Solstice Chronicles M.I.A Review – Bloody Swaths of Mutant Gibs Await Ye!

Solstice Chronicles M.I.A
Ironward/Nkidu

I’ve always loved a good isometric game. Action RPGs in particular have been a mainstay of that top down genre, giving you a view of all of the unfolding events. Heck, I was practically raised on a steady diet of Titan’s Quest (love the recent Anniversary Edition), and of course the Diablo series (Diablo 3 not so much).

2015’s The Red Solstice was an underground indie game which featured an old-school isometric perspective, but turned in swords and sorcery for laser rifles and high tech gadgets. Since I was hungry for a Diablo 2-type experience I glommed onto it right after it was released. Although I did give it a few play-throughs, I was a little put off by The Red Solstice’s muddy textures and same-y backgrounds. Although I did like the RPG elements and the wide selection of classes that you could choose from, after a while, the game sort of devolved into a rather tepid slog.

Apparently in response to these factors, Ironward seems to have wanted to make something a little more in line with what hyper-active, fast-twitch gamers (with miniscule attention spans) desire: More and more action. Curiously, instead of the steadier pacing of traditional action RPGs which use point-and-click control schemes, their newest effort, Solstice Chronicles M.I.A, forgoes those in favor of a twin-stick shooter set-up.

One thing that sort of threw me off when I first booted the game up was that there were numerous grammar and punctuation errors. I know that Ironward is a Croatian game developer, but couldn’t they have had someone who can edit English competently make a basic pass at the game? Fortunately, once you get past the sloppy and amateurish initial presentation the meat of the game isn’t all that bad at all.

The backstory is one of the elements that really hooked me in. Similar to The Red Solstice, a catastrophic viral epidemic has broken out on Earth and transformed much of its populace into ravenous, mutated creatures. In a last ditch effort to survive, the remaining unaffected humans blast off to Mars and build several colonies there with the hopes that they can somehow develops a cure to the epidemic later on down the line. Corporations soon take control over the colonies, prompting several Martial wars to erupt as they vied for supremacy. Suddenly, the same viral plague breaks out on Mars.

Solstice Chronicles M.I.A tells the tale of a lone Marine survivor who was caught up in the midst of the viral outbreak, and has to fight his way out in order to find safety. But it won’t be easy as there is a whole host of vicious mutants who are out to kill or corrupt anything human. The game begins with the player accompanied by a cheery AI drone whom are almost immediately being attacked by droves of loathsome mutants. The first few levels of Solstice Chronicles M.I.A serve as cleverly implemented tutorials that teach the player all of the basics of combat, movement, and his character’s perks and abilities. It seems the developers went the extra mile this time in terms of getting players accustomed to the game’s controls since The Red Solstice received a lot of flak for having a poor tutorial.

There are four classes offered to players this time around—the gun and melee competent Assault class; the gadget-happy Demolitions class; the one-man-army tank-ish Firestorm class; and the highly-mobile Terminator class. Personally, I would have named the tank class, Terminator, but who am I? Each class gets its choice of a primary and secondary weapon, as well as their drone’s different abilities.

The drones themselves come equipped with four separate abilities—scout, bomb, taunt, and block. Each one of these abilities have their strengths and weaknesses which have to be taken into consideration before utilizing, especially when considering the game’s ever-present threat meter.

The bar at the top of your screen indicates your present threat level, as well as the threat level coming up. It’s an interesting game mechanic, because you have to know when it’s worth it to stay and slug it out, and when to turn tail and run for your life. Sometimes it can be a toss-up. For instance, maybe you’d like your little cutesy drone to fly off ahead and scout for valuable weapon and equipment pick-ups. Doing so might reap some rewards in that you’ll locate some good loot, but there’s also the high likelihood that your drone will also alert mutants which will then follow it back to…guess who? That’s right—you.

Or, let’s say you run into a large chamber and get besieged by a gigantic swarm of enemies right off the bat. In order to mitigate the mutant’s dastardly ambush, you might feel that you are forced to use your drone’s smartbomb ability. Although the smartbomb is a great choice for wiping out whole phalanxes of enemies, you must place it in a strategic manner unless you yourself get caught up in the blast and likewise reduced to cinders. Not to mention that each blast from a smartbomb will increase your threat level meter considerably. With these tactical considerations in mind, every choice that you take can have profound implications on your survivability.

Luckily, you can take a fellow player-marine into the fray with you to increase your chances. But that’s only if you enjoy local co-op, as apparently the developers crowdfunding limitations didn’t allow for a fuller budget (and thus, online co-op). Purportedly, they’re going to be introducing online co-op in a future update so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that.

Solstice Chronicles M.I.A is certainly better looking than its predecessor. The character and creature models all look really good, as do the weapons models. The effects are pretty decent as well, although not on the same level as many of the triple A games out there. The environments have also been given a nice overhaul, and there is less repetition in them as there was in The Red Solstice. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the enemy types. By the mid-to-late point of the game I realized that I was going to be fighting the same types of mutants over and over again, which was kind of a let-down.

In the end, Solstice Chronicles M.I.A is a pretty fun isometric action RPG. While it is a little heavier on the action and less RPG-ish (at least when compared to The Red Solstice), it will probably appeal to people who like a more pick-up-and-play actioner. It’s a fun science fiction romp but I don’t know if it’ll keep me entertained for long. Hopefully, Ironward will roll-out an online co-op mode in order to extend the game’s replayability, sometime in the near future.

SCORE: 71%

Solstice Chronicles M.I.A features pretty good graphics that make its science fiction theme come alive. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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