No matter the star-studded cast of a video game, if the story doesn’t intrigue you, hardly anything else can save the day. Particularly if the video game is a sci-fi adventure like Fort Solis, which relies heavily on its story to deliver an experience worth sinking your teeth into for a bite. Before getting ahead of myself, though, Fort Solis isn’t completely lost on you. It tells the familiar story of setting out into space to solve a mystery. It slowly burns its way into your deepest core, weaving suspense and clues about your path as you navigate abandoned space stations, claustrophobic walls, and limitless ways to bite the dust.
There is little action, though. Mostly, players will need to explore every nook and cranny of a Martian station. They’ll solve the occasional puzzle and soak in the lore and atmospheric tension. Above all, curious minds will want to reach the end to uncover the mysteries that lie under their noses. If this feels like your kind of gig, or even if it’s nowhere near what your Saturday night live gaming sessions look like, hold on as we expound on what to expect from the game in our Fort Solis review.
A distress signal from Mars shatters your earthly rendezvous, calling on you to investigate an anomaly in space. With the help of Jessica, played by Troy Baker from The Last of Us, you, engineer Jack Leary, played by Roger Clark from Red Dead Redemption II, embark on a thrilling expedition to investigate the anomaly and save the day.
Upon arrival, you find the station has gone into lockdown, and there’s no one present to update you on what’s happening. So, your only hope is to scour the environment for anything that can tell you where to look and go. And this is where Fort Solis shines the brightest.
It leaves wiggle room for free interpretation, which, on the one hand, is thrilling to uncover hidden mysteries, but on the other hand, leaves you constantly on hinge if you speed past an area too fast and miss a clue.
Sneaking into people’s emails, combing through personal belongings, watching video logs, listening to voice recordings, and keenly scouring the environment for clues. The trick is to gather as much information as you can, from as many records as you can find to ppiece it alltogether and figure out what exactly happened to the crew on Mars.
As for the gameplay, Fort Solis is more of a walking simulator. Nothing more. There’s little to no combat, puzzles, crafting, or even stealth action. Your job is to forge on through the station, at a very, very slow pace to find out more. That’s it.
It’s a great way to build tension at the beginning. However, in the later stages, the pacing quickly starts to take its toll on you. Jack Leary is just in no rush at all, and dare you try to disturb his peace. Perhaps a lighter space suit would have helped. And a fresh cup of coffee.
It would have been great if you kept busy combing the environments. But there isn’t much that blows your mind away. Don’t get me wrong. There are the occasional quick-time event prompts. Something that jump-starts your brain a little.
For the most part, though, they’re easy to miss, thanks to their white design and lack of audio cues. And, to some extent, disrupt the pacing of the story, however slow.
Find Your Own Way
It’s a clever idea, to leave things up to interpretation. Many games will throw everything at you. However, Fort Solis makes sure to leave its story to one’s imaginative mind. Just like the plot, though, said clever idea quickly falters under poor execution.
Jessica, first of all, is there to guide Jack through the station through voice communication. While Jack isn’t the most endearing character, he’s the type to focus on his job, regardless of how crazy things around him get. Jessica, on the other hand, becomes playable in the last two chapters, yet remains the mystery woman without a compelling story I’m sure you’ve seen replicated elsewhere.
The space station itself looks polished, with abandoned signs of life. You use computer terminals to unlock doors or operate webcams. There’s always a constant need to retrace your steps to discover clues you may have missed. The only problem is that there’s no way to tell where those clues might be.
So, you set out to search a few floors and hope that the orange marker pops up to indicate an incomplete objective. Or, the yellow cursor to show you where you currently are. However, the cursor only pops up if you’re close to a named location. So, there’s really no easier way to get a sense of direction.
In the end, plenty of time seeps into exploring and re-exploring dark rooms, picking up photos hoping they’re clues, then double checking for anything you might have missed. And then your mind starts to wander, wondering whether you’re going to order takeout for dinner. Chinese, maybe.
Jack’s Apple Watch pulls up a map at some point. And said map is only accessible from Jack’s perspective, from which you can hardly zoom to a legible view, let alone pull up to the whole or even half of the screen. Additionally, texts are hardly legible. And the DualSense implementation on the PS5 is abysmal.
It's as if the moments with unnecessary tension get intense triggers, while the ones without fall flat and empty. Some of these aren’t bad enough to derail the overall experience. However, they certainly would have greased some of the issues with gameplay and the story if they were up to standard.
Killer on the Loose
Apparently, there’s a killer on the loose because Jack and Jessica find piles of bodies, slashed and bloodied up, and left to die. You’ll expect the game to pick up from there. Frantic, freaked out, terror hangs over the year. And for a moment or two, Jack and Jessica seem genuinely horrified. Their acting performance was never in question here.
Soon after, though, they quickly returned to form. Ever so sluggish and the least bothered. At this point, or perhaps even way earlier, you can tell where the story is headed. But even so, we never quite get all our questions answered. It’s unclear, in the end, why the dead bodies would keep piling up or why the ending is the way it is. And the worst of it is, you hardly care, so long as it’s finally over.
Credit Where It’s Due
Jack and Jessica do have chemistry. Their banter in the beginning is entertaining. They have a layered performance, and that’s the spectacle of this game. Also, running on Unreal Engine 5, the visuals look stunning. It’s nothing like Dead Space’s caliber. Fort Solis doesn’t punch above its weight, using a perfectly balanced shadow, lighting, and overall visual setting to amplify its graphic design.
Fort Solis is the kind of game to have mixed feelings about. On one end, it engineers a clever storytelling concept to build tension and slow-burn its way into a mighty end. But its ambition gets in the way, resulting in a plot that plateaus and finally crumbles under its own weight and pressure. At least the voice acting and performance are top-notch, with stellar performances from Roger Clark (Red Dead Redemption II) and Troy Baker (The Last of Us). But great performance alone isn’t enough to successfully pioneer a walking simulator worth the investment in time and money from start to finish.
Some of the plot issues come from its mapping issues and overall lack of direction during playthroughs. It’s a by-chance system that relies on finding the clues and solving the puzzles you need to uncover the mysteries of the game. But even after crossing the finish line, questions still linger in one’s mind. Perhaps that type of wiggle room in an adventure game will work for some. However, it may very well prove the hours poured into the back-and-forth gameplay pointless.
Fort Solis may please gamers who like slow-burn adventures. And more so, gamers who enjoy the good ol’ sci-fi distress signals and red, dusty Mars exploration. However, it’s definitely not a game for everyone, especially for those who quickly lose patience in a game with a suspenseful tone.
Fort Solis Review (PS5, PC, & MacOS)
A Thriller Space Exploration Gem with a Few Faults to Keep in Mind
Fort Solis tells the suspenseful thriller story of a space crew in trouble, led by excellent acting and performances from Red Dead Redemption II‘s Roger Clark and The Last of Us‘ Troy Baker. The mystery and context of the story unravel at your own pace, thanks to video logs, emails, recordings, and other materials scattered throughout a Martian space station. Because there is no directional map to tell you where to look, it can lead to a frustrating constant back-and-forth, but each clue you discover adds to the tension and horror thriller Fort Solis strives for.