Suspense in a Martian mine: review of the psychological indie game Fort Solis

by alex

5 reasons to buy Fort Solis:

  • Star cast by Roger Clark and Troy Baker
  • Stunning visual created on Unreal Engine 5.2
  • You want to play a cinematic game
  • You love meditative games that give you a feeling of loneliness
  • Have you long dreamed of visiting Mars

2 reasons not to buy Fort Solis:

  • You are not ready to pay for a 4-hour story $25
  • You don't like “walking simulators”

Quick transition:

Backstory: why there was so much attention to the game?

Despite being Fallen Leaf's debut game, it looked like it was being created by one of the most experienced studios in the world (although, of course, they employ people who are not the first day creating games, but still). Gamers were immediately attracted by the fact that the main roles were played by Roger Clark and Troy Baker. The first played Arthur Morgan in the cult game Red Dead Redemption 2. Players often call Arthur one of the best male characters in video games. Troy Baker is known for many roles not only in games, but his main one is Joel Miller from the The Last of Us series of games. All you need to know here is that players chose the first The Last of Us as the best game of the last decade, and The Last of Us Part II is the first game to collect more than 300 Game of the Year awards. And players began to think that if such industry stars are going to the debut project of a small studio, then something grandiose is being prepared.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

1) Troy Baker, who played Joel in TLoU; 2) Roger Clark, who played Arthur in RDR 2 (illustration: BBC)

The second point is that Fort Solis was created on Unreal Engine 5.2. There are not many games released on this engine yet, so if developers mention UE 5 at least once, they will get their attention. And who among the players doesn’t want to see what capabilities are built into this engine? (Spoiler – big ones).

The developers also actively said that they want to give players “a narrative experience that aims to tell a story through an interactive environment.” In general, Fort Solis was created as a Netflix series with 4 episodes that can be completed in 1 evening. The developers were also inspired by projects such as Detroit: Become Human and The Quarry, where much attention is paid to history, as well as Dead Space. There is only one “but”.

Fort Solis is not Dead Space or even The Callisto Protocol. This is a game that wants to tell a story first and foremost, so here you will wander and explore every corner, sometimes distracted by puzzles and action scenes. Therefore, fans of dynamic gameplay or those who were waiting for Dead Space 3.0 may not like the game at all. However, if you don't fall into either of the two categories and carefully wander around Mars and listen to all the dialogue, Fort Solis will give you an interesting gaming experience that truly feels like a meditative Netflix series.

The first trailer of the game, which was presented at the Summer Game Fest 2022

If Arthur Morgan and Joel Miller met on Mars

Mars, 2080. Engineer Jack Leary, played by Roger Clark, and his assistant Jessica Appleton, played by Julia Brown, are carrying out repair work on one of the objects on Mars when they suddenly receive an alarm from the station. Fort Solis. Jack tries to contact the station twice, but receives no response. This worries Jessica, because someone turned on the signal, but does not want or cannot answer? Jack becomes too interested in what is happening there, and he decides to go to the station in a huge jeep, which is used here to move around the planet.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Jack goes to the station

Jack quickly arrives at the station, but along with the alarm, the quarantine protocol turned on and now all the doors and elevators are closed. The engineer is not without problems, but still gets inside the station, which, at first glance, is absolutely normal. You can’t even say that something can happen here, but that’s it for now. Jack begins to explore the station to get to know it, and at the same time keeps in touch with Jessica. Wandering through the corridors and rooms, the characters have a logical question: “Where is anyone?.” Later, Jessica suggests that it would be good for us to find medic Wyatt Taylor, Troy Baker was chosen for his role.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Jack arrives at the station and still doesn’t know what awaits him

Jack has been wandering around the station for about an hour, and during this time he finds audio and video diaries of the rest of the crew who live (or lived) here. They describe what they are doing, their emotions, impressions, experiences, but there is nothing alarming in their messages. Jack and Jessica realize that the place where Wyatt is most likely to be is the medical department. And this is where the “surprises” begin. In one of the rooms, Jack finds a medic's uniform, which is covered in blood, but the medic himself is not here. And with every step there are more hints that something has clearly gone wrong. For example, Jack finds one of Wyatt's video diaries, where he first says that everything is fine, but at the end he already whispers and says that things are going badly. And once in the medical department, Jack sees traces of fresh blood on the floor, and the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Heading to the medical department, Jack finds bloody things and Wyatt's disturbing message

The hero finds the dead body of the guard, and while he calmed himself, he reported to Jessica and examined the body. After a few seconds, Jack sees that someone or something in a closed spacesuit has closed the doors in the department and turned off the ventilation system. A tense and dynamic scene begins, where Jack is trying to leave the department, because he left his helmet at the entrance to the station, and is now simply suffocating. Of course, he manages to escape, but now he realizes that he cannot leave the station. We need to figure out everything that's going on here. At the same time, Jessica sends a danger signal so that more people come here, preferably with weapons. In the meantime, the heroes need to survive the longest night of their lives.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Jack finds the guard's body, after which the story begins to gain momentum

The next 3 hours we will have to explore the station even more, survive tense moments, save our lives and understand what really happened at Fort Solisi? But this will be possible if we still survive until the morning.

In general, I liked the plot of the game. He constantly keeps you on your toes. It’s definitely not worth calling it horror, but you’re always ready for anything. The story unfolds especially coolly in the last two episodes: 3 and 4. Here the puzzle begins to come together, and now there’s definitely no turning back, because you’ve gone too far with your detective skills and you need to end it.

And the final episode of the game is generally 10/10. In some places I actually sat with my mouth open, because the game accelerates you, accelerates you, and then flies at a speed of 200 kilometers, and you were not ready for this.

Therefore, if you value story more than gameplay in games, and also want the plot here to resemble a cosmo-psychological detective story, you will like Fort Solis. And I hope to see a continuation of this story someday, because the game seems to hint that this is far from the end.

Charismatic characters with stellar voices

This story would not have turned out so atmospheric if not for the actors. Roger Clark made Jack a hero whose emotional state is constantly changing. At first one gets the impression that this is a naive uncle who is calmly driving to some station. At first he jokes, actively discusses something and in general, what kind of problems could such a person have? But then Jack panics, and screams, and curses everything in the world. In the end, Jack, played by Clark, conveys his emotions so well that you worry about this hero and want to believe to the last that he will succeed, he will survive. You always want to play as such a character, he helps with his real emotions to immerse you in the events of the game and not let you go.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Jack Leary

But my favorite of the story is Baker's Wyatt. It's like the Joker in The Dark Knight. He's given the least screen time of the main characters, but he leads the way in this intense dance. Only he can decide what will happen next and how everyone should move here. At the beginning, he is an ordinary medic who is not very memorable. But then… All these emotions, experiences, tears, notes of madness. Baker, as always, is unique. At The Game Awards in 2023, he should definitely get into the “Best Performance” category.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

White Taylor

I would especially like to mention Julia Brown, who gave the voice to Jessica Appleton. This heroine was the least talked about before the release, but she also did her job well. Her heroine is so stubborn that she will go to the final goal until the last moment. She's worried about Jack. You feel that they are close friends, and even if she starts joking, you understand that behind these jokes lies the fear of losing someone already close to you. And as with other heroes, at the right moment she becomes emotional and also enhances the events on the screen. It’s still a mystery to me how the developers were able to invite all these actors to their debutgame, but how hard this trio tried to give this story such emotions that gamers would remember the plot for a long time.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Jessica Appleton

There are 5 more minor characters. We will see and hear them only in audio and video diaries. Their main task is to help the player unravel the mystery of the station. We will see some on the screen less, some more, but everyone coped with their role. At first they are all so calm, they talk about everything in the world, but later the mood changes a lot and you even begin to worry a little about some of them, think about how their fate turned out and believe that you will meet at least one of them alive. < /p>

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

All 5 minor characters. From left to right: Adam, Oscar, Nick, Helen, Asim

Is there life on Mars?

The game world turned out to be contrasting. On the one hand, we have a game that gives you a feeling of loneliness. Especially in the second half. You wander through the empty corridors of the station in search of at least something, but you only find your echo. If you leave the station and find yourself “on the street,” the situation only gets worse. On the surface of Mars you will only encounter a storm through which you can barely see your hands, and somewhere in the distance you can see huge buildings where the best scientists tried to explore something and make a world breakthrough.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

The entire Fort Solis base

But, no matter how paradoxical it may sound now, the game world feels alive. Do you believe that people lived here? If you enter any cabin, they do not feel empty. Some have sports posters hanging, some have accumulated their own small library during their stay, and some left a Rubik's cube on the table without solving it. If you look into the warehouses, they are full of food, water and clothing. In addition to the cabins, laboratories and corridors, there is also a recreation room where there is billiards, darts, and someone left poker cards on the table.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

The rest room where the whole crew once had fun

And here the developers did not lie. The story is truly told through an interactive medium. Most objects can be picked up and twirled to better understand the history of this world. For example, you can find several flowerpots that Helen gave to the crew, because she was in charge of the garden. And some of the flowerpots even have motivational stickers from Helen herself, who wanted to cheer up her friends.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Most items here can be interacted with. This allows you to give the player an immersive experience when the locations do not feel empty

The game isn't going to tell you what happened here. She offers to do this for you. Having walked around all the rooms, examining every object, you yourself will understand everything (or most things). And for me it was an interesting gaming experience, because you want to discover absolutely everything in order to put this story together into one whole. I didn't even notice that I received the “Explore all locations” trophy. The world of the game is so interesting here. The main thing is not to catch onlookers, because then it will be difficult to follow the following events.

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Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

By exploring the crew's cabins, you can understand what they were interested in in life and what brought them pleasure

How to play it?

You will have to walk a lot here. The main gameplay is built on this. The developers wanted to create an experience that tells a story. They felt that more traditional game mechanics would interfere with the narrative, themes, tone, and pacing they were working to preserve. Therefore, in Fort Solis there are no weapons, enemies or anything else similar to what we are used to in games about mysterious space. Is this good? Definitely yes. The developers of The Callisto Protocol have already tried to make their own analogue of Dead Space, but 5 points from players on Metacritic suggests that a miracle did not happen. Games should offer something new and interesting. Of course, a shooter in space would appeal to a much wider audience, but haven’t we already seen this? But a meditative exploration of the station, where there is only you and hundreds of naked questions, is something more interesting. If you played Call of Duty before Fort Solis, then the game may seem uninteresting. So try playing other “slow” games before going through to prepare yourself.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

But what a cinematic experience this is. The game has virtually no interface. There is only a special device on the hand in which you can open the card, read messages and watch videos – that's all. No indicators of health, stamina and other things that most of us are used to. This, again, creates an immersive experience where on the screen you see your character, location and nothing else. However, the banal fermentation would have tired me too, but Fallen Leaf found a way to interest the player.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

1) An analogue of a smartphone on the hero’s hand, where you can open a map and read or view notes; 2) The only interface element in the game is a minimalistic white spot that shows what you can interact with

Explore every corner, every room, everything you see

As mentioned above, there are enough objects in the game that you can interact with, so it becomes interesting to touch everything that is here, because this often reveals the plot. For example, there are blue SD cards on which short audio diaries of the crew are recorded. And in the cabins and some of the rooms there is a computer with its own equivalent of mail, where people corresponded with each other. The most interesting thing here is the video diaries. Usually there are 1-2 videos on one computer, each lasting about a minute, where one of the crew tells something. Especially memorable are the videos where someone can cry, scream, ask to go back to Earth, because they can no longer stand what is happening on Mars. Sometimes you may come across notes, they also give a better understanding of the situation at the station.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

1) Computers where you can watch the video diary; 2) The ability to view the mail of someone from the crew; 3) After activating the SD card, you can listen to the audio

In total there are 122 such items, but they are very easy to collect. If you carefully explore the locations and look into all the doors, you will collect almost everything. I collected 121 items and only lost one video diary somewhere. This is the first time I have collected so many additional items without the help of YouTube. Therefore, the developers have tried to do everything so that you can collect all the evidence and crew messages without any problems.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

All collected items can then be viewed in the main menu in the “extra” section.

There are also collectibles. There will be 21 posters hanging at the station. Collecting them is not difficult at all. I was able to find everything and it caused almost no problems. Only once I had to carefully search in a dark corridor, and the other was in an open area where there was always a hurricane. The main thing is that the developers do not “strangle” you by collecting items. 21 posters is a little more than 5 pieces for one episode. And 122 crew records are no more difficult to collect than posters. After all, one computer can have 5 messages, 3 videos and one audio recording. And I like this kind of collecting in games, because you don’t have to collect items for the next trophy. You collect them – because this is the main element of the game, which was organically added here.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Collectible posters

Puzzles and QTEs to make it more fun

Sometimes the game will present you with small puzzles. In order to get to some location, you need a resolution level or a battery. At the beginning we have a resolution level of 0, and the maximum is 5. So we have to think about how to get other resolution levels or find a battery, but there is nothing super complicated there. It is very rare that you will come across locked safes. Somewhere in the location there will be a code that you need to find and activate. This is a task solely based on attentiveness. But there will be only one full-fledged puzzle – towards the end of the passage. You'll have to think a little bit to figure out how it should work. I would add 2-3 more full-fledged puzzles for more variety, but it's good that there is something to do in the game besides this.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

The only puzzle in the game where you have to really think about it is how to properly reboot certain servers in the room

During action scenes, QTE moments begin when you have to press buttons quickly. And these scenes immediately raise your adrenaline level. Walk around, and after a second you have to press the speed buttons so as not to die. Most of these moments will be at the end, but I would like this throughout the entire game, because this adds the most variety to the gameplay of Fort Solis. This is one of the moments when you need to press the buttons in time.

What about optimization, visual and audio support?

I played the game on PlayStation 5, and there were some minor problems with optimization. In open locations, fps dropped from time to time. And considering that the first location in the game is open, you start to think that it will be like this until the end. But, fortunately, already indoors the game maintains a stable 60 frames. The only thing is that fps dropped the most before the end of the game in one of the rooms in the botanical garden. It feels like there were only 20 frames, but it was a lonely incident. Although the first day update should fix these issues, and the game will keep 60 fps everywhere.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

On PS5 the game runs in two modes: quality (30 fps and improved graphics) and performance (60 fps and slightly worse graphics)

Developers should also pay attention to textures that live in their own dimension. Some bugs happen to them, and it is impossible not to notice this. There weren't many such moments, but still, it's better to fix it before release.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

In one of the rooms the texture on the board simply did not load

Incredibly beautiful Mars and attention to small details

If we put aside the problems with some textures, then the visuals of Fort Solis are one of the strongest points of the game. Each object is detailed, and you want to look at everything. I especially liked how the characters' costumes were made. All these belts, carabiners, tools on the belt, helmet with various small details deserve special praise. The surface of Mars was also well done. All traces of transport are visible here, and if you look at the lamps, you can see the dust better and there are plenty of such small details here. And all this was created by a small team. This makes the graphics even more impressive. Unreal Engine 5.2 in the right hands can truly deliver realistic, immersive and cinematic visuals.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Detailed costume of the main character

And although the variety of locations here is not large, as has already been written more than once, there is always something to consider. The surface of Mars was especially well done. It simultaneously captivates and frightens with its silence and mystery.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Mysterious Mars and the stations that are hidden on it

Audio accompaniment that enhances the tense atmosphere of the game

There are no problems with the audio in the game at all. The developers here have also maintained attention to detail. For example, when the hero walks, the carbines knock on him from time to time, and this creates a characteristic sound. When you pass through any automated doors, there is also a sound. And here they even recorded the sounds when you spin a Rubik's cube. All the while, intense melodies are playing in the background that don't let you forget that you're investigating a mysterious case involving disappearances and deaths.

There are not many compositions here, but it is worth mentioning the main one. The song “If You Let Me” was written specifically for the game by Polish performer Mary Komasa, and it sounds at that moment that is remembered in the head most of all, which only enhances the emotions of the game.

What I didn’t like

There is only one serious drawback in the game – navigation through the map is poorly implemented. By pressing R1, we see a map on which all the rooms and corridors that connect them are visible. This map even has a yellow indicator that shows our location, but there are a few nuances. The yellow indicator does not always accurately show our location. I had a situation where the indicator showed that I was far from the goal, I walked a few meters and my indicator was right near the destination. How it works? Perhaps this bug will be fixed after release, but it was confusing. Or it could show me that I was walking down one corridor, but in fact it was a completely different one, and I ended up in the wrong place. Fort Solis is also divided into several levels, and when the game asks you to go along the conditional corridor A, it may be on the third level, and at that time you are on the second, and here it would be nice for the game to hint that you should go down or up . If we have a game with a minimal interface, then it is not necessary to create a route, as is done in open-world games. I just want the map to not deceive me and show me the exact location and indicate what level of station I need – that would be more than enough. In general, it would be even fun if the poor navigation of the map were explained by the fact that enemy electronic warfare is operating on Mars (electronic warfare – editor's note).

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

The map in the game is implemented as a separate application on the hero’s bracelet

But the biggest problems with navigation arise on the surface of Mars, especially for the first time, when you don’t yet know the location of the buildings. It would be nice if the developers added the ability to display a marker on the screen if you spend a long time looking for your target. For example, Sony did this in The Last of Us, and it helped a lot. Otherwise, if you are ready to play a project where you basically have to walk, there are no serious disadvantages.

Саспенс в марсианской шахте: обзор психологической инди-игры Fort Solis

Ability to enable navigation in TLoU II if you can’t find your way around the location for a long time. Such a function would be useful in Fort Solis, when you wander for several minutes and don’t know where to go next

Five things you need to know about Fort Solis

  • Fort Solis – a psychological thriller created in the style of the series
  • The game has only 4 episodes, and you can easily complete it in an evening
  • The star cast gives this story even more emotions
  • Unreal Engine 5.2 will make you look at every station object
  • The developers have created an immersive experience that immerses you in the game world and motivates you to fully explore it
Fort Solis
Genre Sci-fi psychological thriller
Platforms PlayStation 5, PC
Number of players Single-user
Developer Fallen Leaf, Black Drakkar Games
Publisher Dear Villagers
Time to complete 3-5 hours
Release date August 22, 2023

For those who want to know more

Gratitude

The editors would like to thank the PR agency Plan of Attack for kindly providing the game for review

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