The space combat genre is not an overly crowded scene. In fact, it is haunted by a few great games of the past while we, stuck in the present, have to contend with mediocre games that try to capture the nostalgia of Freespace or X-wing vs. Tie Fighter. I am a fan of flying around in space while maintaining my ship’s speed and shields, and, unfortunately, Sol: Exodus does not fulfill my needs. So like an unsatisfied lover, I dream of the past or maybe what the future will bring.
Sol: Exodus is a mix between Battlestar Galactica and basically any space combat game. Imagine that the main character’s name is Starbuck or Apollo and you will instantly feel at ease while piloting your starship through enemy space. Earth has become uninhabitable and it is up to your team to find a new Earth. Unfortunately, a militaristic cult has taken over the various colonies and space stations scattered throughout the Sol system (you knew we lived in the Sol system right? [Our Sun’s name is Sol]). The previously mentioned cult destroys your fleet and you must lead the resistance to victory. The whole experience is a bit of a letdown, but we will get to that later.
The space combat starts off fun but gets old quickly. Most missions task you with getting into dog fights with a handful of fighters and destroying them with either your machine guns or missiles. It controls tightly and offers controller support but I found the mouse and keyboard to be easier to manage. The UI gives a nice unobtrusive display of your ship’s stats (shields, speed, missiles and etc.) and also provides an “aiming ring” that shows where you should be shooting in order to hit your target. It was a nice touch that helps boost your accuracy while fitting within the game world.
There is some variety in the enemy’s ship design, but not much. You eventually fight elite versions of the standard fighters you were previously facing as well as bombers. The elite fighters fire missiles that hone in on your ship forcing you to shoot the missiles before you blow up. This actually added some variety to the missions since you would have to abandon whatever you were fighting to defend yourself from the oncoming projectiles. It was stressful and I like stressful.
Sol: Exodus also has a neat hacking minigame that you use to destroy large enemy ships. You target an exposed hacking node and input a series of “decrypted” letters to access the ships vulnerable bits. Just like the homing missiles mentioned above, the hacking portions made the combat more engaging. You have to watch the letters while avoiding enemy fighters and missiles.
After a few missions I had upgraded my ship enough to feel a difference. You can upgrade your ship’s guns, shields and engines. The guns and engines allow you to use them more before you overload, and the increase to shields allow you to, naturally, survive longer. Those are the only upgrades though…robbing me of my much desired vehicle customization, a feature sadly lacking from Sol: Exodus. When you have fully upgraded weapons you have more missiles and can hold down your machine guns for a longer time, but they aren’t any stronger and it is hard to see a difference between one level of upgrades and another.
I think it should be said that at the time of writing Sol: Exodus is $10. I don’t like to justify a game’s issues by its price, but I would have loved to see what a more fully featured Sol: Exodus would have looked like. They got the basics of space combat right but failed in whatever keeps you wanting to play more. Repetition mixed with a weak story and a lack of vehicle customization kept Sol: Exodus from being more than a somewhat entertaining distraction. Space combat fans will find a lot to enjoy, but others may be put off by the lack of polish. It turns out that in space no one can hear you scream for Freespace 3.
This review is based on a retail copy of SOL: Exodus provided by Seamless Entertainment. It is a PC exclusive.