Red Solstice 2 is a fascinating twin-stick strategy hybrid with a promising core, as eight players dive into sprawling open levels and complete missions together. It has some strong ideas, but it’s a game that is going to live or die on the next few months of updates and how well these keep the game’s multiplayer community entertained. At launch, technical issues, long periods of inactivity and a rough new player experience mean it is yet to reach its full potential.
The game is played one mission at a time, either on individual maps or strung together with a strategy layer as part of a campaign. You’ll drop down to an isometric map and get an objective like ‘Escort the Convoy’ (follow some slow vehicles around) or ‘Collect the Supplies’ (Go to a place, click on some things). It’s your choice whether you complete the objective as quickly as possible and exfiltrate, or hang around in a level finishing side missions for increased experience rewards.
Sounds simple, right? Well, as you try to complete these goals, the game dumps increasingly difficult buckets of fast-moving, vicious mutants on top of you. Thankfully you won’t be alone through this. If you’re playing solo in the campaign, you’ll be accompanied by a squad of mostly-capable AI companions, but the game is really intended to be played online with up to eight real players fighting together.
The objectives are solely there to goad you into holding certain defensive points for a few minutes at a time while the hordes of bounding mutants assault you from all directions, and this is where the fun is. Your space marine moves with mouse clicks and activates timed abilities and items like a hero character in a MOBA or an action RPG, but fires with a cone like they’re a twin-stick shooter character.
The twist is that you can set your character to ‘overwatch’, meaning they’ll automatically pick targets in range and attempt to take them out. It does less damage than manual fire, and it’s a less efficient use of your limited ammunition, but it does free up your fingers to throw grenades, set up traps and turrets, heal teammates, and so on.
This means that, while twitch reflexes are an option if you want to take advantage of them, Red Solstice 2 is a real time strategy game at heart. It’s got a focus on action, but thanks to the overwatch, never veers too heavily into MOBA-style ability spam. It would almost be the best of both worlds, if inconsistent difficulty didn’t result in long stretches of getting around each map spent doing very little.
The action is great when it kicks off, but with such a variety of difficulty modifiers and seemingly no way of self-adjusting to match how many real players are on your team, the challenge can feel inconsistent. Since the game relies so heavily on these ‘backs to the wall’ defence moment to really shine, when the game isn’t difficult, it simply isn’t fun.
I don’t doubt that, when everything comes together as intended, there’s a deeply strategic and satisfying raid-style joy to be found here, as you and your seven great mates synergising with perfect builds and loadouts, taking on relentless foes that are nonetheless surmountable with some smart tactics. That’s the ultimate promise of Red Solstice 2, and I do think this version of the game is in there, it’s just buried somewhere behind sometimes dodgy net code and poorly explained systems. Missions that can drag terribly on one difficulty suddenly feel impossible just one difficulty level up.
Still, there are some great moments to be found between all the waiting around. When Red Solstice 2’s holdouts get tense, they feel every bit the Aliens homage. Heart-in-mouth doomed last stands with just moments in between to shore up defences before the next wave arrives. There’s a finely-tuned juiciness to combat too, with the weaker enemies taking just a few rounds before popping into a cloud of pale viscera, and the bigger gribblies requiring focus fire and ideally a grenade or two.