Fort Solis is the debut title for Fallen Leaf in partnership with Black Drakkar Games. The game was a brilliant surprise announcement at Summer Game Fest 2022, where they brought out Roger Clark, Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2, and Troy Baker from The Last of Us and almost every other game this half of the millennium as the two leads.
Fort Solis is a third-person narrative-driven sci-fi thriller that takes full advantage of Unreal Engine 5 and MoCap to bring the story to life. Told across four chapters and described as a binge-able experience, Fallen Leaf’s goal is to create a hybrid piece of media with an emphasis on narration and immersion. So is this star-studded game an event on the horizon? Let’s get into it.
Can’t Totally Recall
At the top, I want to address the FAQ for the game on its Steam page. One question asks if it’s a walking simulator and I want to confirm, more than anything else, you will do a lot of walking. There’s no option to run or even jog if you’re backtracking, so if you’re like me, you’ll be spending more than the 4-6 hours it takes to potentially complete. This wasn’t a huge problem though as I was fully engrossed with the story and characters, I do just wish I could move quicker if I wanted.
Fort Solis is set on an isolated mining facility on Mars. You play Jack Leary (Roger Clark), an engineer on a routine repair with colleague Jessica Appleton (Julia Brown). An alarm is triggered in the long-forgotten Fort Solis forcing Jack to inspect, as is protocol. What transpires is the longest night of his life as he tries to get to the bottom of the signal and gets more than what he bargained for.
After the opening sequence, the game lets you explore. Brimming with interactive environments, audio/video logs and documents you are drip fed an impressive and gripping world-building. It’s perfect at mounting the tension as you feel from the jump that something is up and of course it is. However, words on paper can only go so far, but the acting across the board is near-flawless.
A Star War
You’ll be exploring on your lonesome, but you’ll always have Jess in your ear interacting with Jack. I adored the banter the two had between them. There’s a perfect tone set that brings levity in an often tense situation. As the pair try to piece it together and relate to the crew that must have been here, you can’t help but empathise with them.
Fighting for my favourite acting in Fort Solis is Troy Baker’s, Wyatt Taylor. In an exclusive interview with IGN, creative director of Fallen Leaf James Tinsdale describes the character as not an antagonist, but a human that has had to wrestle with their morals. To an extent I agree, I don’t want to spoil the kind of role Wyatt has but he goes places and is definitely the most emotionally vulnerable. Troy Baker nails that depth with an unsettling yet layered performance.
My favourite aspect is the aspect and if you just want to watch a few actors chew up their scenes set with a sci-fi thriller backdrop, then this is the perfect game for you. I have my issues with the pacing and I’m not impressed with the ending, but the journey along the way really is something special for the most part. Piecing the story together is also a delight and peeling back the layers is infectious.
No Holes In Your Space Boots
The gameplay is where it falls flat a little bit. As far as walking simulators go, Fallen Leaf’s approach is novel and interesting. The semi-open hub of Fort Solis ends up being open to explore and backtrack in multiple ways. You can either endure the almost blinding sandstorm outside above ground to move across the map. Conversely, you can take the underground tunnels that interlink, a more claustrophobic and uneasy path to traverse.
It’s also a sizeable map with so much to find that enriches the story, making it always rewarding to take different paths. As Jack is an engineer he doesn’t have a weapon but instead a multi-tool. It’s a one-stop shop Nintendo Switch on your wrist that displays the map, keeps an archive of the data you find, but most importantly a hacking tool. To progress the game you’ll face light puzzles that’ll involve the multi-tool. It’s not time-consuming, nor brain-teasing but it does break up your actions so you don’t fall asleep at the pace you walk.
In some of the set pieces, you encounter QTE moments with a bit more depth than you’d expect. Failing them doesn’t necessarily create a branching timeline, but it does open up the freedom of how you want to express the way you want to play. Maybe sometimes not acting may be the way to go about it and though it doesn’t entirely change the destination, the journey feels uniquely personal. I found this out more so because the QTE would often flash before my eyes than a conscious decision, and the controls didn’t feel entirely one-to-one in some instances.
The controls overall didn’t feel perfect. Jack has a naturalistic weight with his movement, but the guiding and navigating feels slightly stinted. Jack turns more like a driver’s poor attempt at parallel parking than a master of bipedal travel. Had this been a game outside of the genre with a little more mechanics, it wouldn’t be so glaring.
Despite those rigid animations, however, the look of the game overall is sumptuous. The industrial future tech of Dead Space is a big inspiration. I can definitely see that in the tight hallways with pipes tracing down them hissing, whilst a plane cock pit of buttons pierces from the shadows. I also feel there was a lot of DNA from the Nostromo in Alien and the Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey too.
There are quieter beats on the surface level areas where the warm glow as you approach illuminates the room, with a sleek and inspired interior that feels lived in. Every corner of Fort Solis tells a story of a crewmate or a moment where you can only attempt to gauge the atmosphere. There were a couple of moments where environments would pop back in, like lockers I had already opened being closed then suddenly open again. With that said, it’s a very realised and intricately detailed world.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about the acting, but the MoCap really accentuates the performances. Facial animations, character models and suit mechanics were all great. The multi-tool I mentioned is all in-game real-time like a Pip-Boy where you can see Jack twiddle with all the buttons. Fort Solis has extreme amounts of detail that could rival AAA in quality.
The soundscape is also impressive. Gutteral droning synths fill the quiet air of the facility with dread. Some of the moments of higher intensity are cacophonous vocals turning the dread into fear. None of it is overstated though, as the use of music is sparse and is really only whipped out at the most opportune moments. Outside of the music, the whirrs, hisses, and clicks of machinery add an eeriness to the deafening silence when you’re traipsing across Fort Solis and it just makes for great foley.
Overall, the game is one of the prettiest pictures, with all the hallmarks of a game of exceptional quality and for an indie game that is a brilliant feat on its own. The crux of the title is some of the execution on further inspection. The main gameplay of walking is clunky, the story falls off a cliff and when they’re both at the forefront of the game it’s hard to say the game is great. I enjoyed my time but I can easily see others not enjoying any of it as it’s a slow game that unfurls the story which may not be so thrilling.
Fort Solis is an immensely beautiful game from top to bottom, with outstanding performances from the whole cast. However, it doesn’t completely deliver on the thrills, nor in the story and for a title not entirely rich in gameplay, the other elements don’t shine as brightly as a result.
Fort Solis is available August 22nd 2023 for PlayStation 5 (review platform) and PC via Steam.
Developer: Fallen Leaf, Black Drakkar Games
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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