Although space-fighter games have been surprisingly scarce lately, they were considerably popular during the long-forgotten era during which we still talked of a game console’s power in bits. You see the simplicity of a shape shooting other shapes while the background is nothing but white dots on black background, making for an appealingly simple game. Nowadays, however, space-fighters have gone the way of point-and-click adventure games and the text-based games: they’ve all but disappeared with only the faintest traces to be found in the independent market.
So we have Sol: Exodus, a return to 360-degree gameplay that makes everything strange and disorientating.
The plot is fairly simple: on the brink of solar collapse and the subsequent destruction of the solar system, three colony ships are sent out to find a new habitable world somewhere in the galaxy. After ten years the fleet locates such a world and is suddenly attacked by the COD, a group of religious extremists who believe that the destruction of the solar system and all its inhabitants is the will of God. The two civilian vessels are destroyed during the encounter. Luckily one was empty at the time,and the final ship fights the attackers off and heads for home to bring humanity to its new world. Once there the COD continue to attack you and any ships bound for the new planet, thus you must fight and destroy them to guarantee the survival of humanity.
The controls are a tad difficult to get used to. You control movement with the mouse, hold down the left mouse button to fire and the right mouse button to change the direction you face and fire but without changing your trajectory. You can lock on and launch missiles by holding down W, use your most powerful blast by hitting A, roll right and left with Q and E, and cycle between targets with 1 and 2 for hostiles and 3 and 4 for friendlies. You can also re-align your ship with R and target the enemy you’re facing with the Spacebar. Now I’m a strange fellow and have always preferred mapping as many options to my mouse as possible, but Sol: Exodus doesn’t seem to recognise the three extra buttons on my mouse, meaning my attempts to re-map my weapons were completely in vain.
Aside from the control scheme being a bit wonky the gameplay works well. You fly around, shoot things and they tend to die. Unless they decide to take evasive manoeuvres or plough right into you. The problems I have with the gameplay, and there are a few, starts with the inability to judge distance. The distance indicator is very small and is often obscured by the target reticule, meaning that while flying towards a seemingly distant enemy you may crash into the front of it suddenly and without warning.
The second problem is that Sol: Exodus has a terrible habit of keeping its mouth shut and never really explaining how to do something. It may repeatedly have a support character tell you what to do but it’ll take trial-and-error to find out how the hell to do it. One example is that the second level introduces the hacking ability; in order to hack something you have to look at it and hit Spacebar. I had no idea that I had to do this and found myself sitting inside the enemy ship staring at the hack-node pressing random buttons until something worked. Once you succeed at hacking, the vulnerable parts of the enemy ship become highlighted and you have to hit them with your most powerful A-button attack. Again the game didn’t tell me this and I was left unloading rockets into the enemy ships for twenty minutes before realizing. Ok maybe that last one was my fault… a bit.
Finally, there’s the ridiculous difficulty. Despite the ineffective tutorials, the problem is that the game is too easy, not too hard. The main reason for this is the final ship that returns with you to the solar system, the Atlas, will restock your ship if you’re running low on health, ammo or just want a shiny new fighter and will restock you with absolutely no penalty. There are two missions where the Atlas is absent and these are by far the best and most difficult missions in the game, exposing tense and exciting gameplay while you desperately avoid gunfire to protect your remaining 3% of remaining life and simultaneously struggle to take down six enemy fighters who have suddenly and inexplicably learned the secret of self-preservation.
Let me emphasize that this is a very short game. According to Steam, I have played this game for 4 hours and a good chunk of that was me alt-tabbing out and forgetting that the game was running. There are a grand total of 7 missions in here with no multiplayer or additional features, and each of the seven missions lasting 20 minutes. On the other hand this can be forgiven since the game has the phenomenal price tag of $9.99, just under $1.42 per level.
Despite all these complaints (and by god that’s a lot of complaints) I had a good time with Sol: Exodus. There was never a dull moment. Even when things got ridiculously easy there was still a great sense of adventure whether I was hacking friendly ships to re-activate their engines during free-fall or protecting nuclear missiles while they were travelling to their target. The combat is always fast-paced and intense even if there is no sense of danger. If I could go back in time I’d take my PC back seventy years, sell it to the highest bidder and place the money in a high-interest account. If however I could only travel back to before I started playing this game, I’d tell myself to enjoy it but turn the difficulty up, and that goes for anyone who considers to playing it.
Visually Sol: Exodus is actually quite nice. This game has a lot of detail on the ships and even has some huge planets and space-stations as set-pieces which both look very impressive and act as markers to make it easier to get your bearings in a game that. by its very space-set nature. has somewhat confusing navigation.
I heartily recommend Sol: Exodus. It’s short and cheap but decent fun and if this sort of genre tickles your fancy it’s certainly worth your attention.