Day 33: Sol Invasion

Posted: 2010/12/12 in Indie Games
Tags: , , ,

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and no longer appear in the top 50 downloads. Today is day #33, and today’s game is “Sol Invasion”.

My goal when I started buying an indie game of every day was to find the hidden gems I (and many other people) have been missing out on. Sol Invasion definitely qualifies. It’s a unique mix of strategy and action that works on every level. My first impression was less charitable, though, because it was so much different than my expectations. This is not StarLancer, this game is unique and (once you get the hang of it) that benefits it. Best of all, the game lets you play it as action-packed as you want, or (nearly) as strategically as you want, and does so not by you selecting menu options but by responding to the choices you make.

In Sol Invasion you’re defending our solar system from wave after wave of attackers. Each wave consists of a mix of small fighters and big capital ships. As you destroy enemy ships, allied resource recovery teams grab the raw materials from the hulks and offer to turn them into upgrades for you.

Here’s the first element of the strategy side of the game: each time enough resources are collected they can build something, you’re asked to choose between upgrading your guns (good for close range combat), upgrading your missiles (good for attacking long-range targets), upgrading your fighter bays (letting you launch more fighters), or bringing in a large allied capital ship as reinforcements.

Focus just on upgrading your ship, and it’s you in a super-powerful ship against the universe; focus just on bringing more allied fighters and capital ships into the fray, and the game becomes mostly a strategic affair (though you’re still in the battle and do have to make sure you don’t get killed). Think of the strategic side of the game as a commander who’s in the field with the troops as they make decisions, as opposed to sitting at a desk making decisions from well behind the front lines. Never before have I seen a game which almost automaticallly adjusts between action and strategy as per the player’s preferences. It’s a unique system that works well.

The second element of the strategy is the fact that you give orders to your “Fleet” (which will order what target for your allied capital ships to focus on) and to your “Fighters” (which orders your starfighters to focus on the target of your choice). The first few times I played I did a mix of upgrades to my ship and to my fleet/fighters, and kept my ship in the thick of it. Then I decided to exclusively build up my fighter wing and my fleet, and kept my ship out of trouble, and was fascinated at how differently the game played. Focus on building up your ship into one with super-powerful upgrades, and it would be different yet again.

The controls are just as unique. Rather than a focus on endlessly charging forward, this game acknowledges that there’s no up or down in space (though it admittedly does ignore the concept of inertia entirely). In Sol Invasion, the controls are set up for you to circle-strafe your targets in three dimension. While you can move forward, most movement in the game is lateral. The intended way of playing is for you to choose targets for your fighter wing, for your fleet of capital ships, and for yourself, and then to circle-strafe your target to make it harder for them to hit you. Your allies will be doing similar maneouvres. It definitely takes some getting used to; heck, it takes some wrapping your head around what the game’s author(s) intended. Once you have down the feel of the controls, and the way the game is intended to be played, they’re surprisingly natural however.

The only downside for me was the repetitive radio chatter from your allies. This genre is no stranger to that, StarLancer (as just one example) was perhaps an even worse offender and it’s considered a classic on both the PC and Dreamcast. It’s far from a dealbreaker.

This game came out in early 2009, so it would have originally cost quite a bit more than it does now (the 80 MSP price tier hadn’t been created yet back then). I happily handed over my 80 Microsoft Points, as I was effectively getting several games in one: one game that would adjust to my preferences, even my mood, about how I wanted to play. There are a lot of $60 retail titles that could learn a tremendous amount from the way this game adapts to the way you want to play it. Games like Fable will adjust how your character’s attributes evolve based on your actions, but this takes the idea to a new level by actually adjusting how the game plays based on how you interact with it. I don’t recall seeing that before, and I was impressed by it. Any fans of space combat games, whether you like an action-oriented shooter or a space strategy game, should check it out. The controls take a bit of getting used to (I wasn’t fond of them my first few play throughs), but I soon adapted to them and actually now prefer them over the controls for most other space combat games I’ve played. The physics may not be hyper-realistic, but at least it doesn’t feel like WWII fighters in space for a change. Accept the game for what it is, and it’s 80 Microsoft Points well spent.

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  1. As an aside, the game can be quite beautiful when you’re playing it like a strategy game and sitting back and monitoring the action. Space buzzing with fighters and capital ships and shots piercing the darkness, like some kind of deadly dance. When you’re playing it like an action game, it’s unlikely you’d pause long enough to notice, however. :)

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