Fort Solis Review – Beautiful yet forgettable

Gare – Tuesday, August 22, 2023 8:00 PM
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Everyone likes a good mystery. Especially when it takes place in a setting as fascinating as Mars, which is pretty much how Fort Solis sets its story up – you’re an engineer called Jack Leary (voiced by Roger Clark of Red Dead Redemption 2 fame), tasked with investigating the titular research facility of Fort Solis after receiving a mysterious distress signal, and getting no response from any of the crew members supposedly stationed at the base. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? It does, but first impressions can be deceiving, and despite its impressive visuals and voice acting, Fort Solis falls short in the one area I was expecting great things from – the narrative.

Welcome to Mars

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yeah. Fort Solis didn’t quite do it for me – it’s the kind of game that’s more exciting when you don’t know what it’s about. Once the mystery is unraveled, instead of an impressed “wow”, I was left repeating the phrase “that’s it?” inside my mind, which is… probably not the reaction you’d want from a mystery-focused sci-fi thriller. Granted, the visuals are stunning and the spooky, abandoned Mars base of Solis comes to life beautifully with the power of Unreal Engine 5 – provided you can actually run it. So just a quick heads-up: if you don’t have a decently powerful machine, don’t expect Fort Solis to run well. My aging GTX 970 could barely maintain 20-30 frames per second during the majority of the adventure (on the lowest settings, mind you), with the ending cutscene in particular dropping down to single-digit frames. It was a slideshow, essentially. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting my card to perform better, but basically, what I’m trying to say is that you should take the game’s system requirements very seriously, otherwise you might be in for a surprise.

Hey! I’m walkin’ here!

Gameplay-wise, I think I need to clarify a number of things. Is Fort Solis a so-called walking simulator? Well… yes. It absolutely is, considering what you do during 99% of the game is slowly walk around an empty base while looking at things and occasionally doing a quick time event. Yes, we have a game with quick time events in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-three, but then again, seeing how there isn’t much else to do, I suppose some interactivity never hurts. And before you ask, no, you can’t run at all, which often makes navigating the base quite a slog, especially if you try to explore everything or find yourself getting lost, which did happen to me a couple of times when it wasn’t entirely clear exactly where the game wanted me to go next. Either way, for the vast majority of the campaign, you’ll be looking at items, computer terminals and video/audio logs, gradually piecing together the backstory behind the tragedy that befell Solis – meanwhile, you’ll be picking up key cards that allow you access to previously inaccessible rooms of the base… kind of like in a Metroidvania, really. You’ll also occasionally engage in banter with your partner on the radio, which, I suppose, is meant to flesh out both characters, but the game only succeeds at this partially, and in the end, I didn’t find myself extremely attached to either of the main protagonists, despite the game’s otherwise competent writing and stellar voice acting. Anyway, if you don’t mind walking simulators, the gameplay itself is fine. I certainly didn’t mind it – in fact, I quite enjoyed roaming the empty hallways of Solis like a ghost while picking up clues and reading the journal entries of the missing crew. But if that type of game isn’t your cup of tea… well, consider yourself warned.

Secrets, secrets everywhere

The story, as implied earlier, didn’t quite work for me. As you might imagine, what initially starts out as a routine inspection soon takes a darker, more sinister turn, and the deeper you dig, the more you uncover about exactly what happened to the crew of Solis before you arrived. The presentation of the narrative remains fairly grounded – there are no crazy, over-the-top reveals, and plot twists aren’t introduced by cackling, moustache-twirling villains, nor are you fighting intergalactic tentacle monsters from other dimensions. Things are kept low key, and almost everything you discover is told through the aforementioned video logs, emails, items, and even the environment to a certain degree. But there is no catharsis, no cleverness to the way things are unveiled and told, and not once did I find myself invested in what was going on. Naturally, I don’t wish to spoil exactly what happens, but I really was hoping the game would be leading up to something more than what I ultimately got, which is a shame.

Closing thoughts

Fort SolisPlatform: Windows, macOS, PS5Genre: ActionDeveloper: Fallen Leaf, Black Drakkar GamesPublisher: Dear VillagersRelease: 08/22/2023Sadly, Fort Solis joins the long list of games that try to wow players with their stunning visuals and graphical fidelity, but fail to offer a particularly compelling narrative or even engaging gameplay elements. It’s a very pretty sci-fi walking sim with a handful of genuinely atmospheric moments and some fairly redundant quick time events (they do at least give the player something to do, I suppose), but the story it tells isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea – it certainly wasn’t mine.

Fort Solis is out now on PC, Mac and PlayStation 5.

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