Whether worshiping it as the God of war in Roman times, writing convincing radio plays about being invaded by its inhabitants, or making it the location of a Schwarzenegger flick, the planet Mars has always been a place of intrigue for human beings. Little wonder then, that indie developer Ironward has chosen it as the location for their new top down, tactical squad based shooter, Red Solstice.
Red Solstice is set 200 years in the future. Earth is no longer habitable, and in a last, desperate attempt to survive, what remains of the human race has begun the process of tera-forming Mars. In true Sci-Fi fashion, something has gone terribly wrong, and it’s up to you and a team of marines to save the day. If that sounds like a cliché, well it is, but it still provides a good setting for the game.
Red Solstice provides both single and multiplayer campaigns, the single player campaign acts as an extended tutorial and does a good job of introducing the game’s mechanics. As the game starts it seems as though it’s a very simple game controlling the same way dungeon crawlers like Diablo do, but as you progress the difficulty ramps up, and the gameplay starts to reveal its complexities. As the game is meant to be co-op, you have a number of different classes to control in the single player mode. General navigation of the map is easy enough as your squad mates to follow you around by default, but at times, you’ll want control of each individual marine as you battle the hordes of enemies making their way to you. This is where the game’s “tactical mode” comes into play, and it’s a smart mechanic to get around the lack of co-op partners. Tactical mode freezes time to a near stand-still and allows you to place each of the marines strategically, similar to something like X-com, though this all happens in (slowed down) real time. There is also a leveling system for each of your marines and an in- game leveling system for various special abilities which works in a similar way to how you level powers in a MOBA. All these systems come together to give the game a surprising amount of depth.
It’s fair to say this game is not for the faint hearted, in both modes of play you will die a lot, and if you’re the kind of person who finds that frustrating this game is not for you. The game demands that you be smart about how you approach each objective. You have limited ammo and a huge number of relentless enemies to take care of. Patience is an absolute virtue as the game will punish you for sloppy thinking. This makes for a very tense experience. Ironward has done a fantastic job of creating an oppressive atmosphere. There is a definite element of survival horror in the game, and I feel it gives the game an extra edge. Completing objectives against the odds is very satisfying. It’s the same feeling I get from defeating a boss in Dark Souls with just a sliver of health left.
Multiplayer follows a similar structure to the single player mode, with the obvious difference being that you just control one marine working together with other players of different classes. At the time of writing there are 8 classes with 2 more in the pipeline. The classes are slowly unlocked as you play and provide a nice variety of gameplay styles. The only real problems I have with online play is the lack of games to join and the level other characters are at when you do find a team. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of even match making, so I often ended up with team mates who were vastly over powered compared to me, which lessened the intensity of the gameplay for me as I could just hide behind them.
Graphically the game is serviceable. At default zoom things look fine, but as soon as you zoom in you can see just how low res the textures are. The upside is the game runs very well; I imagine it’ll work fine on pretty much any PC that was made in the last 5 years. The graphics also do a good job of conveying the over-run, decaying nature of the Mars base with a nice use of lighting and an industrial color palette. The audio is good, the sound track is suitably futuristic, and the screams and other ambient noises reinforce the games atmosphere.
My main gripes with the game really have to do with the amount of work you need to put in to fully understand all the systems. A lot of them aren’t really explained that well, so you end up having to dip into the Steam community forums to find out how to do certain things. This will put off people from playing more, and it’s a real shame because the game needs a healthy, active community. Hopefully Ironward will make things a bit more discoverable in a future patch.
Overall, I’ve very much enjoyed Red Solstice. What it lacks in polish, it more than makes up in atmosphere and riveting gameplay. Whilst the game is not for everyone, if you’re prepared to put in the time to learn its mechanics and don’t mind dying a lot, there is a huge amount of enjoyment to be gained from this game.
- Replay Value