It’s hard for me to accurately describe how I feel about Solar 2. Part of me loves how simple and addictive the gameplay is. Another part dislikes the lack of narrative and limited progression options that turned this would-be favorite into little more than a decent distraction.
Solar 2–a sandbox creation simulation developed by one-man-show Jay Watts. Solar 2 is slightly difficult to fully describe without spoilers but I will do my best to hit the important points in the category sections.
I started playing Solar 2′s demo on Xbox Live and immediately loved what I experienced. I decided then that I would purchase the full game for the $5 cover charge once I had finished playing some of the other games I’d been playing. Unfortunately, the 8 minutes alotted for Xbox Live Indie game demos didn’t give me enough time to see how lacking and repetitive Solar 2 would be in the long run.
Here are the categories of gamers who may like Solar 2:
Tourists – I believe tourist gamers looking for a short, simple distraction without much depth will enjoy Solar 2 the most. It packs a great presentation and is very different from any other games I’ve played in the last several years. Just expect the honey-moon phase to wear off quickly. This is not a game you’ll want to log 20 hours playing.
Audiophiles – Solar 2′s soundtrack is absolutely fantasic. The tone of the songs fits the space theme of the game extremely well. Also, the music reacts dynamically to what’s happening on screen. I would almost go as far as to say that this soundtrack is hypnotyzing.
Visualists – The art style, use of color and light and overall visual presentation in this game are all very well done. If you are looking for a game that looks and sounds great, you could certainly do worse than Solar 2.
Explorers – Even though the world does start to feel a bit constrained as you spend more time with Solar 2, I will say that you are free to explore the universe and develop your solar system as you see fit. Will you decide to follow the commands of the god-like task master or disregard his quests and just build your solar system to your liking? After several failed attempts to complete said quests, I resolved to just build my solar system and explore the universe at hand. This paid off for me because several of the quest types were really hard and didn’t get much easier regardless of how developed my solar system was. Either way, the sense of freedom to roam the world around you and to develop your solar system at your discretion was very well handled.
On the Negative Side:
Builders – I’d recommend Solar 2 to builders with extreme caution. All of the building functionality works properly and does include the satisfaction that comes with progression–but you have to know that the building options in this game are extremely primative. You start out as an asteroid and collide with other asteroids to form a planet. As a planet, you absorb asteroids to evolve and eventually sprout life that eventually creates planetary defense systems and space crafts to defend you from other planets doing the same in the universe. Eventually, you absorb enough asteroids to become a star.
Stars can have planets orbit them for protection or absorb them to become a bigger star. And you get the point. This is where I had the bulk of my fun with Solar 2. However, I was also very disappointed over the lack of control I had over the evolution. There is no interaction with the life forms on the planets or the defense forces they spawn. It’s all AI controlled and they often behave against your wishes.
Also, once you evolve your solar system to its full potential, there is a good chance you will feel let down by the anticlimactic ending. After putting in the work to become the ultimate badass system, you really don’t feel rewarded by your new-found power. And this is especially bad because the entire game is predicated on reaching this point.
Achievers – Solar 2 does have quite a bit to do for you completionists and achievement junkies out there. There are in-game quests, challenges you can access via the game’s menu and an achievement list for you to complete. The problem is that none of it is particularly fun or exciting. To me, these features felt tacked on and didn’t add any value to my experience with the game.
Verdict – Solar 2 is a very hard game for me to recommend–especially with the $5 price tag ($10 if you purchase the PC version). It’s visually and audibly amazing, but generally lacks depth in the game-play department. If you are a Tourist looking for a decent distraction game, I think there are other options that are better worth your cash. With that said, I do believe that Solar 2 is an excellent proof-of-concept. I’m also very impressed by the fact that one man was able to pull off something this well presented. I will be keeping my eyes open for more games from Jay Watts in the future hoping that he’ll take what I believe to be great concepts and flesh them out into full-on dope game experiences that are fully worth their price of admission.