For Everyone Who Ever Wanted To BE Space
Solar 2 is about as indie-ass an indie game as you can get. It was made by one guy (plus a musician) in his proverbial basement, who has a degree in biotechnology and has never worked in the game industry. This type of development process almost always leads to something interesting, but it’s rare to get something that is genuinely and uncompromisingly good out of it. Solar 2 is completely unlike anything out there, and executes itself nearly flawlessly.
At its core, Solar 2 is a 2D arcade space-simulator. Not a spaceship-simulator. A space-simulator. You begin the game as an asteroid, probably no bigger than a car, and build yourself all the way up to a black hole. The exact way that you grow changes depending on what stage of development you are in, but it all comes down to absorbing matter from the universe around you. This “staged development” system inspires comparison to Will Wright’s Spore, and I personally feel that it does a better job than Spore of making everything feel cohesive. Unlike Spore’s spastic creature creator, The changes that occur to your solar system occur slowly and deliberately. It’s a great feeling to look back and say “This neutron star was once that puny asteroid that I started with!”
There are 2 “goals” to Solar 2. The first is developing your system up to a singularity, thereby completing another revolution of the universal life cycle. The second is to complete all of the missions in the game. There aren’t a ton of them, but they aren’t the focus of the game so what is there feels like the right amount. The missions are all unique and often very clever, both in design and writing. They also contain a few good set pieces that are pretty unexpected. This all culminates in a final mission and an ending of sorts. It’s not exactly a mind-blowing revelation, but the ending is cute and worth seeing.
Thusfar I’ve made Solar 2 sound pretty complicated but, while it can get hectic once you grow to a large multi-star system, the game only actually has a one-stick and 2 button interface. The stick (I don’t recommend playing this game on a keyboard if you have a gamepad available) moves your solar body around, and the buttons are 2 variations on “absorb stuff orbiting around you”. All the other management in the game comes from trying to predict what you and the things orbiting around you are going to do. All objects, including you, product gravity wells that pull smaller objects towards them, and you have to consider both that and the natural orbits of your planets as you navigate among other systems and planets.
Of course, what is a universe without life to enjoy it? Planets can develop life, which create shields and spaceships that can be used both offensive and defensively. However, you don’t have any control over the life on your planets, so they can sometimes attack planets and asteroids that you wanted to keep around, or ignore things that you want gone. This also leads to the one serious complaint that I have about Solar 2, which is that the colours chosen to differentiate between your ships and the ships of other planets are red and green. This is makes it effectively impossible for the colourblind gentleman to engage an enemy system in ship combat, and I wound up attacking other systems by just bashing my cluster of 9 stars against them. I actually wrote the developer about this and he assured me that it would be fixed in a coming patch, but for now this aspect of the game is quite frustrating.
There are other occasional things that I could complain about (like the fact that the game leaves a few mechanical things unexplained), but in the end most of them come from asking Solar 2 to be something it isn’t. I moved Solar 2 into the strategy, adventure AND puzzle categories of my Steam library before deciding that it belonged under the generic “action” heading. There is great potential for Solar 2 to become a lot of different things, but if it had become a dedicated strategy or puzzle game it would no longer have been the unique experience that it is. I have vague hopes that a modding community will grow around this game, because there are a lot of “what if?” scenarios to the game’s design that I would like to see explored.
Before I wrap things up, the music deserves commendation. It’s some great electro stuff that fits the ambience of the game perfectly. It grows and swells really nicely, and occasionally comes together to make the game feel even more epic than it already does.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Solar 2. Despite giving you free reign to mess around, I found the one-time experience of building myself up from asteroid to black hole, and completing all the missions, to be worth the asking price of 10 dollars. Add that to the developer’s promise of updated gameplay systems to mess around with later on, and you have a really excellent value, as well as an excellent game on your hands.