From the looks of that trailer earlier in the month, I was in for a treat when booting up Solar Struggle. It looked utterly stunning compared to the Xbox Live Indie Games back catalogue, and I was hoping the gameplay would match this level of polish.
On a certain level, it does a pretty decent job. There’s plenty of space shoot-outs and missions to complete, with a lovely awards system in place for clocking your progress. Yet there’s something off about the way the game controls and feels which brought the whole experience down somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game – it’s just a little too awkward to fully enjoy.
Throughout the eleven missions of the main campaign mode, you are tasked with zipping around space, shooting down hostile ships and protecting convoys and friendly cargo crafts. A useful tutorial level explains the controls and then sends you out into the big, bad void to blow up anything that has flashing red arrows around it.
The controls are easy enough to understand, but the turning speed of your ship is much too fast. Following enemy ships and trying to line them up with your fire can be very tricky indeed, and you’ll eventually take to simple sway back and forth and spraying lasers in their general direction.
To add to the problem, everything moves much too fast. As you approach an enemy from behind, you’ll soon fly straight by them and end up turning sharply to get back on track. Go in for a head-to-head with another ship and they’ll zip by, giving you enough time to maybe put a bullet or two into them. For this reason, killing enemies can take quite a fair amount of time, as you constantly give them small bits of damage here and there.
Even so, it’s still pretty good fun dashing around, hunting down your next victim and making sure your friends are safe. There’s plenty to do as well, with the campaign mode taking a good few hours to complete, and a skirmish mode acting as a survival-style twist. There is definitely value for money on offer here, and how much you rate the experience depends on whether or not you care for the dodgey ship movement.
As you play through the campaign mode, however, it quickly becomes apparent that not a lot is going to change in terms of content. Each level has you doing the same few things over and over, and your weapons barely change. It slowly turns from mildly entertaining to a bit of a slogfest.
To combat this, Solar Struggle plays host to an abundance of awards which can be earnt via playing through the campaign, pulling off spectacular feats, and blasting down lots of ships in Skirmish. Here’s something a bit special – you’re given an award code which can then be entered into the Solar Struggle website, ranking you against everyone else who has entered theirs. I mean, it could have simply been done with in-game ranking, but this way gives it that little extra something.
Solar Struggle is easily one of the best-looking games in the XBLIG marketplace. Someone has really got the old spit and polish out and gone to work on this bad boy – the explosion and laser effects look gorgeous, and the ship models are pretty lovely, especially on the larger vessels.
This game also features the most impressive intro and booting up screens I’ve seen on the service. I could bang on and on about it, but in a nutshell: it looks very pretty indeed.
The soundtrack is also very fitting, providing professional scores and atmospheric pieces. It’s a wonderful combination and gives the whole experience a fantastic feel.
You begin as a young pilot for a corporation. Your skills are noticed by higher ranking officials, and soon you’re thrown into a conflict, battling rogue ships and protecting precious convoys.
It’s a decent setting for the blaster action, although as mentioned previously, a wider range of missions would have been nice. Some of the voice acting is a little shoddy too, but that is easily overlooked.
Solar Struggle is going to receive mixed reactions from players. Some will thoroughly enjoy the ship-on-ship action, blasting down the enemy for a good few hours. Others will hate the wonky feel of your own craft, and become frustrated by the nippy turning circle.
It’s impossible to deny, however, that this game is a real looker. It oozes polish and the effects are like nothing else on Xbox Live Indie Games. Whether you decide to pick it up or not, it’s worth downloading the demo just to check it out.