On the precipice of being published, my first SOL: Exodus review was undermined (I am going to assume it was timed intentionally) by Seamless Entertainment and their seemingly obsessive need to improve their game and psychically address all of my criticisms. Perusing the 1.10 change log I feared the relevance of my review had suffered somewhat, but whilst interviewing Chris Stockman from Seamless Entertainment it dawned on me that it had actually been blown into absolute redundancy. Upon the promise of a new, brighter horizon I launched myself once again into SOL: Exodus to find out if this space shooter was worth exploring after all.
Consisting of little more than yaw and pitch the controls offer fluid movement without any gimmicky ‘automatically do aerobatics’ buttons intent on wrenching the controls from under you. Scrolling down/up in order to set your speed initially seems like a unusual design decision, but once you feel the gradual speed changes that it can garner you realise it brings with it some semblance of mass and inertia – though it is far from substantial. What is missing here is a sustained sense of speed as, apart from the moments when you are using the afterburner (boost), your craft feels notably sluggish in everything but its ability to turn. This is a difficult thing to criticise, as the balance between speed and ensuring the fighting is more skilled than it is sporadic couldn’t have been easy, but until my upgrades allowed for sustained afterburner use it was a constant niggle.
The combat, much like the game itself, is an incredibly focussed affair consisting of three different weapons and an almost as limited enemy variety. However, each of the weapons (guns, missiles and a Mag cannon) occupy a distinct yet somewhat flexible niche allowing you to wrangle some variety out of them. The ability to lock your missiles on target and the inclusion of a lead target indicator ensures immediate accessibility that, somewhat unfortunately, never reveals any hidden depth. That isn’t to say the combat isn’t enjoyable, but it struggles to sustain the initial excitement for more than a few missions. The upgrades of more firepower, armour or afterburner fundamentally fail (is it failure if you don’t try?) to inject any variety meaning that during extended play sessions stagnation can set in so deep that no amount of barrel rolls can shake it.
Complementing the combat, is the intriguing ability to hack into some of the enemies’ large capital ships. The effects range from disabling their engines to revealing their weak spots but the process is always the same: Initiate the hack and watch as a code emerges amidst a scrolling mess of letters and numbers in the bottom left of your screen, choose that code from the range of similar combinations that emerge and the hack has succeeded. Drawing your attention away from the centre of the screen ensures that each hack limits your offensive capabilities and brings with it an apt sense of peril. The initial release diminished this promising concept through relentless repetition. The latest iteration, which has undergone vast pacing changes, shows just how good this aspect can be when used effectively.
Dogfighting in space could very well be its own incentive but the game does provide a potentially interesting, somewhat underdeveloped, narrative for the action to unfold around. Already floating around in space, having ruined the Earth, the nations of man are forced to unite under the banner of ‘The United Colonies of SOL’ in order to find a new system to inhabit before the Sun dies. Having found the perfect planet, you are attacked by the ‘Children of Dawn’ (a group of religious zealots) who are intent on ensuring that humanity, as is God’s will, perishes with the Sun. The enemies soon begin to grate rather than intrigue as any potential for an exploration of faith is seemingly squandered for the traditional trope of ‘they are bad so shoot them’. However, there is a commendable subtlety to some of the narrative such as the events of a 10 year narrative gap, that are only ever partially explained through nothing more than intriguing inferences and a more grizzled avatar, and the wider sense that you are yet to get to the core of the zealot war machine.
With 8 separate missions, constituting around 6 hours of gameplay, one would have to be fairly entitled to bemoan the £6.99/$9.99 asking price. The levels can be replayed at any time to improve your leaderboard standing or, more interestingly, complete heroic actions. These optional objectives provide you with an additional upgrade point upon completion – an aspect that is hindered by the lack of upgradable elements – but more importantly grant each level a slightly modified focus and sometimes an entirely new feel.
Another surprisingly optional aspect of the game are the various civilian convoy rescues you will attempt. Often necessitating hacking or placing yourself in a precarious position their optional nature ensures that heroism is no longer a mere pre-requisite but a genuinely poignant act of self sacrifice. Other successful elements are somewhat undermined by pervading annoyances such as the well composed aesthetic, which is marred by the lack of collision damage and the potential to glitch through objects, and the surprisingly accomplished voice acting that is somewhat let down by the mediocre script.
This game’s main strength is the six-man team that is Seamless Entertainment. My first (unpublished) review was rather scathing, finding merit in some aspects but ultimately coming away with the impression that the game was far too shallow and repetitive to offer anything to all but the most ardent fans of the genre. What stands before me today is indicative of a team that cares about not only their game but the genre itself, offering constant improvements and a commendable post-release presence. The game still suffers from an element of repetition and is yet to fully convert me (to both the genre and the religious fanaticism), but it now offers more than enough entertainment for me to urge you to take a look at the game. Our beloved sun may be dying, but the developers seem intent on making sure this game, and the dwindling genre, fare somewhat better.