Saturday, 13 August 2016

Whiskey Reviews: Solarix

Platform: PC
Release Date: 30 April 2015
Developer: Pulsetense Games
Publisher: KISS Ltd
Where to get it: Steam, Here
Price: £14.99 (Steam)

This review was originally posted on Pixel Judge when I was working for them. It's the most trying review I've ever had to do and the only game I've ever reviewed without finishing it - though not for a lack of trying, my mental fortitude just gave out. Sadly the images have been lost to time and shoddy record keeping on my part so you'll have to just enjoy the notation and imagine terrible quality screens. Enjoy looking back on my pain!

Why do you hate me? Why? What did I ever do to you?

These are some of the thoughts that ran through my head after half an hour with the Solarix. At first you're presented with a room that's somewhat reminiscent of Korben Dallas' one from Fifth Element and there's a brief sense of wonder and the possibility of fun and jump scares lurking outside the sealed door. Your sense of wonder is quickly dispelled by a hamfisted tutorial presented by a voice actor that blatantly couldn't give two shits about her role and you're kicked out into the bloodstained corridors to struggle through the story.

The story is that a mysterious disease is killing people, some of them are already 'anomalies' (i.e. zombies) and the still living know they're dying so they've given up the last of their humanity already, preferring to shoot on sight or bludgeon you to death instead of sitting down to talk about their feelings. You play electrical engineer Bisaac Smark (I didn't care enough to learn his real name) who sneaks, shoots and electrocutes his way around the world looking for the contrived McGuffins the voices in your head tell you to look for.

[IMAGE No. 01 “Oooh, he's got an arm off. Wait, that's just a glitch.”]

Often you'll find yourself in a moderately large open area and find a door that requires a keycard. You don't have one so it's time to explore, two minutes later and you've found a cave filled with fart gas and a dead guy inside. The bored voice actress says his hand can open doors and we need something to cut his hand off with. So it's back to dicking around and two minutes later we have a bone saw, conveniently left lying about in the mud and rain, in the middle of a mining (I think) camp. One trek back to the fart cave and we have a hand but it won't open the door from earlier so we go searching for another door and lose all ability to give a shit as well as a will to live.

It's not that the puzzles are bad, it's that everything is bad. Early on you find an item that's huge, the size of a massive flashlight and as soon as you pick it up it's the size of a pill bottle. Leaning is a feature but the first-person model doesn't move with it so your stiff little stick arm ends up waving across the screen every time you press the lean key. Other issues abound such as dodgy texture work, a flashlight that seems to work fine one minute and only reach 2 feet the next, and hilariously unreliable enemy AI.

[IMAGE No. 10 “A valve, reminding you that better games exist.”]

Most of the story is presented through audio logs and seemingly non-stop voices in your head, presumably calling over some kind of communications implant. The audiologs in particular I find to be a tired and ineffective storytelling mechanic that doesn't engage me – with no visible characters and each audiolog being from a different person it feels like random cross-section of diseased space-Facebook and, just like the real thing, I couldn't give two squirts of piss about it or anything people have to say through it.

The lack of a quicksave function is icing on the cake for a terrible experience; death does not come swiftly when you're discovered by guards, you'll often only have your stealth weapon (which doesn't work unless you zap enemies in the back of the head) and have to stand there while the screen shakes about with each attack waiting for the sweet sweet release of the game over screen. The two options it presents; last save and exit feel like some sick, twisted willpower test. The exit button becomes positively magnetic after your umpteenth death to dodgy AI.

[IMAGE No. 38 “Please, take my gun. We can share the last bullet if we put our heads together.”]

Perhaps you could say that Solarix succeeds in atmosphere, perhaps more so than any other game ever made. It sucks the will to live right out of you, depression seeps into your very being as the minutes, and restarts, pile up. After an hour of playing I was so despondent that I didn't enjoy anything else for the rest of the day and seeing Solarix in my Steam library as I scroll down brings an instant and tangible pang of revulsion that guarantees I will never ever open the game ever again. If it were possible to give a game a negative score this would be the one.

Score: 0.5/5 “It's functional, but playing it is the opposite of calling a suicide prevention line.”

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