encountered on altars were strangely-placed enough, let alone that. Later, around the halfway mark in the game, I refilled my water bottles and drank from a large tub of water only to realize there was a skeleton floating in it. There’s no way that’s healthy. It’s like when you play Bioshock Infinite and look through a lady’s purse only to find hot dogs in it. What? Another issue with The Solus Project is its glitches. I’d walk along an open beach only to seemingly hit an invisible wall. It turns out when walking from one plane to another, they may not be aligned perfectly because I’d have to do a walking jump in order to traverse flat land. Using VR requires two PlayStation Move controllers, which is fine, but in one instance when I started a new area, the sight and reticle from my left hand had vanished and my PDA had disappeared from my right hand entirely. I ended up having to reload my save to get them back, which sucked because this game has some long loading times. Also, often the aim on either hand would drift. I’d hold my Move controller pointed straight at my TV, and on-screen, the object I was holding would be pointing almost a full 90 degrees to the left. When I picked my right Move controller up to look at the PDA, sometimes it would have drifted to a strange angle so I’d be looking at the rightmost edge of the device or it would look like it was slipping off my wrist. Sure, these problems were resolved with a few quick shakes of the Move controller, but for about an hour of the game it would drift every few minutes. The final issue I had with the game was that it didn’t always have a lot of oomph behind it. I was blown away by some parts, and overall I had fun throughout, but sometimes it felt like I was just strolling along for extended periods of time. And I like exploring, don’t get me wrong, and this game does look very pretty, so the environments will help to keep you entertained…but it could’ve used more change-ups in presentation or progression here and there. For example, I’d have loved to have seen more interactive door switches, glowing glyphs, birds pecking at things on the beach, crazy mechanical doors that open in like six places, etc.
But despite these problems, Teotl Games and Grip Digital absolutely have developed an enjoyable first-person survival game. I was often immersed in the world, watching plant life bloom or shrink as I walked past; looking up at massive carved effigies by the natives; making sure I was stocked up at every turn, lest I starve or die of thirst; reading notes translated on my PDA and so on. I cared about staying alive, getting back in touch with humanity and solving the mystery of what happened to this ancient civilization. I was genuinely impressed with the planetary dynamics of the game that, along with the tides, also included other worlds orbiting the one on which I was marooned, as well as a no-warnings weather system. It has its flaws, but generally The Solus Project was a fun and entertaining title that occasionally flirts with genius.
Finally, let’s talk about the VR difference. I genuinely enjoyed the 3-D journey through the game. It gives an excellent sense of scope the entire time and looking around was responsive and spot-on. Using the Move controllers (aside from the glitches I mentioned earlier) was also very handy. I mostly used the right controller to look at my PDA, although the buttons for turning, crouching and jumping are mapped to it as well. The left Move controller is for all your world manipulation, including selecting and using inventory items, interacting with objects in the environment and walking. It felt cool and intuitive pointing at an obelisk with alien writing on it with my left hand while holding my right hand up and waiting for the PDA to translate. Another highlight was wading through chest-deep water and picking my left hand up to hold my torch up high so as not to extinguish it, or moving the torch from one side to the other while walking through a cave so I could see all the markings and traps on either side of a hallway. It was like being Indiana Jones, to be completely honest.
I’m giving The Solus Project a 7 out of 10. I liked it; I think you will too. Just go in knowing it’s not perfect, but kudos to Teotl Studios and Grip Digital for this title.
AIR Entertainment was provided a review copy of The Solus Project for this article.