Editor’s Note: The Red Solstice is currently available through Steam’s Early Access program. This preview only covers what is available in the Early Access version of the game.
“I’m being murdered,” I said. My partner spoke at the same time: “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Then a giant monster beat us to death with its ball-and-chain arm. We had woken up early to play The Red Solstice, determined to do “adult things” at an “adult hour” during the humid Atlanta summer. We had played the prologue independently, both stumbling through the demo mission, and when we linked up that morning we immediately dropped into making fun of the entire aesthetic of the game.
Because, really, I don’t know how you can take it seriously. The hilarious opening monologue that begins with “The year was [PREGNANT PAUSE] 117 After Earth” is intoned by someone doing their best impression of the toughest space marine in the world. The units themselves, each controlled by a different player, spout off the toughest tough guy lines in the universe. The missions themselves, played on a single large map, are full of viruses (to be aware of) and Martian insurgents (to kill). None of it is reflexive or self-aware in any discernible way, and so we filled that in ourselves.
“Murderman comin’ to the murderzone,” I said in my best cigar-chompin’ voice. We followed it up with many more Golden Classics of space marine killing lines, including “killin’ and spillin’,” “I ain’t got time to stand, I’m murderin’,” and “I keep running into things instead of shooting them.”
That last line is a little different, but for a good reason: after one game, we were getting into it. Once we ran out of jokes, there was really nothing left to do but play, and playing The Red Solstice is very difficult. The mission prep screen itself is immensely complicated. You choose a character class from staples such as Assault, Medic, Heavy Support and several others. Each of these classes has a number of very fine-grained customization options, as well as power add-ons that we never quite understood even after discussing them.
When we played, I hosted the game, and as we talked about the character options, the lobby filled up. The Red Solstice bills itself as a game for between four and eight players, and that number is incredibly significant for two reasons. The first is that while we never had a problem filling up our roster here in the early days of the game, I don’t know what that will look like in even a couple months’ time. The second is that the minute the game began, about half of our party seemed to know what to do. The rest of us stood around and shot almost-zerglings and then eventually followed them.
That was most of my experience with The Red Solstice: I shot things, used special abilities and followed other people around. Part of the reason for this is that I’m totally willing to follow someone who seems to know what she is doing in a space nightmare game taking place in 117 After Earth. The other is that The Red Solstice dumps so much information on you at a time that it is incredibly difficult to understand what is actually happening without investing a lot of time either playing or carefully reading a wiki. In the first five minutes of my playing, there were blinking lights that wanted me to level up abilities with incredibly slow-to-appear tooltips, boxes of supplies, and a proliferation of icons around the sprites of the savvier players the likes of which I have never seen before.
Then I got smashed to death by a giant zombie monster. Another time, I was eaten by almost-zerglings.
During all of this time I wandered around almost completely ignorant of what I was supposed to be doing. Part of this has to do with my steadfast refusal to go read a wiki for a game, especially one that contains a prologue/tutorial (which is profoundly unhelpful). The other part has to do with the general unhelpfulness of other players, most of whom spent a lot of time wandering around and quickly hoarding supplies rather than using party chat to figure out what to do.
On the bright side, this total lack of communication led to two different games that ended in some of the funniest party wipes I have ever encountered in online multiplayer. In one, the remaining members of our team (my friend and I were already mega dead) tried to hole up in a room with no escape. They were squished to death by a giant zombie. In the other, four members of the group remained alive (I was also dead for this one) and tried to position themselves around a room. Lacking situational awareness, one of them threw an explosive, which then detonated several barrels, reducing everything into mush. The Red Solstice demands expert play at all times.
Sadly, at this point in release, The Red Solstice does not have a single-player element, and so all I can speak about is this multiplayer experience. If you’re the kind of person who loves getting down into nitty-gritty statistical details, min/maxing, and getting tactical with friends or random people, then The Red Solstice is probably a good purchase. I enjoyed my time with it, and my friend did as well, but when push comes to shove I find it more overwhelming than welcoming.
The Red Solstice was developed and published by Ironward. It is available for Windows PCs.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com.