Preview: The Solus Project is a compelling exploration indie

The E3 demo of The Solus Project wasn't very long, but it definitely didn't waste any time getting to the point. The upcoming title from Grip Games and Teotl Studios, which is due out in 2016, is all about survival and exploration. At first glance, you might think it's a first-person shooter or RPG, but while there are RPG elements at play, the bulk of what you'll be doing is fending for yourself on a mysterious planet and trying to stay alive.

The Solus Project begins with the player character landing on a desolate planet. The mission: to find a new, fitting home for mankind after Earth has hit the brink of destruction. Following a bad landing, you're the only one from your ship who's still alive. It's then up to you to explore the alien planet in the hopes that you'll be able to reconstruct your equipment to find a way home or, at the very least, get in contact with Earth.

No hand-holding

Jan Cabuk, managing director and co-founder of developer Grip Games, walked me through the demo at Microsoft's E3 booth. He told me that the aim of the game is to drop players onto a planet uncharted by humans and letting them attempt to survive on their own. I was told that there won't by any hand-holding, and with the exception of waypoints that tell you where to go next, the game is all about discovery and having the player figure things out unassisted.

Though I only spent a few minutes playing, I could see how The Solus Project is very specifically focused on exploration and discovery. At first, this could be intimidating, especially since so many games these days insist on the overuse of tutorials, checkpoints, and continues. The game's world is rich, diverse, and plentiful, however, so after that initial overwhelming feeling, I got the itch to just let go and explore.

According to Cabuk, players who feel the desire to trek the vast game world presented in The Solus Project will be able to do just that. Far beyond the shoreline I saw a few islands in the distance. Though I couldn't travel to those islands in the demo, I was told that they won't be out-of-reach in the final version of the game. You'll be able to visit parts of the world map that at first seem like basic background scenery, and those areas will house plenty of secrets for you to uncover.

Freedom and limits

You can't just go anywhere you want at all times, though. Because you essentially start your adventure off with nothing, you'll have to collect specific key items to get to certain areas. The aforementioned islands, for example, will be accessible once you figure out a means to get there. Interestingly, some areas won't be necessary for game completion, but if you take the time to check these spots out, chances are you'll find more resources to aid you on your adventure.

Speaking of resources, progression in The Solus Project plays out a lot like it would in an adventure game. During the E3 demo, I followed a waypoint to a cave entrance. Before going in, I needed to find a flashlight as it was far too dark in there for me to continue on. Once I found the flashlight — it was right next to a couple of skeletons along with some supplies that I picked up for myself — I was able to enter the dark area, which required a key for me to continue.

I followed another waypoint and found the key, which happened to be sword jammed into the torso of another skeleton. On my way back to the cave I noticed that the environment was slowly changing as a result of an incoming tornado. I rushed back to the cave, where I put my flashlight down so as to light the entire room. I placed the sword in the appropriate spot and opened up yet another path. Sadly, that's where the demo ended, but even then, I got a nice glimpse of what to expect when the full game finally arrives.

Struggle to survive

While The Solus Project is indeed rife with exploratory puzzles, there's no combat to speak of. As evidenced by the tornado I sought shelter from, the world around you is what poses the biggest threat. Cabuk was intentionally vague, but he told me that there will be enemy-like forces at play, though you won't necessarily engage in combat with them.

To add to the game's realistic approach to survival, The Solus Project will require that you monitor different parameters such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. You can only sleep if you're safe, so if you're outdoors while there's a tornado or rain going on, you won't be able to go to sleep. You must also make sure that your character's hunger and thirst requirements have been tended to before going to sleep. The game will auto-save whenever you sleep, and though you may potentially be able to save at any point while playing, the devs recommend against it.

By the end of the demo, I was left wanting to see more. More of the bold, colorful world. More of the underground caves. More of those islands that awaited off in the distance. My curiosity piqued, I had no choice but to move on as the short playable experience came to a close.

The Solus Project is planned for release next year on the Xbox One and PC.