Fort Solis Review – A Waste Of Space

Fort Solis Review – A Waste Of Space

Mars has almost no atmosphere, and neither does Fort Solis.

I’m no stranger to walking simulators. While others get all aggravated over games with minimal interactivity, I’m over here loving things like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch. They can be memorable experiences with some of the most finely crafted stories in the medium that you’ll think about for years to come, all because they understand the importance of gradual world-building and character writing that trusts you to piece their disparate pieces together yourself.

Unless you’re Fort Solis. The survival horror narrative adventure is a bland, vapid exercise in mindless drudgery. It’s insulting how utterly mediocre it is when its cast and setting had so much promise. We’ve only just moved on from the endless discourse over whether walking simulators should even be considered games (they are, shut up), only for Fort Solis to drag the genre back ten years with its dated, frustrated state of being.

Set in 2080 on Mars, Fort Solis has you control engineer Jack Leary as he responds to an emergency distress call coming from nearby Fort Solis. As you tiptoe through the corridors of the abandoned base, you find things have gone very, very wrong. Corpses pile up, and, by making your way around the base and nosing through everyone’s emails and genre-mandated video logs, you can piece together the mystery of what befell this place.

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Before its launch, much of Fort Solis’ publicity was centered around its cast, with Red Dead Redemption 2’s Roger Clark voicing and mo-capping protagonist Leary. Joining him are Julia Brown as Jessica Appleton, and Troy Baker as medical officer Wyatt Taylor. It’s a great cast, and the characters all have a magnetism and chemistry that helps carry the first few hours. As Jack and Jessica crack jokes and banter while rifling through Solis’ personal information, it’s almost enough to make up for the tedium it took to get there.

The cast is wasted on this story, though. Fort Solis frames itself as a sci-fi thriller. There’s no aliens to fight like Dead Space, or creepy zombies like The Callisto Protocol. It’s Jack, his thoughts, and attempts at tension that go nowhere. The story is nonsensical, even if you put the time into collecting every single audio log and video diary. Any and all twists are telegraphed a mile away, and the ending is so bogged down by tropey bollocks that it fails to pull together the last four hours of walking around in anything even remotely resembling a satisfying conclusion.

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There’s no urgency to Fort Solis. Leary (and Appleton in the sections you control her) just wanders around like he’s generally bemused by everything going on, even as events are spiraling out of control and you’re meant to be desperately trying to survive. One low point in a game full of low points comes in the third act, where Jessica suddenly stops her casual march across Fort Solis to have a little breakdown, complete with hyperventilating and clutching her fists as she steadies herself. The second the cutscene ends, she’s back to moseying along like she’s out for a stroll. Hum de hum, let’s have a look in this drawer. Oh, a deranged killer is out to get me? That’s fine, I’ve got to watch this video log first. No biggie.

And boy, is there a lot of walking. A lot of slow walking. A lot of slow walking that leads to nowhere, only for you to then have to slowly walk back to where you came from for even more nothing. It doesn’t help that the game’s UI remains diegetic throughout, and so you’re awkwardly trying to read maps off Leary’s wrist-mounted display. Reading anything, let alone the maps, is impossible unless your nose is right up against the screen, and that can mean going backwards and forwards at a snail’s pace trying to find where to go next.

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There are also quick-time events, such as when climbing up a cliff or trying to avoid oncoming machinery, but they’re thrown at you from out of nowhere after literal hours of ambling down corridors. With no time to respond (and more than a few I suspect you’re scripted to fail), and even less time to process what happened, they lose any sense of tension they could’ve had. I failed entire sequences this way, and the outcome was the same as if I’d nailed them perfectly. For a horror game all about atmosphere, Fort Solis continually does a barbaric job at establishing tension, stakes, or any real reason to care about it.

I could forgive Fort Solis for being a boring experience if it actually worked, but all too often it’s bogged down by poor performance and technical difficulties. Leary constantly gets caught up on the scenery, and one time the camera simply refused to follow him for a while, and so I was flying blind until the next scripted sequence pulled back the focus. With so little meat to the game, you’d at least hope it works decently.

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Fort Solis is all presentation and no substance. It feels like it blew its budget on getting this cast to build up some hype before launch, and then forgot it needs substance to make it worthwhile. With an appalling story, bumpy technical issues, frustrating UI, and a pace so glacial I literally fell asleep at one point, Fort Solis is a waste of everyone’s time. And not even the deliciously grizzled voice of Roger Clark can help that.

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