A lone space marine in metal armour fighting off hordes of homicidal mutants in an abandoned facility on Mars? No, it’s not DOOM, even if it seems that way. Solstice Chronicles M.I.A is a new isometric shooter based within the Red Solstice universe, with twin-stick sensibilities that aims to put a new tactical spin on the genre.
It’s a future imperfect where the Earth has been overrun by an apocalyptic virus that turns its inhabitants into crazed mutants, as the broken remnants of humanity have colonised Mars in the hope of survival. Years later, Mars is under corporate control and caught up in a civil war with an insurgency – but a cataclysmic storm threatens to change everything. The battle then becomes one for a cure and along with it, the hopes of reclaiming Earth. In Solstice Chronicles, you’ll play an elite marine left behind infected enemy lines and you’ll have to shoot your way through to safety. Joining you is a quirky drone named Saffron, who does more than just add comic relief.
Much of the game’s strategy hinges on your drone companion, whose aid you’ll have to call in when things get too tough. The kicker here is that you can’t utilise the drone with reckless abandon; it’s a setup that’s based on risk vs reward. You could have Saffron scout the area and bring in ammo, guns and upgrades from the area, but you’ll have to stay within the confines of a drop zone. On top of that, it’ll alert nearby enemies and unleash hordes of bloodthirsty mutants with the singular purpose of making you un-alive.
See, there’s a constant indicated threat level that varies from low to extreme. It’s a bit like Left 4 Dead’s AI director, where the game will ramp up the frequency, intensity and magnitude of the enemies that come for you. Having your drone search for items for you is welcome and necessary when you’re low on ammunition, but is the cost – your likely death – worth it? Given how starved you’ll be for ammo most of the time, probably. Your drone can do more than just fetch things for you though. It can also emit an expanding force field that gives you moments of respite from the onslaught but increases the threat level so your break is short-lived. It can even deploy a smart bomb that’s great for wiping out a screen’s worth of bad guys, but could – if your timing is a mess – end up killing you as well. Every action like this has consequence, and it leads to some genuinely tense, frightening moments – especially during the big boss fights.
There’s a little more to its tactics in that it’s class based as well. Before you start you choose which suit of space armour you want, each doling out specific perks you can unlock through a skill tree. You’ve got the gun and melee proficient assault, a demolition class and an unlockable Terminator class for high-level play, where using abilities slowly degrades your suit. There’ll also be a tank-like Hellfire class, but it’s not available just yet. You can also play the game cooperatively, bringing in a local friend for the ride.
It’s definitely fun to play, but where it falls a little short is in its controls. Twin-stick shooters have come a long way, with Resogun developer Housemarque at the forefront of the genre. This feels a little backwards – and a lot of that has to do with it not really being a twin stick shooter though it bills itself as one. You can’t, for example, run in one direction and fire in another as other similar games allow. You have to fire in the direction you’re facing. I get why, and it’s a conscious decision by its developer to put an emphasis on aiming over spraying bullets, but it feels stilted. In fact, when plugging in a controller, the right thumbstick does absolutely nothing, making the game feel like more of a single-sticked arcade relic. [Update] I’ve been informed by the developers that this isn’t, in fact, a conscious decision and that my game has been bugged. I’ve updated, but am still unable to move in one direction and fire in another.
It also runs out of fun well before it runs out of levels, as its swarms of similar enemies during later encounters start become indistinguishable from previous ones. While the interplay between the gruff space marine and the drone can be whimsical and entertaining, the narrative itself isn’t enough of a draw to keep soldiering on. It’s a pity, because with a little more polish and more fluid controls, Solstice Chronicles M.I.A could have been an entertaining romp through the red planet.
Last Updated: July 27, 2017