The Red Solstice is a real-time strategy game developed by Ironward Studios, and it’s on sale right now for $7.99 on Steam. Should you buy it? Well, here’s the deal: humanity has been laid to waste and the survivors have taken to the sky. The more open-minded ones have adapted to life on Mars. However, during your communications with the colonists, you receive a distress signal. Soldiers are dispatched in pods that fall from the sky to the arid surface of the Red Planet. (Of course, in a classic military mishap, the squads are separated from each other during their descent through the atmosphere.)
In The Red Solstice you control several squadrons of soldiers as they attempt to brave the dangers of Mars. You were sent on a rescue mission, but you quickly discover that you’re fighting for your life. Explore the decimated planet, find your friends, and fight off hordes of enemies. Sounds like the future to me.
The Red Solstice Review: Campaign and Gameplay
It’s important to note that there are two very distinctly different game modes in The Red Solstice. The campaign tells the story of your exploration to Mars, and what you encounter there. Survival mode has no story, and is, as the name implies, a test of survival. Survival and campaign are very different from each other, and the two modes each offer their own unique experience. It’s also worth mentioning that survival mode can be multiplayer, while the campaign is exclusively single player.
I’ll be honest: the campaign was by far the less enjoyable mode, largely due to the set enemies that attack the same way in each encounter. Without meaningful side missions to help level your characters, you’re forced to try different strategies until you get it right, and there’s always a “correct” solution. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of gameplay flow, it was an odd choice for The Red Solstice. When you enable “tactical mode,” the game is slowed down by 10%, which makes it feel more like a turn-based RPG battle than a real-time action title. I did some research, and apparently The Red Solstice didn’t have a tactical mode. Personally, I wish the developers had stuck with that choice, since the campaign played out like a stripped-down version of XCOM at times.
While the bar for video game writing has never been set high, I was pleasantly surprised by the story in The Red Solstice. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but between the notebooks scattered around the game’s environments, the pods, and the mission, the version of Mars you’re exploring in The Red Solstice feels fully realized. Exploring landscapes shaped by massive destruction was not only interesting, but downright eerie at times. When it comes to tension, The Red Solstice manages the game’s atmosphere exquisitely–you’ll definitely feel your heart rate increase in certain moments.
However, the same can’t be said about the characters in The Red Solstice. Simply put, there’s nothing exciting about them. The few lines of dialogue included in the game consist mostly of stereotypical grunt speak. It’s reasonable to assume that the absence of fully realized characters is largely due to the vast number of soldiers you command throughout the campaign. Rather than attempt to make them all feel special, Ironward Studios chose to focus on the story. While the developers prioritized the right feature in this case, this is the kind of polish that the game occasionally lacks.
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The Red Solstice Review: Survival Mode
The best part of The Red Solstice is the game’s survival mode. The campaign is linear and structured around basic problem-solving, but survival mode adds complexity and nuance, especially when it comes to letting you experiment with the game’s surprisingly deep leveling system. You spawn on a map, get assigned missions, and your goals are deceptively simple: to survive and complete the missions. It’s tough. Real tough.
Treat survival mode as a rogue-like where you level up yourself between matches. As you play more, you’ll unlock more characters, traits, and skills. Once you’ve unlocked them, you’re able to use these newfound abilities in future games. The campaign left the leveling system mostly untouched, with the game often choosing your abilities for you. The survival mode, however, lets you explore the different possibilities and customize your characters and playstyle. Unlocking new abilities and classes after each round was truly a joy, letting me try out new and exciting options.
If you like survival games, then you’ll find something to enjoy in The Red Solstice. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s tough. Resources are extremely limited. It’s not unusual to run out of ammo, leaving you with only your abilities to try and stave off death. The harder difficulties take the survival mode from tough, to hell. It’s incredibly rewarding, and Ironward Studios have done an excellent job tweaking the difficulty of The Red Solstice to ensure that players are both challenged and satisfied.
One of the big draws of The Red Solstice is the game’s multiplayer. I was lucky enough to have a buddy who was interested in the game. We put in a ton of time together, and I can definitely say that the multiplayer is quite enjoyable. Does it have issues? Yes. But it was a great way for us to sink a bunch of hours into the game, and we enjoyed our time.
Multiplayer is exclusively survival mode, with each player leveling up independently. You can bring any characters you’ve unlocked into anyone’s games–no restrictions. Each player can also create bots to follow them, allowing for solo exploration.
The biggest downside to multiplayer is the removal of tactical mode. While I may have bashed it in the campaign, the absence of the feature in survival is noticeable and unfortunate. Including tactical mode would be especially useful for controlling bots, who are borderline impossible to manage in multiplayer. In fact, during the ten hours of multiplayer I logged with my friend in The Red Solstice, we never figured out how to activate our bot’s abilities. If there is a way, it’s certainly not intuitive.
That being said, multiplayer is a ton of fun, and it’s punishing in the best way possible. My buddy and I found ourselves wiped incredibly early in several games. We learned to conserve and share ammo, and be near each other when Behemoths appeared. We traded off explosives and supplies often. Ironward Studios have created a truly immersive multiplayer survival experience.
The Red Solstice develops a great atmosphere and story for players, and Ironward Studios have included enough side activities and lore to keep you genuinely interested. Unfortunately, the odd pacing of combat during the game’s campaign made it feel far more like an RPG than the real-time strategy game that it’s designed to be. There’s nothing wrong with turn-based combat, it just felt awkward in the real-time context of The Red Solstice–at its worst, the tactical mode felt like a rudimentary puzzle solving exercise. The campaign was far too linear, and failed to open up the options that the game presented to me.
The survival and multiplayer, however, is where The Red Solstice completely nails it. By letting you delve into the leveling and ability systems, every game feels different. When you throw in the fact that every run will have different layouts, randomly generated areas, and enemies, there’s a lot of replay value. Conservation of resources makes the game feel like a true survival game. If you are looking for a survival game to play with friends, I highly recommend The Red Solstice.
Editor’s note: Esports Edition was provided with a copy of The Red Solstice by Ironward Studios. As with all of our game and hardware reviews, our opinions are our own, and positive reviews are only awarded through good gameplay. Check out our Ethics Policy for more information.