SOL: Exodus Review «

SOL: Exodus Review

SOL: Exodus has the look of the great space combat games of old, calling to mind Wing Commander and X-Wing, with a heavy dose of Battlestar Galactica influence. At $10, its eight missions of killing apocalyptic religious zealot ships and escorting the friendly resistance while spouting some amusingly generic sci-fi dialogue aren’t a bad value, and it controls really well with the mouse, a joystick, or an Xbox 360 gamepad. If only it’d gotten more of the basics right, SOL would be an awesome tribute to the genre — but as it is, it’s drifted a few lightyears off course.

Physics 101

It feels more like playing a first-person shooter with a noclip cheat enabled than piloting a space fighter.

And I do mean basics. Space flight, for example, is supposed to feel weightless, but SOL’s model neglects the important concepts of momentum and inertia. As I fly through space I can go from zero to maximum speed and back again in two seconds, make 90-degree turns on a dime, or even completely reverse using the “slide” ability that turns the nose of the ship without firing the engines until the button is released. It feels more like playing a first-person shooter with a noclip cheat enabled than piloting a space fighter.

There’s no damage penalty for collisions, either. Even ramming into an object — such as an enemy ship or an asteroid — with my afterburners blazing makes my fighter bounce like a goldfish bobbing its nose against the side of an aquarium. It’s especially ridiculous when bouncing off the walls of a Death Star-style exhaust tube in the final mission.

You’ll shoot this fighter down a lot.

If it’d gotten the sensation of space-flying right, I might be more forgiving of how SOL’s missions ask me to shoot down the same basic enemy fighter roughly 1,000 times, with only occasional heavier ships mixed in. That’s a problem that has historically plagued space shooters, but SOL sure doesn’t come up with any new solutions. At the very least it could’ve really benefited from some prettier and more varied explosion effects as rewards — or at least an explosion sound that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a bowling alley. Speaking of, it’s really strange that there’s no sound effect when my ship is taking damage.

+1 to Pointless

Between missions, the choice of incremental stat boosts to weapons, armor, or engines is utterly boring — they couldn’t be any less exciting if they tried. The three weapons I had in the beginning are the same three weapons I have at the end, and the upgrades only affect cooldown times rather than power, capabilities, or even visual effects. With so little sense of progression, why even have it at all?

Likelihood that the enemy fighter will turn around and shoot these missiles: 100%.

It makes me completely restart the mission due to a lack of save-anywhere ability, or even mid-mission checkpoints.

I do like how SOL shuttles me back to the mothership in an escape pod and drops me into a new fighter when I wreck one, putting me right back in the action. Not that it happens often. Because the AI isn’t terribly aggressive, and I can dock to repair anytime I want, I only actually exploded a couple of times: once to see what would happen, and once because I accidentally rammed a missile I was chasing because I’d lost all fear of crashing into things. However, when I hit other failure conditions — such as the mothership blowing up — it makes me completely restart the mission due to a lack of save-anywhere ability, or even mid-mission checkpoints. That’s particularly annoying in later missions, which last the better part of an hour and are repetitive to begin with. Adding insult to injury, cutscenes are unskippable. Why, in a game that encourages me to replay missions to rank on the online leaderboards, should I have to sit through a talky part every time I do? Having to listen to the story multiple times only highlights how threadbare it really is.

Hack capital ships until they reveal their tender weak spots.

A portion of the in-mission banter comes from a wingman character, whose name I forget because he’s not very interesting. He’s puzzling, considering there’s no way to interact with him at all. If I can’t give him orders, he doesn’t protect me, and he can’t even be shot down if I don’t bother to protect him, he might as well not be here.

Hack the System

SOL makes one notably innovative contribution to the genre with its hacking minigame. It’s simple — I just had to memorize a series of numbers and letters as they popped up in the corner of the screen in order to disable systems on enemy capital ships or fix friendly ones — but it forces me to divert my attention away from fighting, which legitimately makes things tougher to manage. There are just two problems with it. First, except for in the very last mission, the enemies aren’t aggressive enough to take advantage of my momentary distraction and put the hurt on, so there’s no need to actually multitask. And second, it’s overused — making me do the same task several times in a row every mission wears out the novelty quickly.

“COD Elite,” eh? I see what you did there, Seamless!

It’s encouraging, though, that in just the week since SOL’s been out the developers at Seamless have done a great job patching issues, with three released so far. I just had to delete a big rant on how the targeting system was really frustrating before the 1.9 update, so they get a high-five for that. It’s a damn shame there are so many issues that are likely beyond the power of mere patches, because the space shooter genre badly needs a new classic to really get it going again.