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Solstice Chronicles: MIA (PC) review

 
Solstice Chronicles MIA logo
Solstice Chronicles MIA logo
Solstice Chronicles MIA logo

 
At a Glance...
 

Formats: PC (reviewed)
 
Genre: ,
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 
Final Score
8.0
8/ 10


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

We liked?


  • The classes play differently to each other, and can be built to play differently from others of the same foundation thanks to skill points gained
  • Long campaign broken into bitesize individual missions, with five difficulties to replay through. And then the survival mode is sitting there to tempt you further
  • Good use of atmosphere in the setting, even if the setting isn't outstandingly original

Not so much?


  • A core mechanic in the enemy threat levels - and the skills to manipulate it - are a good idea, but never quite feel as central to the game as probably intended
  • The emptiness of the survival mode map may well encourage building up temporary defences, but - dare I say it? - still leave it feeling too big and too empty. The mode is a good idea, but it's not a sandbox
  • Lots of errors in the game's written text, from the irritation of spelling mistakes to the confusion of unclear explanations. Hopefully something to be easily fixed


0
Posted July 28, 2017 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

If you find yourself trapped by hordes of mutants out to make a meal of you, being in the company of a sarcastic AI drone is probably a mixed blessing at best. But this is the fate of the protagonist of Solstice Chronicles: MIA, and thus of you too.

The humour from your only companion juxtaposes with the grim setting, one shared with its sister game The Red Solstice released in 2015. But where the older game was a tactical squad-based affair, Solstice Chronicles is a twin stick shooter where you lead a lone soldier (or one of a pair of them in local coop) through what can safely be described as “a bad day”.
Solstice Chronicles MIA screen
Set on a future, post-Earth Mars which suffers vast sandstorms and has rival factions trying to direct the future of the colony, getting attacked by diseased, mutated creatures is probably just the icing on the cake. But this is your stating point and with little ammunition and less hope you try to push your way to safety.

The creatures are all stock critters you’ll likely have seen before – small scuttlers, larger crawling beasts, hulking humanoids that take a lot of damage and hit like a truck… Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms has to be that the setting is nothing gamers won’t have seen before. It’s straight off the Survival Horror shelf, but while it may be working with something we’ve seen before, it does it well – a standard setting, but a very well realised version of that setting.
Solstice Chronicles MIA screen
A large part of the survival feeling comes from the limited ammo and resources you need to scavenge as you go, all while waves of creatures keep coming at you. But the more you survive the better you get at surviving, reflected in weapons levelling (for more damage, increased magazine size, and chances to crit) and in gaining skill points to put into your class. The review copy provided was limited to having two classes unlocked – Assault being a run-and-gun style for providing the maximum amount of violence as soon as anything appears, in contrast to Demolition who relies far more on skill cooldowns and needs to plan the best moment to use them efficiently. It’s commendable that while they use common controls, the two classes feel distinctly different to play. [Note: the review copy only had two classes, but the full release has four]

You’re the lone survivor, but thanks to Saffron – the mentioned companion drone – you’re not alone. Her role (and she is a she, even in robotic form) is more than just giving you conversation and levity, as she also has several crowd controlling skills available, such as taunting enemies (drawing out several attack waves to buy you some brief respite afterwards) or self-detonating for huge damage (potentially lethal to yourself too, if misjudged).
Solstice Chronicles MIA screen
Saffron’s skills all effect the current threat level though, a game mechanic looking to bring a twist to the genre. The principle is good – higher threat can mean stronger enemies, larger waves, more bosses and so on. However, in practice the threat levels can fluctuate a lot, meaning that trying to influence them can feel like you never quite sieze the initiative. It can often feel like if you’re able to cope with the consequence of lowering the threat level (extra hordes, or summoned bosses), you’re actually able to cope with the higher threat level itself. The concept is definitely a good one, seeking to add a twist to things, though in practice it never quite felt like something pressing.

The core of the game is taught through a story-driven campaign, which actually runs quite a few hours and makes good use of the setting’s atmosphere. You’ll regularly find yourself working through confined spaces, or relying on torchlight to see your way ahead, and it’ll leave you savouring those moments when you lay your hands on one of the game’s big weapons to make everything around you explode and burn for a short while. Each stage is also playable in five difficulties, which would be the main reason for retrying them – while there is encouragement to explore, rarely is there anything better than some extra ammo to find laying off of the main routes, and you’ll often find you’ve used more ammo than that to get there in the first place.
Solstice Chronicles MIA screen
However, when the storyline is through there is also survival mode, an interesting take on adding extra content and likely the long term winner if playing with friends. Placed on a large, fairly open map, you are given a series of objectives to complete, all while fighting those pesky mutants and trying to keep yourself standing. If you survive – that is, extract from the mission area at preset times – you get to keep the weapon experience and skill points earned, giving you a fighting chance at getting a little further on the next run… and the next… and so on. The openness of the map is a mixed blessing – on the one hand, it can feel pretty sparse; but there are also equipment pieces the drone can be instructed to collect and deploy, such as barriers and turrets. Preparation is definitely the key. [In the review copy only one survival map was on offer, though the developers have said on public conversation threads on Steam that more are due to be added in the future.]

In conclusion

So how does Solstice Chronicles: MIA hold up? Certainly, the “lone soldier fighting mutants” setting feels derivative, although this stock setting is taken and used better than by most others. It’s also presented well that sections lit by torchlight – or flames – carry that sense of fearing what you cannot see in the dark. But the basic concept of a twin-stick shooter is very satisfyingly filled out thanks to the character development, applying points to improve on traits or unlock skills, and gaining proficiency with weapons to give you more of a fighting chance. Being able to focus on a character build, with the replayability of the survival mode to work on them, is very enjoyable and adds more to the title than you’d expect from a control system focused towards “shoot things until they burst”.

Solstice Chronicles: MIA is available now via Steam

The product under review was provided by the creator, manufacturer, publisher or their PR representative free of charge and without caveat. Please see our site review policy for more information.

Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.