Should I care about Solarix? Yes and no. I really love what Solarix tries to achieve — a new game in the mould of the original Deus Ex or System Shock 2 — but it lacks their spirit, their soul.
What’s it about? Here’s a general overview of the game, via its Steam page:
“Solarix is a science-fiction stealth-horror game featuring open-ended levels for both combative and stealth-focused playstyles. Solarix combines old-school sci-fi horror with modern style and graphics. The story follows an electrical engineer desperately fighting for his life after an infection wipes out an interstellar research station. He must contain the disease, battling both the remnants of the crew and his own fracturing mind. Our goal is to go beyond jumpscares and cheap thrills. Solarix is about a world that overpowers you with unease, insecurity, and desperation, forcing you to confront your own role in the horrors to come.”
You can watch me play a bit of it here. (I’d have embedded the video, but Twitch and Kinja aren’t playing nice right now. YouTube embed coming as soon as the video finishes uploading sometime within the next several thousand sci-fi future years.)
Why is (or isn’t it) cool? When it’s at its best, it really does feel like an old-school horror-tinged stealth-’em-up — except, you know, wicked pretty. But after I got comfortable in my space sneakers, I realised that each stomping step carried with it a certain hollowness. The story, while creepy and well-acted, leaned on tired tropes. It felt a bit too inspired by games like System Shock. On top of that, levels used old-school game design techniques as a crutch rather than an appeal, leading to areas that didn’t make a whole lot of intuitive sense (get the first key from an objective, the other is in a random box or some shit I guess). And instead of allowing for Deus-Ex-style limit-ignoring freedom, Solarix reveled in arbitrary invisible barriers and things of that sort. Basically, it wanted the player to be a little clever, but punished me for being too clever. Deus Ex: Invisible Wall, I’ve taken to calling it.
Also, the stealth — enemy patterns and AI, your options in each scenario — struck me as pretty basic. When you can shoot out a light over a guard and they don’t even react with a Metal Gear courtesy “whatwassat,” you’ve got a problem. They’re also functionally blind unless you’re standing directly in front of them. And yet, if they hear a single non-crouched footstep, they act like you’re detonating nuclear bombs between your toes.
Yikes. So it’s terrible? Not terrible per se. Just flawed. I did not have a bad time during my few hours with it! I just never had a great time either. I kept having flashbacks to moments in Deus Ex and System Shock and realising that, while Solarix was prettier, it wasn’t better — or even close to as good.
Should I buy it (even though there are a million-billion other Steam games I could spend my money on)? Only if you’re really hankering for an old-school-style stealth-action game and have replayed all the classics too recently for another replay to sound appealing. In fairness, Solarix is only $US20, so you could do a whole, whole lot worse. But you could also do a lot better, so maybe wait for a Steam sale.