Solstice Chronicles: MIA
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Solstice Chronicles: MIA is a twin stick shooter where the odds are very much against you. Faced with waves of deadly enemies, your only chance for survival is to play a bit more tactical than what is expected from you in most of these types of games. Using your drone companion to manage your threat level is essential and sometimes knowing when to make a run for it is just as useful as standing your ground. With four character classes, different skill trees, a story mode and survival mode, this is the type of game that can keep you busy for ages. The lack of online co-op sucks, but nothing beats setting up two controllers and playing with a friend next to you on the couch.

Gameplay: The game is intense,even on lower skill levels, and requires you to do more than just spray and pray.

Graphics: Not a very colorful game, but the top down visuals packs plenty of detail.

Sound: Surprisingly good voice acting even if the background music is nothing to write home about

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Solstice Chronicles: MIA

Developer: Ironward  | Publisher: Nkidu | Release Date: 2017 | Genre: Action / Strategy / Indie / RPG | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Humanity has survived a number of rather nasty viruses and plagues over the years, but nothing like the STROL virus. In fact, it’s effects were so severe that mankind fled to Mars in the face of extinction. Unfortunately, Mars isn’t just a rather inhospitable planet with violent storms raging across its surface, but it is also ruled by corporations. Not everyone is pleased with this arrangement, which has given rise to some insurgents. Things become even worse when the STROL virus makes an appearance on Mars and results in hordes of mutant monsters running amok. Solstice Chronicles: MIA opens with a lone corporate marine finding himself left for dead behind enemy lines. His chances of survival are not very good until he runs into an insurgent drone and the two decide to team up to even the odds a little bit. Their primary concern is survival, but along the way they also discover some interesting revelations about the appearance of the virus on Mars and what is really going on.

Solstice Chronicles: MIA has a bit more story than most twin-stick shooters bother with, but don’t expect to be spending too much time chatting. Apart from some banter with Saffron, your drone companion, and a few cut-scenes revealing more information, most of your time is spent running and gunning. Your enemies in the game are not only murderous, but also numerous, so standing still is a sure fire way to get overrun and annihilated. Instead, it is best to deal with the waves of mutants as efficiently as possible while focusing on completing your objectives. These objectives range from finding keycards and activating power relays to finding drone components or simply reaching the exit. The speed of your enemies means that you cannot totally ignore them, but unless you are instructed to clear a room or hold your ground, it’s not worth getting into a drawn out battle with them. For one, they come in never-ending waves while your ammunition is finite and secondly, there is very little to gain from the killing as none of the mutants drop any loot. You do get skill points to spend after each level, but these are awarded based on your chosen difficulty level and not the amount of enemies you kill.

Contrary to how it might look in videos and screenshots, Solstice Chronicles: MIA has more a strategic edge than most shooters. Instead of rewarding you for gunning down everything in sight, the game requires you to manage your threat level instead. This is indicated via a threat bar that is shown at the top of the screen. As the threat level increases, so does the number of enemy spawns you’ll encounter. If you don’t pay any attention to your threat level you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed, no matter how well you are equipped, which is why Saffron is an invaluable ally. She has four major skills, most of which has a direct impact on your threat level. For example, sending Saffron out to scout for items will reward you with goodies such as weapons or ammunition, but will also increase the threat level. On the other hand, if the threat level becomes too high you can order Saffron to taunt enemies, which spawns a few waves at once, but decreases the overall threat level. Effectively managing your threat level is the key to success and while it feels a bit cumbersome at first, it makes for a more tense experience overall.

The game is still a shooter at heart, though, which means plenty of guns. Your marine can only carry two weapons at a time, but you’ll come across everything from shotguns and machine guns to Gauss rifles and sniper rifles. All of these share a common pool of ammunition, but you can also find heavy weapons like the mini-gun or auto-cannon that have their own ammunition. These heavy weapons don’t replace your currently equipped weapons, but only last until they run out of ammunition. In addition, your marine can perform a melee attack, but considering the overwhelming odds against you, this is more of a last resort attack. Since melee attacks and your sprint move depletes your stamina, it is usually better to run and scavenge more ammunition than it is to try and bash enemy heads in as they surround you. While only being able to equip two weapons at once feels a bit limited, they do improve the more that you use them, which gives you an incentive to stick to the ones you really like.

It’s not just your weapons that can improve either. Solstice Chronicles: MIA gives you access to four different character classes, each with their own skill tree. However, the upgrade points you earn from completing levels has to be divided between class specific skills, general upgrades such as more health or higher chances for critical hits, as well as drone skills. Since the only way to earn more upgrade points are by playing at higher difficulty levels or throughly searching levels for the odd hidden ones, you really have to pick carefully as there is no option to redistribute points. You also have to put skills into certain tiers to unlock others, so there is no way to unlock everything with one character.

Solstice Chronicles: MIA does offer a lot of replay value as, in addition to a nice story campaign, it also features a survival mode. Currently the survival mode only has one map, but it’s quite addictive nonetheless. During this mode, you are given a variety of objectives, but also have the option to evacuate at certain times. If you push on you are rewarded with more goodies, but if you don’t survive you lose out on everything. Knowing when to push on and when to cut your losses and evacuate is a lot of fun and we returned to this mode many times after completing the story mode. This mode is especially entertaining in multi-player, but co-op is local only and not online, which is a bit disappointing. The developers have added support for using two controllers at once, so at least one person is not stuck with the keyboard and mouse. Not that there is anything wrong with the keyboard and mouse controls, but it does feel a bit more cumbersome than a good controller, especially for activating skills and abilities.

 

In terms of visuals, Solstice Chronicles: MIA is a pretty good looking game. Since the entire game is set on Mars there isn’t a lot of variety, but everything looks nice and detailed. The light and shadow effects in particular are really good and you’ll also see plenty of blood and flames. The overall visual quality can be adjusted, as well as the quality of foliage, shadows, and textures, so the game should be playable on slower rigs. Everything is viewed from an overhead perspective, so the character model and enemies all look very decent, especially the huge bosses you face. The voice acting is also surprisingly good, with the grunt sounding as gruff as you would expect while Saffron has a lot of personality for a drone. The gun sounds could have been a little meatier and the background music is a bit sparse, but the rest of the sound effects are really good.

Overall we had a blast with Solstice Chronicles: MIA, but players expecting a pure twin stick shooter might find the more tactical elements a bit annoying. The constant waves of enemies also make it a bit exhausting and making it to the end of a level or escaping from survival mode feels like a real accomplishment, especially on higher difficulty settings. Players who are unwilling to learn how to manage their threat levels or how to employ drone abilities such as setting up turrets, bombs and tripwires will probably find the game too frustrating, but put in the effort to learn and you’ll reap the rewards. Solstice Chronicles: MIA was clearly not made by a huge team, so there are still a couple of rough patches and a lack of polish here and there, but these are nothing compared to how much fun it is to play.

System Requirements

  • OS: Win 7, Win 8.1, Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5
  • Memory: 4000 MB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 750 Ti
  • Storage: 15 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5
  • Memory: 4000 MB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 960
  • Storage: 15 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any

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