The Red Solstice is the latest in Mars-themed divorce simulators. In The Red Solstice, you’re married to several angry European soldiers who are placed in a theatrical reenactment of Doom, and the goal of the game is for the player to race against virus-transmogrified human beings to see who can be the largest disappointment. In all seriousness, Red Solstice is a real-time tactical strategy game, which I define separately from your average RTS due to a mechanic that allows the player to slow down time by 90 percent to more easily wrap your head around the accosting mobs.
Players of more common MOBAs should have a good grasp on how to control and play The Red Solstice; more specifically, it plays a lot like the SWAT mod for Warcraft 3. Rather than controlling your entire squad of soldiers simultaneously, players will mostly utilize only a single soldier at a time as they progress across the map, explore new locations and engage with enemies. Each soldier at the player’s command has a variety of skills that can be used to more effectively eliminate foes or perform crowd control, gaining more on level up. In order to control more than one character players will have to use the tactical mode that reduces game speed to 10 percent of the normal value, and while tactical mode is active each soldier can be moved individually to queue up a series of attacks to get out of tight spots (which will happen a lot in single player).
Players can set their characters to use a somewhat inaccurate auto aim function that reduces movement speed and accuracy, but allows the soldiers to fire on enemies autonomously, making it very handy when surrounded by weaker mobs that would normally overwhelm the player. Auto aim functions poorly when waves of more powerful enemies approach locations the player must defend, and reliance on it would spell a quick defeat: It is in this way that The Red Solstice manages to make its single player campaign difficult, but fair. There’s a very steep learning curve to this game, as playing in tactical mode at all times is just too time consuming, but the auto aim feature that works great on quicker, weaker mobs does not function well against more powerful enemies that can crush your entire force like the Berlin Wall. Balancing the use of these two features, as well as copiously using the talents and skills each soldier can learn on level up, is key to getting through The Red Solstice and still having some of your hair left.
Of course it does bear mention that tactical mode is only available while in single player mode. While in online multiplayer, one of the aspects of The Red Solstice that makes it stand apart from its competitors the most is absent from online play since, in all honesty, it probably couldn’t work. Online multiplayer is otherwise similar to the single player campaign due to the fact that it is cooperative in nature and the scenarios are randomized, so it’s rarely the same experience each time. Each player in a server takes control of a soldier and fights off waves of enemies, leveling up and gaining new skills on the way. It’s an interesting multiplayer mode, though sad to say that finding a decent number of active players may be difficult as even during peak hours, it was a challenge to find more than two or three hosts with active games, and the two or so games that were found would have the full 8 out of 8 player seats filled. The multiplayer is definitely still an option, but it will take some patience to get in a game.
In both the single player campaign and in multiplayer, customizing your soldiers by leveling them up will be a tremendous advantage that players will need to take advantage of in order to survive. The Red Solstice has a kind of class system about it, and upon level up you will receive points that you can spend to increase the damage a soldier may do per shot, fire a powerful round with a cooldown timer, or even heal himself or the squad. Using tactical mode and queuing up a bevy of powerful talents or heals may be among the only ways to get your squad out alive when things really hit the fan, so it isn’t recommended to ignore the various talents the characters can learn since a large number of these skills can work together to take down tough virus-laden foes.
The storyline of the campaign extends into multiplayer, as well, which might strike a chord with those who appreciated what the single player plot had to offer. For how much enjoyment someone can get out of the single player depends on whether or not you enjoy sometimes failing due to lack of knowledge or a simple lack of skill. The campaign is pretty difficult if you didn’t customize your characters with the right gear or level them up best for the upcoming situation, and some enemy hordes can destroy your party if they’re separated, and some are harder to deal with when you’re grouped together because of area-of-effect explosions. Oftentimes, if you don’t know these kinds of situations are coming, you’ll wind up more deflated than the Patriot’s balls by the end of it, with no way to recover from it. Try and try again may very well be the theme for Red Solstice.
The Red Solstice is also quite the pretty game for its genre. The lighting effects, especially, are beautiful and enhance the feeling that you’re being overwhelmed in dark locations. Your weapon fire or explosions, for example, will help light up an area for you to get a better idea of how surrounded by a horde of infected you are. The character models and textures leave a bit more to be desired when zoomed in, but having extremely detailed enemy models when fifty of them are encroaching the edges of the screen simultaneously sounds like a recipe for frame rate drops.
All in all, The Red Solstice is a real-time strategy game that has a strong focus on teamwork. In single player, you use tactical mode to have the characters work together while multiplayer is a different beast altogether, but still strongly focused on cooperative gameplay. If your left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing then you’ll be your own worst enemy- kind of like those people that join ranked term servers as solo. Sometimes you’ll need to restart a mission or multiplayer game because, instead of twenty or thirty fragile foes, you’ll be accosted by just a few that hit harder than Rhonda Rousey and slaughter your whole group. If that doesn’t bother you and you enjoy real time strategy games that are squad-based, give The Red Solstice a shot as you may very well find it worth your $20.