Gamers love space. And gamers love marines. So it should come as no surprise that Ironward’s The Red Solstice, which has come to Steam Early Access, is chock full of those seemingly superhuman soldiers, Space Marines. What is a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, is the fact that this latest entry into the real-time strategy genre plays like a real-time XCOM. Supporting up to eight-players, The Red Solstice sees your squad deployed to Mars to investigate what has happened a colony there in the wake of a violent storm dubbed The Red Solstice. As you face huge maps, random events, various objectives, and of course, a buttload of Martian monsters, you must strategize, survive and conquer by any means necessary. But is this a battle worth fighting? That’s the question posed to TVGB’s Noe Ponce, Andrew Burrage and Vince Borkowski in this Team Review of The Red Solstice.
The Red Solstice is a tactical, co-op multiplayer game that plays out similar to a real-time XCOM. In the build I reviewed, the single-player campaign was not unlocked, so I only truly experienced the tutorial. The tutorial was a lot of fun, albeit a bit confusing and short. I loaded into the game and my character was being attacked by an alien. He kills it and rendezvous with his team after a short instructional tutorial. You then move as a group with your teammates and fulfill various objectives, such as defend a point, turn on power stations and fight waves of enemies. The confusing part of the tutorial level was that their were so many other things to do in the game besides what you had to do. I wandered around the map for over 30 minutes, ignoring my team and accomplishing bonus objectives but in the end, it didn’t matter. The tutorial didn’t even take place on a quarter of the map. A lot of items I collected during the tutorial weren’t even explained to me. The Red Solstice suffers, even in this review build, without a true tutorial.
In terms of online play, The Red Solstice HAS an online multiplayer component but there was never anyone online when I connected to it. That being said, I imagine it plays out very similarly to the tutorial. Except instead of a group of NPCs, you are now playing with other players who have their own customized soldier. Online play is very interesting, too, from what I understand; it’s a shame I never got to experience it. There are eight different classes to choose from, though many need to be unlocked first. The classes are: Assault, Heavy Support, Recon, Marksman, Demolition, Terminator, Hellfire and Medic. Eight players can be in one group so it is entirely possible to have one of each class at a time. The objectives given are never the same each time you play. They are totally random each time. You would group-up with others and beat each objectives, level up your online soldier and improve them for the next round.
The Red Solstice has it’s flaws but every game does this early in development. That being said, I can totally see this game becoming one of the greats and pleasing tactical, top-down fans everywhere.
To preface this preview, The Red Solstice is still in Early Access, and as such many of the comments made here are subject to becoming moot over time. Solstice is a top-down tactical game set on Mars, where a Martian colony has gone incommunicado, and is suffering from monster attacks (think of a better version of the movie Doom, for those of you who had the misfortune to see it). Your role as a soldier is to infiltrate and assess the damage. Since only the tutorial and the multiplayer facets were available to us for review, I immediately booted up the tutorial to see how the game feels. As someone who hasn’t played many RTS games since the OG Starcraft, the first thing I noticed was that, surprisingly, it did not take very long to get used to the control mechanics, which helps to easily engage those not familiar with the genre. The tutorial for the most part explains how the system works, what you can do, and how to do it. In it’s most basic form, right-click moves and left-click attacks. There was one hiccup I had during the tutorial where I had to shoot a turret and couldn’t actually blow it up with left-clicking (and after some Googling found that this particular weapon requires a left-shift + click), but for the most part it was straightforward, explaining the purest basics of the game. There are definitely some bugs that need fixing: for example, there is an auto-shoot option so you don’t have to click on every enemy every time to attack them, but whenever I had this option enabled and a text bubble appeared, the auto-fire disabled itself as soon as I left-clicked to close out the box.
It is very clear that the early version of this game focuses on the multiplayer aspects of the game. A party of up to 8 players can take on different roles, assault, demolitions, or medic, for example, to complete an assigned objective and defend against multiple waves of monsters. The problem with this, as Noe mentions above, is that the online presence is extremely sparse. I was able to get some multiplayer time in with fellow writer Vince Borkowski, but that led to a whole different set of problems. The multiplayer is almost exclusively set up to play with at least four players; even on the easiest setting, Vince and I couldn’t beat the second wave of monsters as we were pushing to complete our objectives. At some point, a sort of mini-boss inevitably shows up, and even unloading all of my grenades into this thing barely put a dent in the creature. It was interesting to explore the area and find new items and the like to see what the game has to offer, but it was virtually impossible to complete the map with just the two of us. In lieu of no single player, I think there should be at least a way to get through some sort of mission in a co-op setting.
There are many criticisms to note with the early version of The Red Solstice. There needs to be more draw to early adopters: a few single player missions outside of the tutorial would have given more opportunity to get to know the game better. It’s understandable that there are few people in the multiplayer section, but that doesn’t give much opportunity to check it out as in-depth as I would have liked. That being said, I enjoyed the tutorial for the most part, and Vince and I had a good time goofing around during the multiplayer picking up items, searching through abandoned buildings, and activating sentry turrets to kill some monsters before ultimately running out of ammo and dying. The Red Solstice has potential, and I can see myself playing it once the devs have cleaned it up a bit and made it more accessible to one- or two-player groups. The game was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in April, so it may take some time to fully develop its features. Unless you have a group of four or more friends looking to play the game every weekend, I would recommend waiting on getting the game right away. But if you are a fan of the genre, or like a fun sci-fi setting, definitely keep the game on your radar.
I found The Red Solstice to be a fun game, albeit with a harsh learning curve. The game has a cool-sounding premise, where you play as a space marine shooting aliens and completing missions. Right away though, especially if you didn’t read any how-to guides like I did, you’ll quickly run out of ammo and find yourself dead. This made for a challenging play-through. You quickly learn to search for more ammo, move evasively, and otherwise complete the mission. But the game has another challenge (at least in this beta version): you’re very limited in the classes, gear, and power-ups you can pick. After playing a few games you get experience that will give you better access, but you need to grind through. First starting out, this is rough. The enemies get tougher over time and each mission found Andy and I running from the behemoths carrying a wrecking ball.
Looking forward, once you get a lot of experience and have access to the weapons and power-ups you want, I expect this difficulty to drop. The game also has an eight team member ability. We were unable to find anyone to join our team, but this may soon change as well. To add to the mix, the game has different difficulty modes, but Andy and I were spanked even on Recruit. Movement and activating are also done using the right mouse button, which can feel a bit awkward.
These are all details that are fixable by the time the full version of the game comes out. The idea behind the game is great, but this current version needs more people to flesh out teams who starting out will be quickly destroyed. I’m optimistic, despite the negatives listed above. New maps and missions will also round this game out. Strategy, teamwork, and communication are crucial, so this game isn’t advised if you aren’t a social creature or just looking for a solo shoot-em-up. Once the three of us get more friends (fingers crossed) this game has a ton of potential.
As an Early Access release, it’s no surprise The Red Solstice still has some kinks to work out of it’s hulking, mechanized space marine armor. With no single-player element currently available, we can only discuss the multiplayer experience. Aside from lacking a multitude of players, the multiplayer is surprisingly a fun, straightforward and familiar team-based shoot-em-up. Once more people flood the servers, to fight back the flood of monsters as a well-oiled tactical unit, The Red Solstice should prove to be a great way to spend time with up to seven other friends, new or old. Afterall, nothing brings strangers together like killing monsters on the red sanded shores of a distant planet.
It takes a village to raze a planet
Noe Ponce - 7/10
Andrew Burrage - 6/10
Vince Borkowski - 6/10
The Red Solstice is currently more frustrating than fun, which is to be expected when your 8 player co-op game is in need of 7 more players. At this stage, there aren't enough people playing to fill the lobbies. But if more marines join the fight, it has potential.