We live in a society where patience is seen as “uncool” and where little emphasis is placed on taking your time and strategizing and instead simply taking action, no matter how foolish it may be under many a circumstance. Everything these days seems to be on full blast, constantly. This unfortunate facet of modern day living has of course trickled over into our two most ballyhooed about and celebrated visual mediums: Movies and video games.
Insofar as video games are concerned, whereas revered classics such as Dawn of War gave you the ability to adjust its game speed so that its hyper-fast battles could be slowed down and you could effectively micro your army’s tactics, many other titles didn’t. Other seminal pieces of classic gaming goodness, such as the Baldur’s Gate series, gave you the option of halting time altogether so that you could issue orders to your party whilst either initiating, or being locked in, important martial conflicts.
In subsequent years, gaming developers seemed to have caved-in to petulant gamer’s penchant for wanting faster and faster game play with more and more constant action, all the while deviating farther away from story-driven content, or games that compel one to stop and think for more than a few micro-seconds.
Fortunately, in more recent times, we’ve seen an upswing and re-emergence of both turn-based games and games that feature slow-down or pause mechanics, as evidenced in modern revisionist classics such as Pillars of Eternity. Story-driven games and more patience-inducing digital content are finally making a much needed comeback, roaring out of the dark ages of the last decade or so, and we seem to be witnessing a new golden age in PC gaming.
Which brings us to games such as Ironward’s The Red Solstice. As an indie title that typifies the term “hidden gem,” The Red Solstice may first appear to be not much more than a derivative, isometric, top-down shooter. At least, that was my first impression after looking at a few screen shots from its gameplay. However, upon taking a second look under its rather rough and seemingly generic exterior, it really raised my eyebrows.
I’m not one to put too much into prettified visuals, but after taking the time to play a few hours of The Red Solstice’s single-player mode, the game’s graphics actually suit the atmosphere and macabre goings-on quite nicely. You can tell that this game was lovingly crafted, as there are little nuances here and there that make Ironward’s attention to detail stand out. Combine that with the game’s procedurally generated maps and you’ve got a tremendous amount of replay value on hand.
Initially, The Red Solstice brought my mind back to the classic arcade shooters of the 90s, such as Capcom’s Alien vs. Predator. I don’t mean this as a dig at all, since I deposited many a quarter into those old gems back in the day, and they will forever hold a special place in my heart. Conversely, I meant it as a compliment, since it really evokes similar feelings of comradery—it’s just you and your battle brothers against hordes of slimy, scum-sucking aliens. It’s such a simple, yet effective, mechanic.
The Red Solstice’s intro is both compelling and grim, and describes a dystopian near-future where the Earth has been reduced to a shell of her former self. Earth’s few survivors make a sudden do-or-die move to rapidly terraform Mars, but much to their despair, they find that things don’t quite work out as they’d wished. In the midst of various problems within the struggling Martian colonies, a catastrophic storm called the Red Solstice hits the scene. If that weren’t bad enough, insurgent forces on Mars decide to attack one of its colonies, turning a desperate situation into an even direr one.
In the midst of all of the chaos, the main headquarters of the Martian colonies dispatches some Marine Special Operations Forces, designated Black Light and Night Fighter, to investigate (read: seek and destroy) their sister colony’s insurgent forces, which has suddenly gone dark. After things go haywire because of the raging storms, only one of the SOF teams make the drop pod landing, at least anywhere remotely near the troubled colony. Of course, this squad just so happens to be yours.
Gameplay-wise, The Red Solstice’s single-player offering guides you through its initial missions with a non-hand-holdy tutorial. Your squad of marines are basically tossed right into the action pretty quickly. I prefer this sort of trial-by-fire approach to learning the ropes. What I initially thought would be a fairly standard top-down shooter turned out to be a lot more complex than I’d expected. The Red Solstice features some pretty hearty role-playing elements that allow you to customize your Marine from one of eight classes. This gives you a lot of latitude to develop your character to suit your playstyle.
Want to be a highly-prized medic who lingers in the background and dives in periodically save frontline teammates? Done. Prefer to carry around some serious explosives and have the capability of blowing up whole rooms full of malevolent critters? Sign up for a demolition specialist. Even within each class there there’s a lot of variety, which makes the game’s character customization not only fun, but pretty extensive.
The Red Solstice also requires teamwork. Sure, you can build up your assault specialist to be a walking tank, but he won’t be fast enough to maneuver around the map and trigger certain doors or other things that need triggrin’, nor pick up found assets quickly enough while in the heat of battle. Or let’s say you’re the team’s designated marksman—sure you can be an excellent long-range asset and destroy targets with wicked kill shots over and over, but what happens when you get teamed upon by hordes of enemies? It’s game over, dude.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about The Red Solstice is that it does indeed allow you to take a time-out for deeper strategizing by engaging its Tactical Mode. This slows down time and as in other games of similar ilk, lets you more effectively micro your combatants.
The Red Solstice’s graphics are pretty decent for an indie title, and definitely convey a sense of isolation and dread well enough. Hardened Marines trudge about in desolate corridors and slime-encrusted chambers. Grotesque aliens and zombie-fied humans lurch forward from various angles, forcing you to continuously be on your guard. The weapon effects and gore on display are also impressive, and the sound department also delivers a great aural resonance to the grisly proceedings.
The Red Solstice is a solid indie science fiction title that, once you get past its bare bones tutorial and steep learning curve, delivers a deep and satisfying gaming experience. Its reliance on teamwork and careful tactics will reward armchair strategists, while its fiendish monstrosities and fantastic storyline will please horror and science fiction fans. The Red Solstice will also appeal to any fans of action games that have meaty layers of RPG elements thrown in (such as Grim Dawn), and it’s procedurally created levels equal nearly endless replay value—I highly recommend this awesome title by Ironward.
Red Solstice is chock-full of great visuals that will really immerse you in its fun gameplay with them, but you may need a decent gaming PC or gaming laptop, such as:
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