Space. The final frontier. Or at least it was for the crew of the ship I was thrown from as it exploded like Alderaan. That’s how The Solus Project begins: death en masse. How? Why? What? These are the questions I first asked myself during the opening cutscene, and they’re the same questions I asked throughout my time with the game. That’s a good thing, by the way.
The Solus Project is a tricky one. It’s not just a game that can be played by the usual means using a TV and a DualShock 4, but it can also be played using Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset and a couple of PS Move wands. I want to make it clear right from the get-go that if you choose to play The Solus Project using your PSVR headset, you need to have two PS Move wands; you can’t use the DualShock 4 in VR mode, unfortunately.
And it is unfortunate because, despite my deep love of all things VR, I couldn’t bear to play The Solus Project in VR mode for that long. For one, it looks pretty poor. Objects up close look decent enough, but looking around the world is a strain on my tired eyes. That’s not the worst of it, though, as the controls are awfully complicated given the fact you can only use the PS Move and its awkward arrangement of face buttons. There are a few different control schemes for those who insist on using the PSVR method, but I personally couldn’t overcome the awkwardness of it. It’s a shame, really, as I’d have loved to have explored The Solus Project’s mysterious world in the virtual flesh, but it was not to be. That being said, I can’t say your PSVR experience will match mine. I’ve heard from others who have managed to play the game just fine (after a length of trial and error) but I’ve also heard from those who, like me, decided to play using the TV and DualShock 4 instead.
Now we’ve got all the fluff out of the way, onto the game itself. It’s good. Really good, actually, but it’s not without some very annoying problems, which I’ll go into more detail later on.
The Solus Project is a survival/exploration game that starts off rather slow and takes the form of a “walking simulator”, if you will. Your space vessel has exploded and you are the sole survivor on a strange planet. Fairly typical sci-fi trope, but whatever. You’re actually one of the last human beings alive after the Earth was destroyed some years prior. You and your fellow space orphans are looking for a planet to settle down on, have a few kids, buy a house, get space mortgage, etc, etc,. Only things have, very obviously, gone tits up for your crew. There are others, mind you, in their own space stations, so if you could get a message to them, you’ve got a chance of rescue. My, you’ve probably got a decent chance of setting up a home on this planet. Or have you?
It’s a harsh place, that’s for sure, and I learned that pretty quickly. After being guided by my handy PDA device that gives advice on when to eat, sleep, drink, and what I should be doing, I witnessed a twister. A massive twister! I was huddled in small break in a cliff, desperately trying to shelter from the rain when I heard the roar of wind whipping over the beach. I turned and saw it in all its destructive glory. It didn’t do me any harm, though, as I was pretty safe where I was, but it was still impressive. So impressive I’ve dedicated a whole bloody paragraph to a moment that lasted just a couple of minutes.
Your PDA, Wilson (Castaway reference, that), is a top lad. He’ll give you the advice you need and all the rest. You’ll quickly learn the basics of crafting and survival. When the night rolls around and the temperatures drop, you need to find somewhere to hole up and get your head down for a few hours. This is not only a great way to pass the dark nights, but it’s a vital tool; it’s one of the two you can actually save your progress.
The Solus Project reminded me of the TV show Lost. No, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – I really liked Lost! The comparisons are easy to make, what with you landing on a strange island, scrounging around for bits of food, water, and whatever else you can get your space hobo hands on. Then there’s the mystery… The first, for me, came in the form of the aforementioned twister. It seemed out of place and I had no clue it was coming, something that usually happened in Lost. The second was the strange noise emanating from a cave that I could not freely enter and wasted 10 minutes wandering around looking for a back entrance, only to realise I had a teleportation device that would get me past the barrier… Idiot. So I’m no John Locke. More of a… Sawyer. Yeah. Good looking bloke.
The intrigue and mystery only deepens the further you explore, though it’s worth taking your time before pushing forwards. Each area has its own secrets to discover, as well as some bits and pieces that give a bit of back story and insight into life as one of the last humans to have walked the planet Earth. It’s nicely done but far too easy to miss, though I guess that ties into the exploration aspect. Hey, I didn’t have time for that. I’ve got deadlines and commitments.
I’m not going to spoil the game here, but I can say that it does get… interesting. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. Starting to get horror vibes? Rightly so, because out of nowhere The Solus Project takes a turn – a turn that I truly did not see coming. See, while it starts out quite jovial (apart from all your friends being dead in space…) with a bit of exploration, collecting some goodies, camping in a cave and the like, The Solus Project isn’t a story of warm feelings and Care Bears. Just as I was getting quite comfortable and thought I knew what to expect for the remainder of my time on Chris’ Planet of Love™ (not the in-game name of the planet, obviously), I was thrown a curve ball that was probably aimed for my stomach, but it curved too much and hit me square in the balls. I got scared.
While it’s not full-on horror, The Solus Project does present a slice of full-on creepiness. Without spoiling any precious moments, I’ll only say that I ended up being rather glad I didn’t play using the PSVR headset… I’m a pussy and I know it. Why do you think I’ve still not reviewed Rush of Blood, despite having the game on my hard drive since release day?
You can spend a long time on Chris’ Planet of Love™, what with all the trinkets and secrets to find, not to mention the light puzzles that present themselves throughout the story. It’s fairly linear, though presented as quite an open game where you can explore freely before going onwards, and I reckon you could easily find 20 hours or more providing that you’re not strictly following the story beats one after the other. Like I said, there’s a lot to explore, but for me the pull of the game’s story (and a looming self-imposed deadline for this review) dragged me through the story in a little under 13 hours. Fair innings, I’d say.
It all sounds quite positive so far, doesn’t it? Well now we’re going to delve into what’s wrong with The Solus Project. Gameplay-wise, I can’t really fault it, to be fair. It knows what it is and it does it well. I didn’t go into it expecting a full-on survival game that’d force me to build my own base, eave clothes out of space cotton and what not. The game promised an interesting and mysterious story, and I got it. The ending was a bit of a let down for me, but aside from that I was fully invested.
My main gripe with The Solus Project on PS4 is its performance. It’s using the popular Unreal Engine 4, something we’ve seen do wonders in the past. Here? It’s not a looker and it’s definitely a little rough on the graphics side of things. That I can get over. I don’t mind less-than-perfect graphics if the gameplay and other aspects are decent. It’s the wonky frame rate that does my head in. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s definitely choppy at times and it can lead to some frustration, or at least it did for me. It’s not a game breaker by any means, but I’d be doing you a bad job if I wasn’t to mention it. Of the little time I spent using the PSVR mode, it seemed to run just as fine as any other PSVR game, though unfortunately I cannot give you an authoritative conclusion when it comes to the additional mode. Maybe if/when DualShock 4 support is added to the PSVR mode, I’ll take another merry stroll through Chris’ Planet of Love™ with an adult diaper on. Just in case…
The Solus Project PS4/PSVR Review
The Solus Project is a creepy and atmospheric survival game that comes across as a bit of a schizophrenic creation, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's bleak, depressing, and at times downright horrific, but it gets the job done. I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a decent story, but if it's action you crave then you won't find it here. A few technical issues and below-par presentation are the worst offenders, along with the bizarre lack of DualShock 4 support for the PSVR mode.
Review Disclaimer: The review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.