By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Solstice Chronicles: MIA is a twin-stick shooter from Ironward, set in the same universe as their game The Red Solstice. Though I did not play any of their other titles, I definitely enjoyed what I experienced in this game. It’s a game that absolutely refuses to hold your hand, even on lower difficulties [except possibly the lowest one; didn’t try that one, just the harder ones]. It does offer a few minor tutorial screens, thankfully. The challenge is strong but warranted, but I do have some gripes and complaints that I plan to address. This is also a game I feel deserves some online play – something it currently lacks. The terror that a player feels when traversing these impossibly dark, empty areas could be way more entertaining with a friend. Quite a bit has changed from when I played this in the closed/technical alpha of the game, as far as game mechanics go anyway.
The actual game has remained the same as far as I can tell, but that’s fine! The game was already good. It just needed some solid menus [or rather, menus at all], to not crash everytime I died, or to not let me save. This game also now has difficulty levels! From Recruit [easiest, minimal enemy resistance] to Aetriden [the best of the best, the most badass man in space], but anything over Recruit is going to be a challenge unless you are truly godlike at twin-stick survival. If that’s not enough, beat the game and you get “MERCS” difficulty. These difficulties appear on Survival and Story Mode. The higher the difficulty, the more Stars you get at the end of a level. The more stars, the more skill points you get. High risk, high reward.
When I did the 6.0 GB update so I could play the full game, I still expected to be a nightmarish Hell where if you die you start all over again, because that’s what happened to me in the Alpha. It was an unforgiving wasteland, and James Cameron only dreams he could create that much fear with his aliens as Ironward did. That’s the big story point though: you are a space marine, trapped behind enemy lines, with hordes of zombies, aliens, and monsters barring your path. Your only ally is a robotic drone who teaches you the few things it can and tries to help you survive. It can upgrade as the game progresses, which will give it useful powers. These powers almost all come with a cost though. I think the only one that doesn’t have an actual major downside was “Taunt,” which lowers your Threat Level [which I will get to very soon]. The other powers, the longer you use them, the more your threat goes up. It seems to be incredibly overpowered until you consider the cost.
For example, the drone has a bomb. It activates and the longer you wait, the bigger the radius gets. You can get caught in it and explode, killing you. I use it in some of the more stressful boss fights, but one blast is not enough. It has a cooldown but did obliterate the waves of annoying monsters that were chasing me around that dim, dismal room. You can also send your robot friend off to get you supplies [AMMO. BEAUTIFUL AMMO] but the longer you send it away, the higher the threat level grows, so be wary of that and try to only use it when you are at low threat, and there are no more enemies spawning to fight you. You can also have it guard/defend you at the same cost. That drone has a personality, is quite pleasant, and only wants you to survive and get to civilization again. It becomes less of an OP Killing Machine and more of the only real check and balance you have against the endless hordes. Sure, you have tons of guns [tons of damn guns], cool grenades, auto-turrets, flares to light your way, but when you are out of grenades, have no resources for the turret, and you just fought your way through waves of foes, what do you do? You get that helpful Drone to get you ammo and get back to the fighting.
So I’ve mentioned “Threat Level” a few times. What exactly is it, anyway? It’s a bar at the top of your screen, and it’s a very clear indicator of how boned you are at any particular moment. When it’s at the far left and reads “Low,” you’ll get a few aliens here and there, nothing terrifying. They will occasionally come behind you and other than the bare lights in the game, they won’t likely be seen until they are right on you. More often than not, they’ll come from where you need to go. The farther the bar goes into the red and toward the right, the more intense the encounter will be. Enemies will come in waves, and as you mow them down, the bar will deplete more and more – but it takes time, and I hope you have the bullets for it. If it gets to “Extreme Threat!” then you know it’s really going down. You’re going to see the bigger, more ferocious aliens/demons/monsters, the kind that can exhale and summon more zombies from the ground below you. I advise against advancing too far in the higher threat modes: just find somewhere safe with a wall behind you and obliterate those enemies! You have a melee attack in the most dire of situations and a brief dash, but it’s really down to you and the bullets.
Speaking of bullets, there is a bevy of guns, from pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, and even flamethrowers. Guns level as you kill more enemies with them, which makes them more and more useful. This was something that was unclear, and brings me to a point: while this game is not big on help, it should at least have tooltips. At least on a controller, I have no idea how to show tooltips because there is no “button” for it. That’s one of the few things this game needs, it needs tool tips for the skills and guns in the character improvement menu. As you play, you gain skill points that you can invest into your suit of battle armor, the character in general, etc. You have three choices, and each of those has a host of skills/weapons to improve, but you have no real idea what they improve, which is a serious detriment. Out of all the guns I’ve encountered, the best one to me was the Flamethrower. It has no ammo, but it has a stamina meter. The longer you hold the trigger, the weaker it gets, so I get that initial huge burst of deadly flame, hold back, and do it again. That and the pistol are my go-to. You have a wider burst arc/faster shot with the other guns, but they’re less precise. You have an arc that bullets can go through, and the farther away you are, the less likely you are to hit. You can activate auto-aim, but it has a timer and can be toggled on/off as needed [until it runs out].
Story Mode is pretty self-explanatory. You proceed through the levels without a minimap and with only minimal light to see by. You have a flashlight, some flares [maybe] and the occasional lighting of these factories and buildings. At the end of a stage, you can replay, quit, or move on. At certain points, it will get increasingly harder with the Threat Level amping up, and at the end, it tends to have a horrifically difficult boss fight attached to it. You also have a few lives at least! It comes in the form of “Suit Integrity,” which is not healed by med kits. Each time you die, you can hold a button to auto-resurrect, which takes some of your suits integrity but gets you back in the fight. You can also unlock a new combat suit, the Terminator, but only after you beat the game on Soldier Difficulty [second difficulty]. It’s the most powerful, but the weaker the suits integrity is, the weaker his skills are. Survival Mode only has one map right now. It’s a simple premise: Survive, Escape. You must find out how to power the area you’re in. Then you have to turn on four terminals and get out, but there are constant waves of infuriating monsters, structures to build, and phases to go through. There’s a “safer” Evac phase, which you need to do because that’s how you get your exp in this mode. That and surviving, that’s key. I’m so bad at this mode, but I love it anyway. I’m more interested in the Story Mode, that’s my kind of challenge. You have to figure out where to set up your defenses in the dark, and hold up there and defeat as many foes as you can. It’s rough, unforgiving, and brutal. But that’s what makes it shine.
Alone in the Dark: 4/5 (Great)
Solstice Chronicles: MIA is Nintendo Hard. This is probably the highest compliment I can give. The harder the difficulty, the greater steps this game will take to stomp on your spine, pull it out, and also eat it. The premise is simple but is also terrifyingly frustrating. It is not revolutionary by any standard; this is a game you’ve no doubt played before on a plethora of platforms. It’s a love letter to my childhood, games that made me weep with anger but kept me coming back anyway. It’s hard to judge the graphics because the whole game is so damn dark, but the cutscenes are fantastic. It’s not supposed to be a graphical powerhouse. It’s supposed to be hard to see, that’s part of the charm. There are a few things I need more of in the game. First, online multiplayer. It doesn’t need a PVP arena [that also has PVE enemies] but it would be amazing. Second, more Survival Stages are a must, and I’m sure they’ll come about. Overall, as I said it’s simple, but it is doing what it sets out to do exquisitely.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA Screenshots