Review: Solar 2 (PC)

Life, the universe, and everything that inhabits its vastness, all doled out as a $10 indie treat for the PC.

Game name: Solar 2
Price: $10
Platform: PC

Review: Solar 2 (PC)

What is it? Your time with Solar 2 starts as so many things should: You're a tiny, sentient chunk of rock adrift in space, hurtling (apparently aimlessly) through the cosmos. But space isn't quite so empty -- there are planets, multi-star solar systems, and plenty of other asteroids about. The entirety of the experience is spent hurtling through the inky dark, and interacting with your fellow celestial bodies.

As an asteroid, you build mass by smashing into other asteroids. Get large enough and your barren hunk of rock becomes a planet. As a planet, you'll need to trap asteroids into your gravitational pull and absorb them to gain even more mass. Continue gathering mass and you'll become a small star. Now you're trapping planets in your orbit. You need to put them to work trapping and absorbing asteroids to gain mass, so you can in turn absorb them, and get a little bit larger.

As your star grows into a medium and then large star, you'll be able to capture stars of your own, which are in turn capturing planets which capture asteroids... and now you have an idea of how deep this rabbit hole goes.

Who made it? It's the brainchild of Murudai, a one man game development outfit staffed by developer Jay Watts.

What works? Solar 2 is at once a mission-driven strategy game and a fanciful tinker toy. If you hope to grow, your solar system must feed. The end result is a bizarre, dancing space farm. Asteroids and Planets are acquired, nurtured and -- when they're suitably massive -- absorbed, to feed your Star machine.

But there's depth here. Absorb enough mass and planets become large enough to support Life. And Life is a beautiful thing.

You have full reign over a planet's motion, both directly, as a planet, or indirectly, when planets orbit your star. But a planet is still ostensibly a petri dish. The beings living on a planet are autonomous, building defenses for their home world and launching ships to explore -- but mostly to blow things up.

Other solar systems roam the universe with the same goal in mind, so you'll need plenty of planets in prime condition, pumping out spaceships to blast your competition into so much space dust.

For much the game, your star and its orbital odds and ends swing jerkily around space, hoarding asteroids to help your planets grow. Amassing a bite-sized armada actually feels pretty good. You don't have direct control over them, but ships do attempt to stay as close to their home planet as possible. You can in turn move the star those planets are orbiting about, guiding their fleets into battle, or (more often than not) out of harm's way.

Also: Blasphemy for a PC game, I know, but you'll really want a gamepad for this one -- an Xbox 360 controller works perfectly.

What doesn't work? Sometimes, Life kinda sucks. As the denizens of your planets have no real sense of what your aim is, they amuse themselves by flying out in their little green spaceships, and blasting away at whatever happens to be in the vicinity of your planet.

Trying to gather asteroids for a multi-planet solar system becomes an exercise in frustration when your trigger happy space-gnats swarm and destroy everything that gets close enough. At times (particularly when completing missions) you'll occasionally find yourself slamming your planet into solid objects, shedding mass and killing off Life just to get some work done in peace.

These ships also aren't very clever: it's a bit maddening to carefully nurture an impressive fleet, and then watch in horror as they all die, because they keep colliding with planets in your solar system.

What's the estimated shelf-life? Solar 2 is mostly about exploration. Asteroids beget planets, which beget stars, which beget solar systems, and beyond. If you'd like some direction, there's a snarky celestial guide on hand to get you on your way, and offer you proper missions, if you're into that sort of thing -- four for each form you'll assume as you explore, for a total of 12.

The game can get surprisingly difficult -- especially if you decide to tackle the missions. The various stages are also inherently different, though (much like Will Wright's much-maligned Spore) you'll likely find yourself spending most of your time striving towards becoming a full-fledged Solar System, molding and pruning orbital bodies.

That said, there's no real death penalty in Solar 2. You can "save" a particular system, and respawn into it whenever you'd like. This gives you free reign to experiment with different forms (and hold on to one you especially like), particularly if you're trying to grind through those missions, or work your way up to a Black Hole.

Is it worth the price of admission? The soundtrack is soothing. The gameplay is simple enough for casual jaunts, while offering enough complexity to leave you tearing your hair out in the best sort of frustration. And it's only $10 - go buy this.

Comments [0]