Mars has always been a planet of mystery and intrigue. It is the closest planet to Earth but has long been seen as a symbol of war throughout ancient civilization. Mars remains the most probable planet for future human habitation but the planet is hostile to life. Cold temperatures, CO2, and constant storms would make any attempt at future habitation challenging. In Fort Solis, humans have done the unthinkable: they have landed on Mars but now contend with the planets hostility.
When a base goes offline, a young engineer sets off into the dark to find out what is going on. As a Martian storm cripples any chance at escape, our lone engineer relies on his scientific knowledge to discover what happened at the infamous Fort Solis. What he will discover is beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
The dark below
Fort Solis is an ambitious sci-fi thriller featuring the voices of many prominent video games actors and actress from Troy Baker to Julia Brown. Fort Solis bills itself as an incredibly immersive thriller with no load times or quick cuts. The narrative carries the experience as players venture deep into the facility. At Pax East 2023, I had a chance to play Fort Solis. While my time was short, it was an extremely impressive and immersive experience that I couldn’t get enough of.
Th demo took me deep underground. I was introduced to the protagonist, Jack Leery, voiced by Roger Clark. Jack has received a distress call from Fort Solis while residing at a nearby outpost. Making his way there, he finds himself searching for the cause of the disturbance. Finding the power has been knocked out, Jack relies on his knowledge of science to engineer his way through the facility to locate any survivors and find out what went wrong.
What a fine day for science
From the moment I began playing, there is an extremely detailed and though-out level of authenticity. The game felt grounded in reality and science as opposed to something hyper-advanced. Fort Solis is set in an immersive and believable interpretation of space travel and habitation. This view point is highly detailed, giving a sense of weight and heft to what we see on-screen. Some games would rather speed through these processes to rush the player form one moment to the next but Fort Solis chooses to take its time which lends itself to the tension and heightened anxieties.
Fort Solis is designed with minimal UI, leaving everything the player needs to know displayed on Jack from his tablet to his suit. This further enhances the sensations of being a skilled but lone engineer on the outskirts of known space, cutoff from any help. Jack moves with a bulkiness and slowness but this also further heightens the heft we sees. The engineer is wearing an advanced but thick protective engineer suit, designed to keep him safe and healthy. Jack isn’t going to move with the nimbleness of a cat anytime soon. He has to really exert himself through the suit to interact with his environment.
That 9 to 5 grind
The demo had me explore a maintenance tunnel. The main path is blocked off but the maintenance tunnel with an automated trolley is available. Jack maintains contact with a woman on the other line, presumably a survivor that is able to reach out to him. The two try to work through the problem, though they catch a quirky casual remark despite the circumstances. Jack strikes me as a down-to-earth kind of worker. Someone who works the tough job and grinds their way through to make a good living, but someone who worked hard to earn the knowledge he has. He isn’t a know-it-all but is a hard worker with a good noodle to work with.
The demo also had me come across a power supply. At one point, a quick scare happens when a cargo container suddenly bolts form a wall and surprises Jack. He complains about the recklessness of securing the container, though it does reveal a battery he needs to help power the trolley. Jack also comes across some items that show a small history of what happened here and who was stationed at Fort Solis.
Retrieving the power supply, Jack makes his way to the trolley. Furthering that immersion was the intricate animations and detail. Retrieving the power supply had Jack grunting and using raw strength. Clicks and clacks are met with smaller animations that further heighten the realism and sophistication of scientific engineering; little touches like that are immeasurably impressive.
The trolley fired up and moved slowly. Jack maintained contact with another survivor, but the trolley stopped at a door that had an obstruction so he got off the trolley and went to another maintenance bay beside the door to help with the construction. Once again, Fort Solis shines in these little moments with puzzle solving. Things don’t happen instantaneously with a button press but a process unfolds.
The mystery of the unknown
As the demo neared its conclusion, I realized Fort Solis wasn’t what I was expecting. Of course, based on the premise, I was expecting aliens or zombies, but I hadn’t seen a single piece of evidence towards that. No limbs, blood, or any signs of conflict. This doesn’t rule out that the big reveal of Fort Solis is such an event, but it was rather refreshing to see the game focus on the characters and the player’s immediate perspective with all the smaller details.
The demo ended with Jack making his was outside in the center of Fort Solis. It was a massive circular facility, almost like a mining installation. The wind howled and screamed as he made his way out of the tunnel as the storm engulfed the facility. Only small red fog lights could be seen. The storm was reminiscent of the opening moments of the sci-fi movie, The Martian. The storm is an intoxicating maelstrom of particles and debris that punctures and shatters. As the storm moves in, the demo ends.
Get your butt to Mars
I couldn’t get enough of Fort Solis and what it represented. Fort Solis felt like a true sci-fi thriller in the making, a game that focuses on the science as well as the isolation of being on Mars. The focus on smaller animations and the scientific premise kept my interest. Furthering this was the personality of Jack and the operator he was speaking to. Characters and writing are everything in a game like this and I couldn’t help but want to learn more about Jack and the people he will encounter. There is a lot of intriguing mystery to Fort Solis and I couldn’t help but wish I had more time.
I will admit that I am a space enthusiast and love hearing about scientific pursuits. It is that interest that drew me to learning more about Fort Solis. I walked away incredibly pleased with its attention to characters, writing, and details. My time with Fort Solis has encouraged me to be ready for a thrill ride unlike any other. It is my hope many more step aboard as Fort Solis is already incredible.
Fort Solis launches in 2023 for PC and consoles.