At the inaugural Summer Game Fest last year, there was a glut of games on show that were all set in space. Scary space (which sounds like a Glaswegian addressing Mel B) to be precise. It seemed like 18 months quarantining in their own flats during the pandemic really took a toll on game developers, with the likes of The Callisto Protocoland Aliens: Dark Descent sending us down claustrophobic space ship corridors and fighting off deadly alien parasites. Fort Solis is similar in premise, but swaps guns and ghoulies for a more cinematic, immersive experience.
Fort Solis review
Players take the reigns of Jack Leary, a grumpy yet approachable engineer working on a comms array on the planet of Solis. After the emergency alarm is triggered from the neighbouring titular fort, Jack sets off on what he thinks will be a routine once-over of the base. But upon discovering the seemingly abandoned station that has been plunged into lockdown, Jack must roam its still-quiet corridors in search of the crew. And all just a day before going on annual leave. Oh, the retirony!
Helping you along is Jessica – your quick-witted, empathetic colleague who trades jokes (and, occasionally, good advice) with you over the radio. You can tell they the pair have a close relationship as they rip into each other like you would a best mate, but refreshingly, it never pushes beyond that, feeling more like a platonic version of Firewatch.
From the get-go, it’s clear that the characters are well-drawn, with sharp dialogue and excellent voice acting. Of course, the big name attached to Fort Solis, Troy Baker, is as good as ever, but this really feels like an ensemble performance, with Roger Clark and Julia Brown bringing nuance to Jack and Jessica respectively.
Such is modern gaming, though, that vocal performance is merely the half of it. Again, the cast squeeze every last eye flicker and furrow of the brow from Fort Solis’ impressive mo-cap, although the character models leave a lot to be desired. I’m not usually one to be drawn on graphics but the gulf between the trailer’s in-game models and the finished product is noticeable.
Open the pod bay doors, HAL
Most of your interactions in the first chapter (if not the entire game) consist of QTEs and listening to audio logs. The former style of gameplay often gets a bad wrap, but there are occasions in Fort Solis where QTEs are used effectively. In the second chapter, for example, I’m walking into a well-lit cargo hold after a good while navigating through dimly lit corridors. It feels safe in there, so I take a bit of a breather. That is until, out of nowhere, a huge cargo trolley comes careering towards me as I tap the X button just in time to avoid being crushed – but it leaves me feeling uneasy, which is exactly what the game is intending to do.
Mostly though, the QTEs don’t really add anything to the experience. Climbing up a rusty ladder onto the roof of Fort Solis, for instance, I slip, and need to mash X quickly to regain footing, but I don’t quite manage it. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any consequence for failing, as Jack simply regains his footing again. Granted, this is a game that’s focused on story and experience rather than challenge, but it has the effect of making you feel that nothing you do really matters.
These traversal sequences were made for the PlayStation’s DualSense features, but bafflingly, Fort Solis doesn’t make use of any of them. And moving Jack around outside of QTEs feels cumbersome; leaving Jack walking for a short moment after you’ve let go of the analogue stick.
QTEs aside, Fort Solis largely accomplishes its goal of creating an immersive, story-driven experience. From Jack’s wrist display- which serves as a diegetic menu screen – that satisfyingly crackles with static as you turn the dial – to the haunting audio/video logs littered throughout the base. The latter is nothing new to the genre, but Fort Solis nails the sense of isolation and paranoia the crew experience in confined, close quarters.
At times, the fort’s design feels a little bland, but there are some areas, such as the rec room, that are brimming with personality and life. As I wander around the room in Chapter 2, I take a good while playing around with the pool table and investigating a half-finished poker game. You get a real sense of the crew’s life here on Solis, as well as a chill down your spine as you ponder why everyone left in such a hurry.
The mystery of exploring a place, though, is diminished by the circle reticules displayed to highlight interactive objects that are visible even from afar. The resulting effect is that investigating some rooms feels like a slog from object to object without much thought.
Fort Solis is a competent thriller with an excellent cast, even if it’s story ends up leaning on tired sci-fi clichés. Despite things getting a bit grizzly in the last chapter, most QTEs feel like they lack any real bearing on your fate and therefore lack any real threat. Consequently, the fort quickly loses any sense of fear and urgency. Still, at roughly 4 hours long, the tight dialogue and quality performances do enough to keep you engaged until the credits roll, but sadly not enough to make Fort Solis stand out among the many space-bound games on offer this year.