With the ever-hyped No Man’s Sky looming large on the horizon, it’s no surprise that indie developers are jumping on the interest in the extraterrestrial exploration niche. Though not on the same scale as TEOTL Studios’ latest effort, The Solus Project might be one of the better entries, even if it’s strictly planetary for now.The Solus Project kicks off with a classic sci-fi crawl to set the scene: “Earth has been destroyed and mankind lingers on in a small fleet of ships near Pluto. As humanity’s last hope, you are sent to scout a distant planet as a potential location for a colony. After years of space travel disaster strikes, however, and your ship is destroyed when approaching the planet…”
You, however, manage to survive the crash and are left to explore the planet’s surface with the goal of eventually finding a way to signal for help. In essence, it’s a lot like The Martian – but with fewer scenes of Matt Damon complaining about disco music. It’s hardly the most original setup but it does a satisfactory job of setting the mood.There are little clues and objects you find in the environment which flesh out some of the fringes but for the most part this is one of those games where the story of your survival is as reliant on your own actions as it is the tools the developers give you – though it does take an interesting tonal turn towards the end. There also some interesting connections to the developers previous game, The Ball, for fans to find.A bit part of the game’s immersion factor comes from the soundtrack. A pastiche of classic sci-fi synths and more naturalistic sound effects, it does a great job of setting the mood and capturing the isolation of the premise. The visuals aren’t too shabby either. The game’s skybox is second to none and it runs on the Unreal Engine 4 without a hint of the usual hitches (framerate stuttering, texture-pop-ins, etc).There’s a great sense of clarity in the game’s visual design. There’s a very cinematic sense of spectacle to the environments you find yourself in and an underly sensation of the unknown dogs you every step of the way. It almost feels like you’re taking part in the good part of Prometheus (before everything falls apart at the seams).The planet you crash land on in The Solus Project is a lush one and, from what you can initially gather initially, an uninhabited one. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t in danger. You have to manage your hydration, temperature, sleep and even nutrition levels if you want to survive. Though there are a lot of variables and systems to keep track of, the game’s tutorial does a great job of keeping things accessible. Managing these stats with progressing through the game’s linear levels presents and interesting balancing act but one that’s far from overwhelming, though it does fall to a wayside during the final act in lieu of some survival horror sequences.
Same goes for the crafting and item system in the game. You’re given a limited number of item slots to scroll through with the mouse. Meanwhile, crafting is as simple of left clicking to pick something up and right clicking to combine it with another object. It’s almost puzzle-like in the way that it structures your progression through the main plot.There are even alien relics and secrets scattered around the map that you can use to augment your chances of survival. Some relics will make you more resistant to the cold, others will increase the size of your inventory. Levels are littered and secrets and there’s always more to find. These add more replayability to the game, since there’s no chance you’ll find them all in your first playthrough, and provides a nice incentive to actually explore off the beaten path.