Putting on a VR Helmet and some noise cancelling headphones is already a lonely experience. The whole goal with it is full immersion, you want to shut out the outside world completely and ensure that the only thing you are there to experience is the game at hand. Most games use this to push their feelings of fun or horror, but no game has really come forward in the way The Solus Project has to make the player feel alone and lost.

Originally in non VR released last year on Xbox One and PC The Solus Project has now been released on PS4 with PSVR integration added. The game opens with a ream of text explaining you and a few other ships have been sent out to find new planetary homes for the newly nomadic Earthlings.  With this text you also get to see a spaceship knocking about, unfortunately because VR allows you to look around everywhere it means this opening cut scene was slightly ruined by me seeing the spaceship literally pop into my view from out of no where. Clearly before these were static scenes and props were flown in off screen but now my neck changes the camera angle it somewhat ruins the effect. Your ship takes a hit from a green projectile sent up from a supposedly uninhabited planet causing you to crash down onto the surface.

Once you have awoken from your fall from atmosphere you are treated to some of the most frustrating gameplay I have experienced in a long time. The Solus Project does not have a tutorial or guide. As such when I started the game I was trapped in a pen, I had two rocks and some netting. My guess was I had to produce something to cut my way out of the area. Much like in Minecraft I figured I needed to break something or find something to get the ball rolling. I pressed every button on my two move controllers, I checked options, I ran around looking at every corner for at least 15 minutes, I looked in my inventory at two rocks I picked up I screamed in frustration as I platformed my way to the top of my blockade in the hope of just jumping over it to find an invisible wall. Finally I worked it out, I can’t hold the two rocks, I need to drop one on the floor and then point my cursor at a specific point on it whilst holding the other rock to produce a sharp rock that can break the netting. No game should produce this much anger and confusion in literally the opening section of gameplay.

Once out of my idiotic prison I was greeted with the start of what could be described as an almost tutorial, I had to run around to markers picking up gear in preparation for the oncoming night that the game told me would be cold and harrowing. Grab a pipe, find some plant life, rub the two together and add some oil from a destroyed engine and hold up in front of the still burning jet turbine. It was at this point the game started to click. In one hand I had my PDA showing every statistic under the sun and in the other I had my torch. My inventory had cans of food I had to smash open to eat and bottles of water were strewn around my feet. I was ready, at last, to play the game and explore my new home.

Graphically the game is quite impressive, the opening beach scene treats you to a sky that is honestly amazing, when night comes and you look up at the stars I got the same feeling I get when I manage to get out of urban and suburban areas in the UK and to locations without any light pollution to restrict visibility of the stars.

I’ve played a lot of games in VR over my 7 or so months of owning one. I’ve done the horror games like Rush of Blood and I’ve completed Resident Evil VII 100% in VR, but none have effected me like The Solus Project. I honestly had to take off the helmet and breathe deeply through sheer anxiety. A mixture of mild claustrophobia, not liking the pitch black darkness and my own imagination made for one of the most disturbing games I have played in a long time. Just walking through the first cave I was reminded of Gone Home. A game where nothing bad happens, sure there’s a storm kicking off outside and an there are odd noises and weird things happening, but realistically there is nothing to worry about, it’s just you alone, and that is what is impressive about The Solus Project, not everything, but most things are purely in your head. I did stumble upon one cave that was disturbing to a level I wasn’t expecting but I won’t spoil that here.

Using just your torch or luminescent crystals you find around you must navigate your way through caves and caverns, each with what seems like a different theme. The usual game trope of go towards the light only partially works in The Solus Project, you will sometimes find bioluminescent rocks and formation or candles and fires lit but generally literally the only light you’re are able to see is the 5ft circle around you from your torch (and other light emitting sources later in the game). Staring into the black void of a cave not sure where you’re going and keeping an eye out for plummeting drops is a stressful affair, add to that a decent set of headphones with your VR set up and you’ll be a broken person. The sound design in The Solus Project is incredible, the 3D audio for things like water sources dripping in a cave is wonderful. Not too far into the game I noticed the wind was picking up on the beach I was on. I then saw the sky turn grey and the rain start to come, I then heard a sound out in the sea to my left, when I looked I saw a tornado forming from cloud to water. It was fascinating and incredible sight watching this thing slowly form and then slowly move my direction. It was at this point I realised that my direction wasn’t a good thing and I needed to start running very quickly for a cave, the noise was awesome and it’s been one of the most stupid and enjoyable moments I’ve had in VR.

The game is not difficult in many ways, if you took it seriously and didn’t jump off ledges assuming you’d survive you could probably make it through a large portion of the game without dying. The puzzles in the game are all pretty obvious to anyone who’s played games before and won’t challenge you if you pay attention to your surroundings and gear your carrying. The problem with difficulty comes in from a not great inventory. The frustration is exacerbated from some items of the same type, tins of food, that will stack but then alien plant food will not. The inventory management is painful to get through and doesn’t actually produce an enjoyable experience. To drop something you must load up the inventory, move the item to your hand and then hold the trigger to whip it across the room you’re in. Eating and drinking is equally as tiresome and really doesn’t feel like it needs to even be in the game. The Solus Project feels more like an exploration game rather than a survival game so adding the need for food and drink can grow increasingly annoying. Your PDA will nearly constantly be telling you that you are wet as you are often required to stroll through knee high water and standing near a fire doesn’t seem to achieve much in terms of being told about how the ‘operators temperature is dropping’. The difficulty options do help here with dropping it to 0% meaning you won’t need to worry about food or water, something that I took advantage of about half way through the game.

The Solus Project is rough around the edges and some UI choices will become infuriating the more you play. The limited inventory space being taken up by essential objective items, like a gun that shoots discs you can teleport to, is troublesome. But for an immersive experience I find it hard to recall a game that has made me feel so uneasy and affected in such a deep way that makes me nearly shudder just thinking about it. The game thrives on your over thinking everything, being aware of every sound and building up the fear yourself through over powering some senses and taking away others. It’s a masterfully put together game that has lots of little niggles of dodgy design that some will be able to look past better than others. For a 15 odd hour experience you are getting your money’s worth and for those looking for a horror on a different level to Resident Evil VII will be pleasantly surprised at the lack of jump scares but instead a product that plays off the player and their own imagination.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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