Solstice Chronicles: MIA
Solistice Chronicles M.I.A is a top down twin stick tactical shooter developed by Ironward. In the genre’s classic style, the player fights off hordes of enemies, completely obliterating them with almost any weapon you can think of. In Solistice Chronicles though, the player has something a little different, the help of an AI protection drone.
The game features a fairly short, albeit tough, story mode which can be played in solo or local COOP. Local COOP is always a plus for me. The storyline itself is simple. The year is 2280CE, or Mars 117AE. A virus has infected the Tharsis Colony facility on which you, a generic grunt, are based. No, it’s not a shoot off of Doom. You are told that your life expectancy ‘is minutes’. This grunt meets an AI drone called Saffron who agrees to help you escape the facility.
Storyline is delivered via short and simple cutscenes at the beginning and end of each mission. It isn’t gripping, but it doesn’t need to be and it does its job well leading the player from mission to mission. That said, the lack of information that is given is sometimes confusing and cut scenes feel slightly rushed; but who wants to be watching cut scenes when you could be blowing shit up right? Overall the simplicity of the story works well and in the player’s favour for just getting stuck in.
Gameplay wise it’s also pretty tough. There are several difficulty levels to select from and even the easier ones provide a challenge. Boss fights are particularly hard, so the life expectancy being minutes is actually generally pretty accurate. The amount of enemies you actually fight is dependent on your threat level. This provides another element of difficulty as killing enemies lowers the threat level, but the drone has an ability (among others) to collect ammo for you, which in turn raises the threat level.
In this way I found myself many times in a bit of a catch-22 by getting high threat, removing it, but raising it again by using the droid to collect ammo. This is a rather frustrating part of Solistice Chronicles, which although providing a challenge, just means that engaging in combat is a mixture of satisfying and unsatisfying, eventually feeling very repetitive. It does though provide interesting and different gameplay compared to your standard twin stick shooters. This is achieved with an RPG element, allowing the player to level up and customise their grunt by unlocking certain skills to help survive and the drone’s various abilities. This somewhat adds to the gameplay but overall it means it is rather clunky, and just shooting everything ends up being your best option.
There’s also a survival mode to accompany this which can be played on several maps and difficulties. Rather than being a simple wave game though, the player has objectives to complete making it almost into a simpler story mode which detracts from what I think a survival mode should be. Frustratingly you can’t use your levelled character from the story mode either, meaning you have to start another character progression to get all abilitie. Lack of an online feature here also means that replayability is limited.
A slight downside to the game is that it isn’t anything spectacular graphically, but it’s not bad either. A good deal of detail has gone into creating the world and from a level design point of view there are lots of places to explore. That said there are plenty of false calls for players and getting lost is very easy, if it weren’t for the quest line taking you to your objective all the time it would be incredibly difficult to navigate.
The Art does a good job in setting the scenes in the facility which generally are (although obviously bleak as it’s Mars and there is a virus going around) pleasant on the eye and it’s accompanied by some cool VFX. In particular the goriness of the game is great, the amount of blood spattering and explosions as you kill virus ridden enemies gives real satisfaction. Although graphics could be better, my only other comment would be that lots of areas very much feel the same. Audio is done well though, character audio is decent and the general ambience means you certainly feel like you’re in an abandoned/eerie Mars space station (I am obviously qualified to know exactly what that would sound like…).
Overall Ironward have done a good job creating what is solid game and Solistice Chronicles feels like a bit of a hybrid of Doom and Diablo. That said, the drawbacks of being a rather short game and lack of online content makes replayability difficult, although I do appreciate a game that includes split-screen functionality. For fans of the twin stick genre you can’t really go wrong, so sit back and enjoy the chaos that ensues.