By – Jarrett Riddle
First person sci-fi stealth games are a rare breed, and well done examples are even less common. Solarix, an ambitious 4-year effort by Pulsetense Games, attempts to create an otherworldly, creepy experience that fits this very mold. Though still in the beta phase of development, the three levels I played through offered a solid foundation for what is to come for its full release, estimated to be in the first quarter of this year.
Solarix puts you in the shoes of Walter, an electrical engineer and sole survivor of a research team that’s been infected by an unknown virus. Former colleagues are now seemingly mindless mutants who attack you on sight. Little is known from the beginning, and only by reading journals and listening to audio logs do you begin to put together what has happened.
As the game opens, our protagonist finds himself alone in his room with just the disembodied voices of an AI program and a strange masked lady for company. The player has to make it out of the living quarters but in doing so, needs to use an elevator which is currently offline. This segment introduces both the physics and stealth aspects of Solarix. You must pick up and move small boxes, as well as a grating to proceed. Once the elevator is back online, a patrolling mutant must be sneaked past under the cover of darkness. From here, the game opens up, presenting a stark contrast between the narrow corridors and the outside world.
What follows is an open, yet somewhat linear traverse through the facility’s surrounding area and neighboring woods surrounding a crashed aerial vehicle. Along with your trusty silenced pistol and flashlight, you come across several other important items; The electronic circuit bypasser allows passage through certain doors and a computer hacking device breaks through firewalls in computer systems to do helpful things like disabling turrets. A taser weapon can also be found that disarms foes in a non-lethal manner, but is extremely difficult to use because you have to be extremely close to someone’s back and score a direct hit on their head. Quite a few times my shot should have knocked them out, but simply raised their awareness of my presence instead, ending in my bloody death.
Two enemy types are present in the beta: The aforementioned melee mutants and some kind of black ops soldier wielding a deadly assault rifle. If a foe becomes hostile, they will either run at you and swipe mercilessly with their arms, or unleash a barrage of bullets. Either way, it is extremely hard to get away from attacks, as the screen shakes violently when you’re hit. So much so, that it becomes hard to even move in certain situations. This may be intentional, as the game consistently reminds the player to avoid combat when possible, and that you are indeed an engineer, not a soldier.
Progressing throughout the game revolves around a number of key tactics. You can attempt to snipe an enemy from behind with your pistol or taser, but another person may see his body laying there and become alert to a hostile presence unless you move the body out of the way. Objects in the environment may also be picked up and thrown to draw foes away from yourself so you can sneak by. Ammo is limited, so a stealthy approach is usually the most efficient way to progress. One bullet that can be used to kill someone could instead be used to shoot a light out, allowing you to sneak past everyone. The AI is fairly intelligent and reacts accordingly when they hear a sound or spot movement. While some aspects of gameplay are questionable, such as the inability to equip a dead/unconscious guard’s gun, it’s great to see that this isn’t a run of the mill shooter.
Being in beta stage, bugs and anomalies are to be expected. I’ve already discussed getting stuck on walls and objects, but a few other things distracted me during my three playthroughs as well. Sometimes when going straight from running/sprinting to a crouch, the player character seems to get stuck, only being fixed by standing up again. Also, there were some spots where I was able to jump into but not back out of, rendering me stuck until I loaded the last auto-save.
When reloading the pistol, the amount of ammo you have doesn’t always add up correctly. The gun has a maximum of 9 shots before reloading, but when there is less excess ammunition than what’s in the clip, it throws away the remaining ammo For example: You have 7/9 bullets loaded with an additional 5. Instead of reading 9/9 with 3, it tosses out that extra three. While it’s usually common knowledge to follow the lighted trail, the openness of Solarix’s setting seems to encourage the player to explore and find alternate routes or areas. Unfortunately, these paths almost always lead to a dead end with nothing to show for the time spent traveling there. Hopefully in the final version, more details will be added to increase the satisfaction in seeking these locations out.
The game boasts a superb level of graphical fidelity, small details shining through in every area. From cramped crew’s quarters to open forests boasting an impressive view of the sprawling skyscrapers, all complimented with immersive rain effects and toxic clouds, you’ll be absorbed quickly into this desolate atmosphere. There are a number of resolutions are available to use, with displays over 1920×1200 being available via console commands. Visual quality and vertical sync options are also offered.
Solarix is extremely playable with a keyboard and mouse setup, with all keys being fully rebindable. It is perfectly viable to use a 360 controller, but as I don’t have one, I’m not able to test this. The movement system is mostly responsive, but I often get stuck on the terrain and objects when in a crouched position. This makes for some tense situations when I’m surrounded by baddies, desperately trying to move back further into the shadows, only to be caught against something. In many cases, the only fix is standing back up, moving away from the object, and ducking again. Sprinting and jumping are done without a hitch, and switching between your weapons and items is nearly effortless.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Solarix is scheduled for release sometime in the first quarter of 2015. There were several gameplay kinks presented during my time with the beta, but the game has great potential for a solid sci-fi horror experience. If you’re into this kind of setting, or simply enjoy becoming engrossed in a dark atmosphere, this game will be well worth checking out.