It’s been a LONG time since a good space combat game has come along. I was very pleased to see the release the Strike Suit Zero a couple of years back, as it was probably the first new space combat IP I had come across in nearly a decade that I actually liked. But since then? Space combat has basically retreated into the shadows again, with not even a tiny peep. I’m patiently awaiting Star Citizen, but until then I’ll have to make do with SSR and remakes…or fire up an old game of X-Wing.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was told that the PC space combat game, The Battle of SOL, would be getting a release on the Nvidia SHIELD TV. I wasn’t familiar with the game prior to this review, but being one of my favorite genres, any new space combat game is worth a look in my book. The Battle of Sol is one of two episodes (the other being The Fleets of SOL) that make up what is essentially a remake of SOL: Exodus. I’m not sure why SOL: Exodus needed a remake since the original game wasn’t that old to begin with (released in 2012), and the original wasn’t a smash hit or anything, so the decision to put time and resources into funding a remake seems a bit odd. Regardless, TBOS turned out to be a pretty decent game, albeit with a few quirks that I was not a fan of.
The story of SOL is nothing special. It’s something that I’m sure any sci-fi fan has heard numerous times: humans need to colonize another planet, humans find planet, aliens attack humans to prevent colonization, lone ship must race back to solar system to warn humanity of impending alien attack, etc. Familiar genre tropes aside, the plot is probably not the reason why you would purchase SOL. The reason why anyone would want this game is for the fast and furious space combat, something that’s more akin to the previously mentioned SSZ than Freespace. The overall game might be extremely short (only seven missions), but presumably the game continues when The Fleets of SOL releases, making for a complete experience at $9.99 a pop (assuming Part 2 will be priced the same as The Bottle of SOL).
For ten bucks, you get a weekend’s worth of space battles, hokey acting, and surprisingly decent graphics. It’ll never overtake X-Wing or Wing Commander in terms of drawing me in for years of fun, but I certainly don’t regret my time with SOL, and will always be happy with more space combat games on the market. Combine that with the fact that this is one of the only “sim-ish” space combat games available on the SHIELD TV, and you have a game that I would encourage any space combat fan to check out. Considering the SHIELD version has tweaked ship physics, enhanced graphics, and new voice overs, you’re actually getting something that’s beyond a simple port.
I mentioned earlier that the gameplay in SOL is more akin to Strike Suit Zero than something like a classic sim. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an arcade shooter, it definitely leans more towards that than a deliberately paced space sim. You only have three weapons; your cannon, missiles, and the Arc Cannon (kind of like a rail gun). The only tweaking to these weapons you can do is upgrade them to make them more powerful…there aren’t any different weapons to upgrade to. Basically, look to be involved in a bunch of hectic dogfights with cannons blazing and missiles shooting off, punctuated by the occasional Arc Cannon burst when taking out a larger enemy ship. When coming up against a capital ship, you have to pick apart various weak points and replicate a password that flashes on the screen, basically ensuring that the only way to destroy a capital ship is via minigame. By “hacking” these various points in a capital ship, you can manipulate certain aspects, like weakening certain points to attack with the Arc Cannon, or turning its weapons against its own fleet.
Graphically, I’m quite pleased with what SOL has to offer. The character designs that pop up in the dialogue sequences aren’t anything spectacular, but the design of space and the planets is quite nice. There are a ton of bright colors and spectacular particle effects when things go boom. The ships look “meh” from far off, but flying up close to The Atlas (your capital ship) reveals some excellent design work.
The Battle of SOL is a decent little game for the SHIELD TV. While it might not stick out on something like Xbox Live, on the fledgling SHIELD system, it comes as a welcome surprise to a system that’s so far packed with mostly mobile styled games and console remakes. It’s a short game that lacks on variety, but it’s seven missions of hell raising space action, and if you are at all a fan of the genre, it’s hard to ignore the game.