I grew up loving the space battles of Star Wars and games like X-Wing recreated the feel of those movies perfectly, but without a blockbuster license, making simple ship-to-ship combat relevant is a challenge. That’s why I respect the story-telling of Sol: Exodus a great deal. By setting the game within our solar system, focusing on ballistic weapons like guns and rockets, and restricting the enemies to differently-aligned humans instead of space cats or mutant lizards, Exodus feels grounded in something closer to reality.
After humans colonize most of the solar system, astronomers discover that our sun is going to blow up way earlier than expected. Intrepid explorers are sent into space to find a new home, but, in their long absence, a religious zealot group takes power by convincing people that the sun’s supernova is God’s will. In the prologue, you start play as a lieutenant in the expedition that finally finds a hospitable planet just before unknown enemies attack the fleet. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that these zealots are trying to stay in power by preventing the exodus from the Sol system. (Get it?)
Of course, the story would be meaningless if the combat wasn’t stellar, which, thankfully, it is. Flying your ship in Exodus through the gorgeous scenery of our solar system is inherently fun because of the easy-to-grasp controls, and the core gameplay of tracking the flight path of an enemy to lead it with gun fire until it explodes is endlessly satisfying. Each mission generally has other objectives beyond just taking out bad guys, but there is always a moment where your only goal is to kill as many targets as possible to showcase your dogfighting skills. Exodus offers extra objectives with each mission and a leaderboard system through Steam, so there is some incentive for replay. That’s good, because although the eight missions do offer a nice compact story arc with some very challenging battles, you will want to keep playing it longer than the five hours or so it takes to beat the game.
Even though Exodus supports a gamepad and joystick, I played through most of the game with a mouse and keyboard without any complaints. You can’t exactly stop at will or do a barrel roll (Shut up, Peppy), and mastering the controls takes some patience. That patience pays off when you eventually start pulling off amazing feats of agility without thinking about what button controls which movement. The ability to orient your fighter 360 degrees while the momentum continues going in one direction – “Sliding” is what the kids are calling it now, as one character in Exodus points out – lets you get away with breaking some of the rules of physics. And that’s fun for everybody.
Exodus makes some other concessions to ease players into the long-dormant genre. I liked that if you take too much damage or are running low on missiles, you can dock with your mothership, the Atlas, to repair and re-arm your ship. Doing so drops you some points in the score tally, but it will get you through the mission just fine. When you target an enemy, the Heads Up Display places a small reticule marking where you should aim. I found that helpful to get my aiming skills back up to speed, and it allows less-experienced pilots to take out bogies without feeling overwhelmed. In fact, the whole HUD is a well-designed study in minimalism. Information you need like distance to target and the number of missiles available are clearly displayed while clutter is low. The minimap could’ve used some work, as it is very difficult to orient yourself in three dimensions with a quick glance at the low-res 2D display.
Some of the other concessions fall flat. Your ship receives no damage, for example, when colliding with other ships, mining platforms or even asteroids. You just bounce off. That seems like a decent idea to keep the action moving, but exploiting the lack of collision detection is just too tempting. Blowing up the big enemy frigate seems cheaply won if all I had to do was hug the hull to avoid being shot by turrets. The gunships are a bitch to destroy, what with their rear-firing cannons, but if I repeatedly afterburner boost into their engines and loose all my missiles, they go down much quicker. Who cares if I’m bouncing on them like a basketball while I’m doing it?
The production values of Exodus far exceed its cost. The voice-acting and sound design are both top-notch. Dialogue pops up over static images on your HUD, but the chatter and rapport between the characters is well-acted. The music fits the pace of the action, and I loved the happy “blip” sound that signals the explosion of yet another enemy ship. Flying around the rings of Uranus (heh) or over the atmosphere of Titan feels like you are flying through NASA photography, but there are some glitches in displaying ships, especially when you repeatedly bounce up against them, like some jerk always was.
Hacking enemy capital ships is the biggest innovation with the genre, and it’s a nice change of pace in Exodus, but I’m not sure it succeeds on every level. Targeting a yellow node brings up a Matrix-style window of revolving characters which slowly resolves into a code between 3 and 6 digits long. The mechanic is neat, but you usually only have to pay attention to the last moment before the choice is presented. In theory, you could only glance at the display at the end, but I found myself watching the code resolving instead of flying my ship. It would be fine if hacking was sparsely used or saved for optional objectives, but there are many moments when entering the right code quickly is necessary to complete the mission, forcing you to pay close attention to it at the cost of the other gameplay, which is honestly a lot more fun than glancing at scrolling digits. It feels like busy work. I didn’t completely hate hacking, but be aware that it’s a necessary distraction to progress through the missions.
Exodus is by no means a perfect game, but I love the rebirth of the space combat genre it heralds and the small number of missions has me looking forward to more.
Bottom Line: A solid, if bite-sized, space combat game that revitalizes a defunct genre with excellent flight combat and only a few missteps.
Recommendation: If you’re bored to death with trying to get Wing Commander to play on your PC, you’ll enjoy romping through Sol: Exodus for a spell.
This review was based on the PC version of the game.[rating=4]
Game: Sol: Exodus
Genre: Vehicle Simulation
Developer: Seamless Entertainment
Publisher: Seamless Entertainment
Available from: Steam