Sol: Exodus Review

Greg Tito | 1 Feb 2012 10:30
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I grew up loving the space battles of Star Wars and games like X-Wing recreated the feel of those movies perfectly, but without a blockbuster license, making simple ship-to-ship combat relevant is a challenge. That's why I respect the story-telling of Sol: Exodus a great deal. By setting the game within our solar system, focusing on ballistic weapons like guns and rockets, and restricting the enemies to differently-aligned humans instead of space cats or mutant lizards, Exodus feels grounded in something closer to reality.

After humans colonize most of the solar system, astronomers discover that our sun is going to blow up way earlier than expected. Intrepid explorers are sent into space to find a new home, but, in their long absence, a religious zealot group takes power by convincing people that the sun's supernova is God's will. In the prologue, you start play as a lieutenant in the expedition that finally finds a hospitable planet just before unknown enemies attack the fleet. It doesn't take a genius to guess that these zealots are trying to stay in power by preventing the exodus from the Sol system. (Get it?)

Of course, the story would be meaningless if the combat wasn't stellar, which, thankfully, it is. Flying your ship in Exodus through the gorgeous scenery of our solar system is inherently fun because of the easy-to-grasp controls, and the core gameplay of tracking the flight path of an enemy to lead it with gun fire until it explodes is endlessly satisfying. Each mission generally has other objectives beyond just taking out bad guys, but there is always a moment where your only goal is to kill as many targets as possible to showcase your dogfighting skills. Exodus offers extra objectives with each mission and a leaderboard system through Steam, so there is some incentive for replay. That's good, because although the eight missions do offer a nice compact story arc with some very challenging battles, you will want to keep playing it longer than the five hours or so it takes to beat the game.

Even though Exodus supports a gamepad and joystick, I played through most of the game with a mouse and keyboard without any complaints. You can't exactly stop at will or do a barrel roll (Shut up, Peppy), and mastering the controls takes some patience. That patience pays off when you eventually start pulling off amazing feats of agility without thinking about what button controls which movement. The ability to orient your fighter 360 degrees while the momentum continues going in one direction - "Sliding" is what the kids are calling it now, as one character in Exodus points out - lets you get away with breaking some of the rules of physics. And that's fun for everybody.

Exodus makes some other concessions to ease players into the long-dormant genre. I liked that if you take too much damage or are running low on missiles, you can dock with your mothership, the Atlas, to repair and re-arm your ship. Doing so drops you some points in the score tally, but it will get you through the mission just fine. When you target an enemy, the Heads Up Display places a small reticule marking where you should aim. I found that helpful to get my aiming skills back up to speed, and it allows less-experienced pilots to take out bogies without feeling overwhelmed. In fact, the whole HUD is a well-designed study in minimalism. Information you need like distance to target and the number of missiles available are clearly displayed while clutter is low. The minimap could've used some work, as it is very difficult to orient yourself in three dimensions with a quick glance at the low-res 2D display.

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