The Red Solstice

I know the kind of people who would dig The Red Solstice. The kind who, like my lucky arse, have Lee Brimmicombe-Wood's ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual on their bookshelf. Folks who have a cyclic larder of curated Twitter follows, ones that dump concept sketches of dropships and robots and futuristic battle armour. Maschinen Krieger, Steakley and Blomkamp. The kind of gamers who appreciate the mechanised mundanity of earth movers and the stalwart utilitarianism of motorised armour.

The Red Solstice is all this. It's the grit and crunch of that grazed and battered science-fiction Haldeman wrote about. The kind Verhoeven made films about. It's a dark blend of horror and Mil-Sci-Fy. An eight-strong band of suited marines, each packing an individualised arsenal with carefully selected items and attributes, stomping through a fallen Martian base. It wears its inspirations on its tungsten cuff, be they as Doomian as they are Adeptus Astartesian, but the elements and emphases of The Red Solstice move it beyond soulless inference and influence. If the idea of dungeon-running with a clutch of armoured-but-not-invulnerable marines tickles fancy, read on.

The Red Solstice is a carnivorous co-op game for up to eight players. Players select one of the eight discrete space marine classes, configure and tweak their loadouts and skills, then proceed to sally forth into a Martian base suffering LV-426 syndrome. Indeed, all downed communication and an eerie lack of lighting one could hope for. There's a single player campaign, which is a great place to start in familiarising yourself with the nitty-gritty of the game. The two main multiplayer modes are either Mission and Survival. Within Survival, a squad needs to roam the facilities and achieve sub-mission objectives, all the while being swarmed by demonic entities and all manner of xeno-critters.

It feels like a splice of Valve’s Alien Swarm, Natural Selection and Doom. Items are scavenged, generators cranked back into operation, weapons overhauled, skills upgraded and an assortment of other granular mechanics. The more players, the better. Each role fills a particular arm of what you’d expect in a colonial marine outfit. The Assault class features a good balance of speed and stopping power, especially when coupled with the grenade ability. Medic, a diminished offensive capability, but centres as an essential core of prolonged fights as one would expect. Plus, the class proffers a mad chemical bomb. You’ve got a sniper class, a heavy weapons expert and others. These classes can sport unique power-ups from a larger pool, as well as class-specific skills.

Controls are akin to any character-centric tactical strategy game or Diablo-esque clickathon, though thankfully The Red Solstice is not about APM, but measured delegation of movement, skills and items. Lots of regrouping and dumping a collective pile of ammunition and devices in tactical locations for all to use as they see fit. Or in positions of last stands; sentry guns in proximity as the team hunkers down for a final fight.

But for a game that takes a measured pace to its combat – character auto-targeting on or off – The Red Solstice is a markedly fluid and mobile game. Running a fireteam through a dank, dark complex requires tactical movement, especially when there is more than one entry point. Deciding when to lay mines or trigger explosives, deploy the dwindling items or even what fire mode you’ll set your character’s weapon to; this fidelity, this imperative is at the heart of The Red Solstice.

Caveats? Lower-level swarm enemies animate wonderfully, and certainly the larger foes look straight out of Natural Selection. This is a good thing. But certain enemies like the Lettuce and the Behemoth – corpulent mutant Goliaths wielding a ball and chain – look out of place and are not particularly well-animated. The mesh of outpost architecture and a strange infestation is perfect for grotesque bio-menaces, but designs as listed above don’t gel particularly well. That said, there are counterparts to the Behemoth that work, such as enormous articulated worms and sinister biomechanical creations. These are relatively tiny holes in an otherwise delightfully cohesive vision.

I'd also like to see a little more locale variation down the line, but they don't call it The Red Solstice for nothing.

At the end of the long, blood-drenched day, there are enough tight co-op hooks here to make The Red Solstice an essential  PvE purchase. A tight, focused experience that does away with the casual-friendly chumpery that dilutes developer vision in favour of expanding audience. Here, you live and die – the latter more than the former – by a ruthless law of the iron oxide jungle. Learn its ways, play by its rules.

The Red Solstice feels like if Flynn Taggart took a look at the MOBA scene, shook his head and said, “You’ve done all wrong. Here, let me show you how it's done." 

Recommended.

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Thanks to Evolve Media for supplying codes for review purposes.