The Solus Project is first-person survival game developed by Teotl Studios and Grip Games. It is a virtual reality title, but I reviewed the base PS4 version of the game. This review is mostly free of spoilers, with exception to one paragraph that is marked appropriately. Thank you to the developers for providing the review code.
The Solus Project might appear to be a survival game on the surface, but survival might just be the least interesting aspect of this title. It, however, more than makes up for it with an interesting world to explore, puzzle solving, and even some horror elements to go with it.
The opening explains that The Solus Project is a mission to save humanity by finding other planets that could sustain life. But, to the surprise of no one, things don’t quite go as planned and the player ship crashes into planet Gliese-6143-C. Leaving the player stranded on a strange alien island.
After emerging from the remains of the ship, a universal tool is quickly found. This is one of the most important items in the game as it displays key information such as health, body heat, and even wind speed. The player must use the resources made available to them to beat the elements. Temperature, eating, sleeping, shelter, and hydration are all things that need to be monitored while exploring the planet.
But while survival elements are a feature of The Solus Project, they are easily the least interesting reason to play this game. It is important for the player to eat food and drink water often, but there isn’t enough depth to make survival challenging or engaging. Especially considering that food and water are all over the place, including large pots that are filled with everything the player needs to sustain themselves.
Where The Solus Project actually feels captivating is in the world it offers to explore. The surface of planet Gliese-6143-C does have intriguing moments, but when the game takes the player below the surface is when the game takes a turn. Not knowing what I was getting myself into with the The Solus Project, I had no idea that horror was on it’s list of genres. And I have to admit, I got scared pretty fast. The music, the lighting, and even other discoveries contribute to the overall horror vibe. While I had to take many breaks while playing (I am kind of a wimp when it comes to horror), it certainly served to make exploring far more interesting than I had originally anticipated this game to be.
There are even a few puzzles to solve in The Solus Project, especially when exploring under the island. In fact, these aspects of the game are so much more interesting that the developers should have completely dropped the survival component. Exploring the world, moving through caverns, and solving a few puzzles along the way is what makes this game worth playing. Having to drink water and eat food every so often just takes me out of what I really want to be doing.
The following paragraph contains an aspect of the game that, while not an incredible spoiler, is something that I appreciated not knowing beforehand. So if you are already sold on the game, skip this section.
Another area where The Solus Project excels is in it’s ability to create a moment. Early on in my play through, as I was still learning how to play and exploring the starting area, the weather suddenly changed, and the music did the same. As I turned around I was shocked to see a giant tornado heading right towards me. The combination of the weather, the music, and even the animation of the tornado itself created a truly terrifying moment. It gave me a horrible feeling of anxiety in my gut and I actually felt panicked as I tried to find shelter. I have seen several tornados since then, and it has not gotten any easier.
To touch on the music a bit more, I was genuinely surprised at how good it is in The Solus Project. It isn’t anything that one would listen to outside of the game, but it does a fantastic job at creating tension within the title, and it added a huge portion to my enjoyment. Without the music, I feel as if a lot of the bigger moments in the game would have come off as silly, or insignificant.
The Solus Project also touts a story, but it isn’t a very good one. The narrative is told almost exclusively though text. Specifically, though pages ripped from various diaries that used to belong to other members of The Solus Project. They are scattered around the world in random order for the player to find. And if I am being honest, I couldn’t care less about them. The pages often detail vague events or conversations that I found hard to develop an interest for. And to make the situation worse, because they are often found out of order, the story they tell can be difficult to follow.
I’ve played games in the past with a similar style of story telling. But the developers would often fight the potential confusion in various ways, like giving the characters voices so it is easier to identity who they are from event to event. The Solus Project fails to make the characters memorable, or interesting, and the whole story falls apart because of it.
Thankfully, the absence of a good story isn’t enough to kill my enjoyment of the game. And a big reason for that was the visuals. The visual aspects of The Solus Project may be where the game shines the most. While insipid views weren’t exactly rare, there were more than a few times where I couldn’t help but look at the beauty of my surroundings and take a screenshot. And the night scenes were even more incredible. The way the other planets would move around the stars was something I never got tired of looking at. I wish I could have seen it in virtual reality, as I know that would have been a sight to behold.
But the visuals were not free of shortcomings. Too often did I find graphical glitches such as water effects appearing though solid objects, or certain objects appearing to rise out of the ground as they were approached. The waves especially seemed to suffer from this, and it took me out of the moment every time I had to swim. I feel this is something that, while wouldn’t be worth mentioning for many other games, has more significance in The Solus Project due to the importance of immersion.
Despite The Solus Project’s issues, I still had a lot of fun playing. Exploring the island, traveling deeper below the planet, discovering secret paths, and trying to do it all without getting scared half to death made the overall experience memorable. While the $20 price tag makes this game worth it even without playing in Virtual Reality, I would certainly make a much stronger recommendation to those that do have a headset. Because VR just might be the difference between a mildly enjoyable title, and a genuinely remarkable experience.
Side note: This is my 5th review, and I am still learning a lot, as well as experimenting with new things. If there are any suggestions you have for what you would like to see if future reviews, please let me know! Thanks everyone!