Fort Solis is described as closer to a walking simulator than any other traditional genre, though it’s ostensibly a sci-fi psychological thriller, set on a mysteriously deserted mining facility on Mars. You play as Jack Leary, voiced by Roger Clark, who one night on Mars, receives a routine alarm alert from the titular Fort Solis. Upon arriving, the place is mysteriously empty and Jack proceeds to try and locate the missing crew through exploration. While this sounds like an interesting opportunity for some psychological shenanigans, there are few positives to find amongst this abandoned station.
I want to go back to that point about it being a walking simulator for just one moment. The first thing that stuck out to me was the glacial speed you move at as you play. During the first five minutes, I was sitting there thinking, “hmmm, I hope I’m not moving this speed the whole game” and then imagine my horror when I spent the whole four hours of playing the game walking at the same speed. It is truly painful. In some segments it makes sense, like navigating through the storm or maybe down some corridors to build tension, but the absence of a run button absolutely killed the pacing of the game.
There’s no traditional stealth or combat mechanics either, so it is literally just walking around and examining stuff until you find the correct clue that allows you to move on. I spent so much time waiting for stuff to happen that never came and it bored me to tears. It reeked of horror, but there was no horror, not even a whiff. I remember I kept thinking, ‘ok, here we go’ as I was waiting for things to kick off. By the time it eventually did, I’d already mentally checked out.
Going from point to point and picking up clues would have been fine had a bulk of the info dump not come right near the end. The information was drip fed in such a way that also hampered the pacing of the game. There’s only so many video logs you can find with meaningless information before you need something meaty to get its hooks into you. Finding video number seven telling me nothing beyond the person really liking chess, or something to that effect, isn’t doing Fort Solis any favours. Let’s not forget, you are also walking between these exploration bits… very slowly.
Action does occur, but it’s limited to quick-time events and cut scenes. I failed a bunch but could never tell if it was a problem as the story continued anyway. This made me question what the point of said cutscenes were if they didn’t have an impact on what was going on. They may as well have been removed. When Jack started running during a cutscene, I almost felt insulted and actually a little jealous. I wanted to run, I just wanted to find out what’s going on. But I’m being made to wait behind that damned slow walk. Sorry, I’ll stop mentioning the walking now.
All this could be forgiven if the story was at least passable, but I can’t even say that. It’s a clichéd story which has been done many times before and executed in better ways. And this is not a slight on the acting, by the way. The main cast, Roger Clark, Julia Brown and Troy Baker do absolutely fine jobs, but can only do so much with the scripts they’ve been given, and they’re worth more than what Fort Solis offers in its shoddy dialogue.
By the end of the four hour play through, I was kind of glad it was over, even being dissatisfied with the predictable end to the slog of an experience.
One thing I will say, is at least it looks decent. Mars looks pretty enough for Mars, and all the interiors are atmospheric in look and style. It’s just a shame I never truly felt the environment. It certainly looks the part, but walking down each dark corridor didn’t fill me with the dread it should have done.
Despite running – at least something was running – on a pretty high end PC, the game struggled a little and occasionally would see quite the dip in frame rate. At one point, I transitioned from interior to exterior and the frame rate completely tanked, forcing me to restart the game all together. Considering all the above points, it made the overall experience downright frustrating.