When Solarix failed to meet even half of its Kickstart goal back in August last year, developer Pulsetense Games pushed through and brought it to Steam this April after being in development for nearly 4 years. It’s a first-person sci-fi horror game with a heavy emphasis exploring dark atmospheres and hacking your way through missions while remaining unseen. It’s also heavily inspired by other games, like System Shock and Thief, and while that’s certainly a recipe for something spectacular, Solarix suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. With its clunky stealth mechanics, unstable framerates, questionable AI, and a less-than-desirable auto-save feature, it unfortunately feels more like an Early Access game than a finished product.
In Solarix, you control Walter, a silent amnesiac engineer who’s one of only a handful of survivors after more than 90% of the game’s population is wiped out by an infection. You’ll spend most of your time avoiding the clean-up crew that’s been sent to destroy all the evidence, but whoever sent them must have incurred some budget cuts, as the game’s AI is downright terrible. As long as you’re crouched, which is really the only way to play the game, you’ll rarely alert anyone even if you’re walking mere feet in front of their faces. However, at random intervals, the same guards will spot you from a mile away, in the dark, and proceed to fire upon your fleshy exterior with pinpoint accuracy. Evading the alerted guards is as simple as running in the opposite direction for a few seconds, as they’ll frequently get stuck on terrain, float above boxes, or stand still while you attempt to knock them unconscious with your space-age version of a blackjack.
“…it unfortunately feels more like an Early Access game than a finished product.”
Resembling a tiny blow dryer, the blackjack “shocker” is your silent killer. Since you’re an engineer, not a soldier, it’s always best to stay out of harms way, although moments do arise when violence is easiest only option. Using your shocker, you can sneak up, aim for the back of the head, and pray it connects. With most of the AI patrolling erratically, you’ll have your fair share of misses, which generally end with you being punched or shot in the face repeatedly until you die. Enemies are also hunched over, so you’re often forced to rise from your crouching position in order to zap the kill spot… you know, basically putting yourself out in the open. Pulsetense games recently patched Solarix to make the Shocker easier to use, and I can confidently say they succeeded, but making it more reliable doesn’t really make the game anymore fun.. just less frustrating.
As I mentioned earlier, stealth is really the only way to play Solarix. You’ll obtain a pistol early on, and a shotgun later in the game, but neither are good enough to warrant a run-and-gun shooter approach. Ammo is scarce, so I found myself saving precious bullets in order to shoot out light sources or as the only means of defense should my faithful hairdryer fail to land a killing blow. Taking damage also causes the screen to shake and jiggle, making aiming a giant pain in the ass. It adds a sense of realism I suppose, as I doubt I could keep a steady aim while soaking up bullets like a human shield, but it’s just a frustrating addition.
Dialogue is guided along by a System Shock-esque rogue AI, and you’ll uncover much of the game’s lore through audio logs and text documents found while exploring the world.
The game’s characters are well voiced and are easily the high point in the game, featuring talent from Diablo 3, Mortal Kombat, and World of Warcraft. In one instance, I came across a faceless corpse before being informed that I couldn’t remember their face because the memory had been cut from my brain. That single line of dialogue was delivered so well that I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Solarix also features a fairly good soundtrack full of industrial tings and ambient background noise, but the seemingly random screams and moans, along with smaller, more frequently looped tracks seemed out of place at times.
Unfortunately what started off as an interesting premise never really moved beyond the triple-A voice acting, as your objectives became samey while you dealt with the same broken AI and boring array of tools room after room. Check your objective, locate the area on your map, find a keycard, waggle your hacking tool, repeat. Where most games provide some sort of hacking mini-game, it’s completely effortless in Solarix and a bit of a snoozefest. It’s really as easy as holding in a mouse button and waiting for a timer to reach zero. That’s it. How you have access to these futuristic tools, yet your in-game map doesn’t even show you your current location though, is beyond me.
“I wish I could recommend Solarix, as I’m sure the team at Pulsetense Games did the best they could with the resources they had.”
I know Pulsetense Games doesn’t want Solarix to hold your hand, and I appreciate their wanting us to explore the world that they’ve created, but we’re talking quality of life mechanics here. For instance, there’s no option to manually save your game, nor can you have more than one save file. The most recent patch increased the frequency in which the game auto-saves, and it was definitely a notable change, but there are still moments sprinkled throughout the game where dying meant replaying the last 10-20 minutes until you figure out the right way to progress the story.
I really wanted to like Solarix, and I was pretty in to it for the first few hours, but it began to wear on me around the 6th chapter. The framerate became an embarrassing display that could barely maintain between 10 and 15 frames per second, making it borderline unplayable. I have a pretty decent gaming PC which kept a steady 45-60fps until then, so I was completely baffled at how this one specific chapter was ever allowed to make it through the team’s quality assurance process. It also introduced the worst flying and platforming segment I’ve played in recent memory, and I was already so frustrated by the game’s AI and repetitive objectives where my only motivation to finish it was for the purpose of this review.
Overall, it’s a graphically dated, husk of a game that wears its influence on its sleeve a bit too much. There were definitely moments when I actually enjoyed exploring its dark and creepy universe, reading notes and listening to audio logs, but those moments were often ruined by clunky stealth play, boring weapons, effortless hacking, broken terrain, or the aformentioned questionable AI. I also found Walter to be a rather boring protagonist. With no character development, voice, or Deus Ex-like RPG mechanic (which, to clarify, I don’t expect in every game), I just never connected with him. I wish I could recommend Solarix, as I’m sure the team at Pulsetense Games did the best they could with the resources they had. They’re active on the Steam forums and seem eager to improve the game, but maybe it was just too ambitious a project? In its current state it easily resembles an Early Access title that needs a LOT of polish, not a $20 finished product.
Recommended for fans of: Thief, System Shock, Bioshock, Dead Space, Alien: Isolation
*This review is based on the PC version of Solarix and is our definitive review as of Patch 1.2. If you’re interested in the game, it’s available now on Steam for $19.99.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s no stranger to sinking an absurd amount of time in to an MMO, but also has a deep seeded love for pro wrestling, horror films, and his hometown of Baltimore, MD. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.