Fort Solis is one of the first games to fully utilize the upgraded Unreal Engine, and as such, everything looks extraordinary, whether it’s a stormy Martian landscape pelted with dust and rocks, an abandoned recreation room with cards and games casually left scattered around, or even a utilitarian work area where maintenance crews plied their craft. Sure, some of the places that players will explore in Fort Solis are not that interesting, like the bathrooms of the space station, but using the Unreal Engine, they sure do look realistic.
Going into Fort Solis, players should know that it’s really more of walking simulation combined with an interactive movie as opposed to, say a shooter or another genre where players have a bit more freedom. You will be tasked with walking to different areas of the eerily abandoned Fort Solis and unlocking computer terminals where the former residents recorded video and audio logs about what was going on at their base, and why things started to devolve.
Unlike a pure walking sim where you basically only follow a single path as the story unfolds, players technically have access to the entire base at Fort Solis right from the start, with the big caveat being that your movements are highly restricted by security doors with different levels of access which can be progressively unlocked as you explore. In a way, it’s still really a walking sim, but the open nature of the design kind of hides that fact more or less successfully as you play.
The plot of Fort Solis is that an engineering team on Mars gets a distress call from the Fort Solis base saying that there is a power failure, and the facility needs assistance. The alert was automatically generated and nobody at the base responds to hails. So, the title’s main character, who you will be playing first, Jack Leary, jumps in a rover vehicle and heads over there to investigate. His younger and somewhat smarter partner, Jessica Appleton, decides to get in another vehicle and follow along later, and you get to play as her in the second half of Fort Solis.
Regardless of which character you are playing at the time, the gameplay is the same. You are tasked with exploring Fort Solis and finding ways to access locked or restricted areas so that you can continue. Along the way, you will discover audio recording devices as well as computer terminals scattered around everywhere from offices to crew quarters. These hold the key to uncovering what happened at the base, but most of them are not actually required to finish the game. They just add flavor and context to the story, which with this being a narrative title, makes them kind of important. Players will mostly be enjoying Fort Solis for the story, so it makes sense that you would want to uncover as many of them as you can.
The atmosphere and the overall mood is set up really well, especially for a horror title. Rooms and hallways are generally dark until you step into them due to the base running on emergency power. When you enter a new space, the automatic lights flicker slowly to life, sometimes revealing nothing more than another mundane scene – but sometimes revealing something horrific or disturbing. There are also some light puzzles to solve, including one that is kind of bizarre and silly to the point that even Jessica, who you will be playing at the time, complains about how bad it is – a near fourth wall breaking admission that is kind of funny.
The quality of the graphics is one of the biggest draws for Fort Solis, and everything looks amazing using the Unreal Engine. But the voice acting in Fort Solis is just as great. The character Jack Leary is played by Roger Clark, whom many people will recognize (when they hear his voice) as Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2. He brings that same world-weary kind of tone to Leary which fits in perfectly with the setting. His younger partner Jessica is played by Julia Brown, and she also does an amazing job, first as the voice in Jack’s ear gently teasing him or offering advice and encouragement and later as a playable character. There is another standout character as well, a creepy doctor named Wyatt Taylor who is played by video game veteran Troy Baker. Talking about his character would be too much of a spoiler, but suffice to say you will likely love to hate him as the title progresses.
In addition to the exploration elements and finding out what happened at the base, there are also some quicktime events that players will need to contend with. Honestly, they don’t really add anything to the gameplay, other than maybe letting the developers kind of push the fact that they made a “game” and not a walking sim. The single button events, like when you need to push square or circle in the middle of a fight were not too bad, but I had trouble with ones that required, for example, pushing the left trigger and then triangle or rotating the joystick at the same time, and doing that in just a second or two. Thankfully, you can pretty much fail every single quicktime event and it won’t change the outcome of Fort Solis or get your character killed. There is one quicktime near the very end which can cause the title to branch out to the worse of the two endings, but that’s the only one that really matters.
In a way, Fort Solis is more of an experience than a game. It’s a good experience, but don’t expect a lot in terms of traditional gameplay elements. You can’t really die in it, and the only challenge is in finding all of the story elements hidden around the base. You can also complete everything and end the story in about five hours, and even that is dragged out because the characters can only walk at one speed – very slowly – which is extremely annoying, especially when you are forced to backtrack over already explored ground.
From a technical standpoint, everything about Fort Solis is high quality. The graphical presentation is every bit as good as a blockbuster sci-fi movie. The voice actors, including the main characters and the minor ones that we only experience through the video and audio logs they left behind, are believable and help to deepen the narrative. And the story itself is at least adequate enough to push the narrative and make people want to keep playing to find out exactly what is going on at the cursed base. And despite this being a horror title, it’s extremely easy to play almost to the point of it being a kind of relaxed experience.
Fort Solis earns 4 GiN Gems out of 5 for being a technically amazing title that makes for a great experience for anyone who enjoys sci-fi, horror or just seeing how far the envelope can be pushed for how video games look these days.