Game Review: Sol Invictus [Android, iOS]
- Developer: Cubus Games
I have included two games by this developer in our Favorite Indie Games 2014 list – the Heavy Metal Thunder Gamebook and Necklace of Skulls for a reason. Cubus Games manage to find exceptionally good stories, with rich verbiage, extensive branching, which is paramount for interactive gamebooks, and outstanding graphic art. In other words, I like their take on how reading plays with gaming, and it's fun.
Sol Invictus is a sequel to Heavy metal Thunder that was released last year, and by the time Sol Invictus launched this January, there was already a loyal group of readers waiting for the next book. Check this out:
Heavy Metal Thunder took you into a futuristic, Dystopian sci-fi world, where in a couple hundred years from now, human technology evolved enough to let us expand our reach far beyond our Solar System, and colonize far away planets. The humankind has not changed much, though – same greed, corruption, human trafficking, wars.
Things changed drastically when we encountered an alien life form – stronger, smarter, technologically more advanced than we are. They did not want to negotiate, and obliterated Earth's infrastructure within a few hours, leaving those scattered all over the Universe ignorant, scared, lost.
In HMT, your hero is a human soldier waking up in space, with 5 minutes oxygen left and no memory after a ferocious space fight. The first book takes him on a horrible, lonely adventure through space back to his headquarters.
The second book, Sol Invictus, takes off exactly where HMT left you, with the hero's name restored, and him being back with his special force – Black Lance Legion, the human fanatics. They are humans trained to survive and kill invaders in most extreme physical and psychological situations and environments.
Aliens don't know they exist because no alien survived to tell the story; humans hate them because human fanatics are better warriors and, ultimately, better humans, proud to be human, knowing what humane means, understanding the importance of unity in the face of the total extermination.
Hence, the book is an exciting mix of space combat, war, intergalactic mass scale actions, and human interactions, psyche, pain and inner evolution of each member of the team in particular, and humanity as a whole. Sometimes, you will feel repelled by humans altogether.
Sol Invictus is a hefty deal of reading, healthy dose of intense dice and skill-based fighting, interactive dialogues, complex personality and strategy choices. Get those earphones and glasses ready.
Sol Invictus has you making choices every step of the way – things to say to your fellow soldiers, keep distance or try to get closer personally, kick some human butt for the justice's sake or stay away from trouble. Every choice you make changes the upcoming course, or rather, how well prepared you meet the inevitable – Sol Invictus.
The title stands for the unconquered deity that died, descended into the underworld and returned as an immortal, obliterating its enemies. Now, humans gather their resources for a counter-strike and name their operation Sol Invictus. Of course, Cromulus and his Venice Clovers squad of human fanatics are on the front line of action, conspiracy and death.
In the first chapter, you get to make a few crucial decisions – choose your personality traits (Charisma, Will, Dexterity, Intelligence and Strength), skills (computer, navigation, piloting a ship, first aid, spears and shotguns, the sixth sense, space suit handling, etc.).
A word of advice – don't neglect skills that make you smart. Intuition can be the difference between life and death, and so can be Will to survive.
The weapon system is not too complex, but quite intentionally frustrating – Cromulus and his friends, despite being the elite force, are bound by the same old capitalist system that leaves its own warriors unarmed unless they scout for loot and kill an alien or two. Thus, by default, your previous heroic achievements amount to meager 15 dollari that can grant you a shotgun, a spade, a shotgun bullet clip and something minor.
There are three levels of weapons – standard, enhanced and advanced, and you can't afford an advanced weapon in the 1st chapter. The book gives you a thorough feel of bureaucracy and greed, as you play.
No, you can't buy dollari for your dollars or euros. You can only earn it by killing aliens and collecting stuff you can exchange for cash.
Combat and some other personal interactions depend on your personality traits points, skill points, and dice rolling. The futuristic dice look wonderfully Tron-like and add a flavor of chance into very tense, climactic situations.
Sol Invictus does not pamper you with an illustration for each sentence, but the imagery is sinister, somewhat depressing and gloomy, and it totally matches the atmosphere of the story. Will you make it your smartphone wallpaper? If you like Dali, maybe yes. If I were to choose one adjective for the art work in Sol Invictus, it would be – troubling.
The sound score is no less depressing and gloomy, and wonderfully atmospheric.
In my two week experience with Sol Invictus (because I like to take it slow) I have not experienced any glitches, or bugs. Every purchased weapon and chosen skill appears in my control panel. Make sure you tap the checkbox when choosing skills and buying weapons.
The UI is beautiful and easy to sort out – Journal (with checkpoints you can go back to), Profile (skills, life), Weapons and Items in your backpack, Settings (sounds, music).
You have a life meter dubbed Blood, and battles may reduce its points while first aid kits may restore it. There are also anabolic pills, and a substance that can put you into anabiosis, if things go totally wrong.
There are five large chapters, each with a Prelude, as well as Prologue and Epilogue, and the first chapter took me about three hours to pass, with a coffee break to count my dollari and choose weapons wisely.
The game offers three save slots for different gameplay instances, so you can play simultaneously three scenarios, where Cromulus has different character traits and skills, or buys different weapons.
Another reason to replay same chapters is how different decisions reveal new angles, new depths and let the characters open up. Overall, the branching is a delight and creates a very high replay value.
- Engrossing, easy-to-read story
- Sci-fi, futuristic and eternally human, psychological challenges
- Excellent branching and replay value
- Talented, unique art work
- Ambient sound score
- User-friendly, intuitive system of skills, weapons, ammo
- Smooth performance
- Three game save slots
- Journal checkpoints with possibility to go back in the story without replaying from the start
- Great entertainment even if you haven't read Heavy Metal Thunder
- The reward for slaying an alien is small
Conclusion - 5/5
A top-notch interactive adventure, Sol Invictus is a real treat for sci-fi fans. Priced ad $0.99, it offers long hours, and even weeks, of intense gameplay and plenty of moments that will make you contemplate how modern society lives today.