Many virtual reality (VR) users are waiting for in-depth experiences which have expansive worlds and tell rich, absorbing, immersive stories. VR is perfectly place to get players involved in an entirely new world, and that’s what The Solus Project aims to do. Does it succeed?
The first thing that becomes apparent is the atmosphere. Bleak, eerie and uninviting is the surface of the unknown alien planet upon which you find yourself marooned. This atmosphere persists as you attempt to get to grips with the controls. The Solus Project uses the Move Controllers, with one acting as your in-universe PDA, scanning objects and informing you of your next objective, as well as acting as the movement controls. The right-hand controller is for holding objects. There is no tutorial, so every control and function must be deduced.
The first gameplay elements quickly become evident as you need to find food, water and shelter. This requires something that becomes increasingly core to the experience of playing – exploration. Finding some alien roots, a metal pole, oil and the application of heat gives you a torch that will burn perpetually, somewhat in defiance of logic.
Then, you basically begin to explore the planet, discovering the remnants of some mysterious alien civilisation, exploring extensive tunnels, and finding artefacts that enhance your stats and make surviving easier. As a result, the crafting and survival elements become less relevant, until they are ultimately more of an annoying distraction. The lack of any kind of map means those vast tunnels become a baffling maze, as it is very easy to get turned around.
The alien ruins gradually reveal the story. There is little dialogue, so almost everything is revealed through observation, and deciphering the ancient alien hieroglyphs as you descend deeper and deeper into the depths of the planet and the story.
At this point, The Solus Project takes a sudden sharp left turn into horror. The creepy ambiance present since the beginning amps up, though there is no actual combat, and vanishingly few jump scares the realisation that the alien civilisation may not be as dead as we thought some slowly, the claustrophobic ruins closing in about you as you attempt to solve the puzzles and avoid getting caught by horrifying traps. VR really adds to this experience, as you find yourself holding you breath, utterly immersed in the environment.
The strengths of The Solus Project are in its atmosphere and its weaknesses are in its somewhat confused identity. The survival crafting elements present early on are largely discarded halfway through, leaving a mildly annoying distraction. The lack of tutorial and map can also cause considerable frustration and break immersion, especially if you encounter a maddening glitch that causes the PDA to fail to display.
The Solus Project is a fine exploration and horror title, though it does have its flaws. The excellent ambiance and general air of loneliness, isolation and foreboding make for a truly immersive experience that is worth your time.