Publisher: Nkidu Games
Rating: Presently unrated
The Red Solstice is an early-access title available on Steam. It is a top-down action-RTS with strategy-RPG and MOBA elements—think Starcraft II meets Warcraft III meets XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It was developed by Croatian indie developer Ironward and released in July, 2015.
In The Red Solstice, earth’s population was destroyed by the apocalyptic STROL virus, and a remnant of humanity founded a new society on Mars. 117 years After Earth, a cataclysmic Martian storm cleverly-titled “The Red Solstice” rips across Mars, decimating the colony of Tharsis. With Tharsis’s power and infrastructure out of commission, colonial authorities are horrified as hordes of STROL-infected monstrosities arise. Time is not on the humans’ side. An elite squad of colonial marines under your command are dispatched to navigate the infested city in search of a corporate CEO who just might have the answers to the questions of the hour: where did these STROL monsters come from? How do we stop them?
On a large scale, the story and content are given thoughtful consideration. Humans are not on Mars just because that makes the phrase “Red Solstice” more applicable, but because they were forced there by the STROL virus. There is a sense of history to the overall plot and to the present circumstances. The developers had a clear plan of the kind of world and the kind of conflicts they wanted to create. Considering the game is highly-focused on its gameplay and that Ironward is indie, this is especially worthy of applause.
Problematically, smaller portions of writing, specifically the dialogue, were clearly penned by people who don’t speak English as their first language. Combined with the iffy voice acting (see below) the overall effect ultimately weakens this aspect of The Red Solstice’s presentation.
Cartoony violence and dated graphics are prominent. Blood streaks and corpses are strewn about the maps. Some of the aliens are grotesque, but I don’t expect anyone over the age of 12 to have nightmares.
Gameplay is The Red Solstice‘s best selling-point. It combines many small-scale elements of a fast-paced action-RTS with large-scale RPG elements surrounding character unlocks and customizations. This makes the experience of leveling in both the singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns consistently satisfying.
In a singleplayer game, you control the squad leader, and you direct the other three squad members to follow, move, or hold a position as you work to complete objectives. Generally, your squaddies do what they need to and function fine on auto-fire mode. When the enemy AI decides to kick things into high-gear, you have the option to hit space bar and slow gameplay by 90%, giving you the time to issue specific commands to each squad member for maximum efficiency. Trust me: you’ll need it.
Your objectives are typically centered around escorting important NPCs, holding positions against waves of zombies and mutants, and moving to checkpoints. All the while, you are assaulted by a seemingly endless flow of monsters as you consistently run low on the medical equipment and ammunition you need to survive. At your discretion, you must deviate from your main objective to loot abandoned buildings in hopes of finding the special weapons and ammo you need to press forward. At times it’ll just be one or two zombies following you from a distance, and at other times you’ll have to hunker down and put your full arsenal of weapons, special abilities, and pickup items to work as lumbering giants, subterranean beasts reminiscent of the Lukers in Starcraft, fast-moving explosive suiciders, and four-legged dog mutants rush toward you from every direction.
You never feel safe in The Red Solstice. And the experience is better for it.
Between levels, you have the ability to choose weapons, secondary weapons, ammo and armor customizations, an assortment of special abilities (is your character focused on passive buffs and auras, powerful cooldown attacks, or a combination of the two?) which you allocate points into, and stat points you can use to further customize a character’s health, movement speed, attack damage, reload speed, etc etc. Character growth is based on experience you earn by completing objectives during missions. As the game progresses, you are granted access to more and varying character classes. You can be everything from an agile submachine gunner to a chaingun-wielding support fighter to a heavily-armored pyromanaical phenom.
In multiplayer you unlock character classes and customizations as you rank up by playing consistently (think Mass Effect 3). You start each match at level 1 and power up as you gain experience through the duration of the game (think DotA or LoL). Your multiplayer squad will host up to eight players who absolutely must work together to survive—sharing items, healing, and covering one another during reloads. Any attempt to “fly solo” will lead to a hasty death as you are quickly surrounded and overrun by zombies who, surprisingly, know the value of teamwork.
There are six multiplayer maps to choose from, and your objectives vary from game-to-game along with enemies, items, etc. Each “phase” of the hour-long match will have you holding a position, moving to extract a key NPC, killing a boss monster, or eliminating a team of armed separatists. Some objectives are close to one another (phew!) but others will have your team crossing the entire map as the “time until overrun” clock ticks by and you struggle to maintain your pool of ammo because the monsters just won’t stop. The multiplayer is further enriched by the variety of modifiers you can choose from game-to-game. For example, you can make enemies faster, but weaker, or even play a “red storm” mode where being outdoors reduces visibility and firing accuracy.
Overall the multiplayer experience is a ton of fun and very satisfying when you’re booking it toward the escape dropship with your minigun, and you turn around at the last minute to loose a barrage of bullets to blow away the zombie that was about to grab the slowest member of your team, and you yell “GET TO THE CHOPPA!” with cheese doodle dust on your fingers like you just don’t care!
The singleplayer campaign in many ways is mere preparation for the multiplayer campaign. And really, once you play the multiplayer, you’ll see why that is totally okay.
The main drawbacks to gameplay lie in the steep learning curve and the lack of clarity for completing certain objectives. This is not as much of a problem during multiplayer, but it is a significant drawback to the singleplayer experience.
The graphics are dated, but if you’re playing this game for the graphics and story, you’re missing the point. The dated graphics might actually be a plus, as those who don’t have top-tier PCs will be able to play without graphical lag.
The voice acting could be worse, but it could be better, too. Most of the marines sound like skinny Italian dudes (that’s me!) trying to sound like 250lb space marines. It’s mostly cheesy.
The music is pretty standard for sci-fi. It’s not bad, but not worthy of special note.
The developers are still working out some bugs, which typically cause the game to load slowly or to crash. They seem to be pretty invested in getting things fixed, though, so I anticipate they’ll have a lot of the kinks worked out in the coming weeks.
The Red Solstice features a fairly-intriguing plot with a challenging singleplayer campaign that RTS/MOBA fans will likely appreciate. But don’t be fooled: this game’s true merit lies in its cooperative multiplayer, which, along with its customization options and game-to-game objectives, is bound to provide veterans and newbs to the genre with a heck of a lot of fun.
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The Bottom Line
The Red Solstice features a fairly-intriguing plot with a challenging singleplayer campaign that RTS/MOBA fans will likely appreciate. But don't be fooled: this game's true merit lies in its cooperative multiplayer, which along with its customization options and game-to-game objectives, is bound to provide veterans and newbs to the genre with a heck of a lot of fun.