When I first saw The Red Solstice I was immediately surprised about how familiar it seemed, as if it was a game that I had already played. A few minutes of Googling later and I had the answers I was looking for – I was right, I had played this before, and it looked just as fun as it used to be.
The Red Solstice is a standalone version of NOTD (or Night of The Dead), a popular Warcraft 3 mod (later brought to Starcraft 2), that was originally created by users FM_Osiris and FM_Bilouxi back in 2004, although the development torch was passed down a handful of times during the mod’s various versions including: Aftermath, Special Ops and Final Winter. An updated version of the Warcraft 3 mod can still be downloaded here for free.
Created by Croatian developer Ironward, The Red Solstice is another Kickstarter success story, with Ironward clearing their initial funding goal of $50,000 by over $10,000 and now the developer has released an in-progress version of game via Steam’s Early Access service. As is often the case with Early Access games, not all the features that are promised are currently available (like a singleplayer campaign for example) but will be added later as free content updates. That doesn’t mean that The Red Solstice isn’t worth your time, however; the game is already pretty polished and there’s plenty of content to keep you occupied.
The best way to describe the gameplay is to call it a top-down tactical squad-based shooter that requires cooperation and communication between the players in order to be completed. At the start of each game players choose between eight diferent classes – Assault, Heavy Support, Recon, Marksman, Demolition, Terminator, Hellfire and Medic – and each of the classes come with their own abilities and traits. A good balance is essential, and could mean the survival of your party.
Once the game begins you’ll have to follow and complete objectives in a large city based on Mars whilst surviving wave after wave of alien enemies. The objectives themselves aren’t too tough, however the difficulty comes from resource management, limited inventory space and the need to scavenge for certain ammo, buffs and items in nearby buildings. Combine this with the regular onslaught of enemies, and the need to balance all of the various elements soon becomes a challenge, necessitating coordinated play with the other members of your team.
Thankfully – because I’m not sure if I could handle complicated controls on top of the already difficult gameplay – the controls are pretty easy to pick up, even without the tutorial. You move your specific marine with the right mouse click, attack with the left, navigate the camera with the WASD keys and use specific skills with the numbered buttons. because I’m not sure if I could handle complicated controls on top of the already difficult gameplay.
Multiplayer is the key feature in The Red Solstice and consists of one massive map. However, much like a MOBA, no two games will play out the same way thanks to randomly-generated events, unpredictable squad mates and the choice to complete either the main objectives, side objectives or both. You can even change things up a bit and fight of waves of enemies while protecting a beacon and waiting for an evacuation craft in horde mode. The challenges you’ll face in The Red Solstice is not only based on what skill you have as an individual player but also in the amount of players you have working together and your ability to cooperate towards and work together. The easiest difficulty is best played with three or more players, so don’t even try to complete this on your own, and the hardest difficulty requires around 7-8 – all of whom should know what to expect and have a few games under their belt. Solo players will have to wait for the dedicated campaign to be added further down the line.
Once it is added, the single-player campaign will have you following the story of a marine named Tyler Hunt and his squad as they are sent on a mission to investigate a strange communications failure on Tharasis, one of the biggest Mars colonies. It’s not the most original premise then, but with decent writing the story could at least be entertaining and thankfully the core gameplay found in the multiplayer mode should translate well to a single-player environment. That’s assuming, of course, that the AI of your team-mates is up to scratch in the final release.
In terms of aesthetics and sound, there’s a clear attention to detail. Explosions are suitably thunderous and bombastic, and environments are scattered with towering buildings, street lights and construction areas – all boasting a futuristic metallic finish. The audio is there to build tension while you play and does so fairly successfully by playing music in moments of distress. Each gun sounds powerful and have their own distinctive sound effects, and marines are fully voiced – although the voice acting is pretty average and stereotypical at the moment. It’s hard to maintain an oppressive and bleak atmosphere when your avatar barks out “Murderman comin’ to the murderzone” when you issue him a move order.
The Red Solstice is shaping up rather well. There’s plenty of work for the developers left to do, but already it provides an entertaining top down strategy multiplayer experience that’s worth a try. If you’re one of those people who likes getting sucked into huge amounts of small statistical details and playing out strategies with a group of people online, then The Red Solstice is probably for you. I certainly enjoyed my time with it just as much as I enjoyed my time with the original NOTD back in 2004, although a small amount of time is required to learn the basic ins and outs to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed.