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Posted by WDesm on Aug 28, 2010
XBLA Indie Review: SolarStruggle

XBLA Indie Review: SolarStruggle

“A very polished and enjoyable single-player experience!”

An XboxHornet review by WDesm.

As far as production values goes, SolarStruggle may have raised the bar for all of XBLIG.  SolarStruggle, developed by redspotgames, boasts a large, fully-voiced storyline, full 3d animation, and a quality of gameplay that could easily be mistaken for a full-blown arcade release.  It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly pricey (at the 400 MSPoints value), but if you’re a fan of the space shooters and unstoppable action gauntlets of yesterday’s arcade, I whole-heartedly recommend this one – it deserves to be amongst the full-XBLA Summer of Arcade titles.

From the most humble (and amnesiac) beginnings, you play a pilot who is hired into the Consortium, a system-wide merchant army, as a scout and fighter pilot.  In the single player campaign, you are trained in the art of space flight and space fight, unlocking different ships, abilities, weapons, and loadouts throughout the 11 single player missions.  Each mission has you flying in a variety of environments, and with records and awards to acknowledge your skill, the missions won’t be perfected in a single run – you can expect to return to the missions (which, thankfully, is quite easily, from a ‘Missions Map’) to unlock some of the awards and to practice your shots.  The missions aren’t too difficult, which isn’t a big concern, as the missions act as a sort of “training ground” for the real bulk of the game – Skirmish Mode.

The real enduring feature of the game is the Skirmish Mode, a never-ending gauntlet with a slew of unlocks.

With minimal effort and few additions, Skirmish mode could probably have sold as a 400 MSPoints title on its own.  Enemies spawn at you in ever-increasing waves, and you gain both XP and points for killing them efficiently – XP can directly be used to upgrade your systems (Armor, Energy, Shields, and Weapons), and new weapons and gear can be unlocked from killing Boss Ships, which spawn at the end of each wave.  Additionally, entirely new ships (with entirely new loadouts and designs) are unlocked as you progress through subsequent waves, promoting more and more replayability as you try to best your score, survive longer, and gain those last few elusive unlockable awardments.  With such a fantastic game design, I only have one question: Why do I want to play it?

SolarStruggle includes no high score board, not even a local one, unless you consider the rolling awards (some of the awards are a lifetime accomplishment rather than a single setting, much like the intimidating Seriously 2.0 achievement from Gears of War 2), and includes no way to play with friends.  While the single player missions do save your progress between games, the only information that carries over in Skirmish Mode is which ships you’ve unlocked – there is no unlockable “Hard” mode, no “Best Your Own Score” Incentive, and no deviation from the formula.  It almost feels like Skirmish Mode is a double-edged sword: While it has enough gameplay depth to be a game in and of itself, its lack of content makes it fall short – the prescription for such a malady is simple however, as all it would take would be a local multiplayer inclusion, a local highscore board (or preferably, online), or both.  As it stands, however, Skirmish Mode is something that you might enjoy, but wish for so much more.

Ultimately, SolarStruggle is two half-games: The storyline/mission mode is fun, but not necessarily deep, and the Skirmish Mode is deep, but unless you like grinding out some impressive awards, not particularly enticing.  Don’t let my criticism get in the way of your enjoyment, however; if you’re a space shooter buff, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, as the quality of the game is through the roof (and with no other serious contenders in the genre, a fantastic title is all the more appreciated) – my criticisms fall squarely in the realm of idealism and wishful thinking, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the content we’ve got to play with.

Game Score: 8.5/10.

Download a free demo of the game here.

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