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PREVIEW / Solarix (PC)

 

Survival horror and First Person Shooters have been bedfellows since the days of Doom.  While other genres incorporate survival horror into their core features (think: Outlast, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame), this sub-genre seems to work best, in my humble opinion, when combined with the ability to use as many loud, powerful guns as possible.  Wanting to bring that experience back in a new title, Pulsetense Games has spent the last four years working on their admission to the survival-horror stealth FPS genre with Solarix.  On the harsh world of Ancyra, you take on the role of Walter, an electrical engineer working at an interstellar research station who wakes up one day to discover all of his crew-mates have been annihilated by a deadly virus.  With only the help of a rogue AI, you must navigate the research station using stealth to stay in the shadows and to avoid the corporations ‘clean-up’ squad who has been deployed to remove all traces of the outbreak.

 

 

The gameplay in Solarix is heavily based on your ability to use light and shadow to your advantage.  If you are in the open and in the light, the enemies will hunt you down mercilessly unless you are able to slink back into the shadows and break their line of sight.  Being stealthy and outwitting the enemies is the key and to do this you will need to use the environment by either staying in the shadows or destroying light sources to create your own.  While the game is an FPS, it’s not advisable to go on killing sprees as ammo is very limited and you will constantly have to weigh using your bullets to take out a light source or to instead use it on an enemy who is blocking your path.  There are other ways to distract enemies such as throwing a piece of metal to take the enemies attention in another direction leaving you to make your way to the mission objective.

 

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Enemies will open up a Hungry Man sized can of whoopa$$ if they spot you.

 

The visuals in the beta version that I played were not bad considering the early state that the game is in.  However, there still needs to be some polishing done to get this game ready for release.   There are three levels available in the preview build that I sampled and you spend a lot of time outside where it just happens to be raining.  The rocks all look very wet and shiny from the rain and you can catch the light of a lantern as it flickers off of the falling droplets of rain.  Textures like metal and glass seem to be coming along nicely.  This is a very dark game, as you would suspect from the subject matter, and the fact that you spend so much time is dark corners, you will never really get a chance to appreciate the work that is going into making the environments look so good.

 

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This is a very dark game for the most part which means plenty of shadows to hide in.

 

The sound effects and sound track in Solarix also seem to be coming along nicely.  The background music that plays as you are traversing the levels is appropriately suspenseful and dark.  The music sets an appropriate level of unease as you creep your way around a dark corner not knowing exactly what you are about to encounter.  The crackle of the enemies rifles as they open up on you felt believable and weighty, the spatter of the rain on the rocky terrain sounds real and alive and it all comes together to complement a world that is alien and strange.  The voice overs are an area that may need a little more tweaking, however, as the lines that the actors deliver feel amateurish and uninspired.  In addition, enemies will recite the same lines of dialogue repeatedly if you are hiding within ear shot which got to be a bit boring and unrealistic.

 

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The rain effects are actually pretty impressive as they reflect light, bounce off of objects and splatter on the ground.

 

Pulsetense Games is preparing Solarix for an April 30, 2015 launch date but judging from this beta, I wonder if it would be better if they waited a few more months to work out more of the kinks.  There were some issues with the enemy AI in one level where I distracted a guard who was standing in front of my objective and he was unable (or unwilling) to return to his previous patrol route once he determined that the threat was gone.  He just stared at a rock wall reciting lines from his particular batch of responses but never really got back into the game, so to speak.  In addition, the fact that you don’t necessarily need a gun to get through this game leaves me scratching my head as to why this game is an FPS.  In all of the levels that I played, I was able to make my way by just staying in the shadows and it seemed like such a wasted opportunity to have great stealth gameplay and ignore the FPS gameplay to some extent.

 

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A large square will appear around objects that you can interact with.

 

The developers are billing this game as one that doesn’t hold your hand and gives you the freedom to explore and discover the game on your own.  While this is a good way to approach giving the utmost control to the player in theory, it just fell flat in practice.  I frequently found myself walking in circles because there were no systems in place to give me even the slightest clue as to if I’m going in the right direction (no HUD or area map) or if I am even in the right area.  I just found that to be very frustrating and something just felt very unbalanced about the way the mechanics of this game are set up.

 

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Enemies patrol a certain route but can be distracted to investigate any sounds that they hear.

 

Overall, I think that with some work, this could be a decent addition to the survival horror genre as there were a few genuine moments of fright as I made my way around the research facility.  However, the wonky AI, the lack of any real FPS features (where are the guns) and the fact that just sticking to the shadows is basically a sure fire way to progress in the game leaves me thinking that this game isn’t quite ready for prime time.  Some severe balancing issues still plague this game so I am hoping that a lot has taken place between the time this beta was released and when the final game drops at the end of the month.  Only time will tell but I am optimistically keeping my fingers crossed that Pulsetense will be able to deliver a solid survival-horror stealth FPS experience.

 

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