They say no one can hear you scream in space, and in the desolate mining facility of Fort Solis on Mars, that’s doubly true. A short, under four-hour experience, Black Drakkar Games and Fallen Leaf’s Fort Solis is a gripping sci-fi thriller that quickly won me over with its stellar voice acting, space station exploration, and slow-burn mystery, although I did have a few minor frustrations with some aspects of the game.
Fort Solis follows engineer Jack Leary as he responds to an alarm at the mining facility of Fort Solis only to find it under lockdown and completely empty. What follows is a night of survival – the game plays out over a single night and through several chapters – as Leary uncovers the mystery of what happened at the facility and the danger responsible.
You’ve Gotta Walk The Walk
Fort Solis is fundamentally a cinematic walking simulator. If you’ve played anything similar to that before – Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn and The Quarry are great examples – you’ll have an idea of how the game plays. Most of your game time in Fort Solis sees you walk around and explore the mining facility to uncover what happened by finding clues; research notes, emails, CCTV footage, and audio and video recordings that offer small pieces of the story’s larger puzzle.
After a few hours with the game, its collectables began to give me an idea of what had happened at Fort Solis, which was later solidified as the action escalated and the dangers of the mining facility became more real.
The gameplay isn’t just limited to walking and finding collectables. There’s no combat, but you’ll frequently have to complete simple reaction-based puzzles to progress the game, such as rebooting servers and hacking computer terminals and other machinery. There’s also a lot of interaction around the station, much of which triggers a few lines of dialogue that wonderfully build two of the game’s main characters.
Interspersed throughout the game are several quick time events (QTEs) that require you to hit buttons within a few seconds or swing and hold the DualSense’s analogue sticks in certain directions. While most games that feature QTEs include repercussions for failing them, Fort Solis, from my experience, didn’t as the game would continue with either a varying cutscene or an additional chance to complete the QTE.
The lack of repercussions for failing QTEs was disappointing at first until I realised that Fort Solis aims to tell a single story, not provide you with branching narratives like the other games within its genre. This is something anyone looking to play the game should keep in mind. There’s just a single, short story that anyone who enjoys unravelling mysteries should like, and at a time when most games include 30-hour stories with quest after quest to complete, Fort Solis was a breath of fresh air.
A Spooky Delight
Although not a true horror game, Fort Solis is steeped in a dark and chilling atmosphere – reflections will force double takes and the eerie creaking of the metallic mining facility will leave you uneasy – that left me on the edge of my seat, particularly through the first few hours of gameplay when I had no idea what had happened at the base. Although the effect wore off around the midpoint of the game, it wildly swung back towards the end when the stakes were at their highest.
The superb sound and visual design both helped bring the chilling Fort Solis station to life. The game’s light but groaning reverberating score – which is sometimes replaced by pure silence – pairs wonderfully with the ambient sounds of the facility; Jack’s heavy-footed steps, the swoosh of mechanical doors opening and closing, and the creaking of Fort Solis against the lashing dust storm outside. Meanwhile, the station’s dim lighting partially obscures your vision and casts looming shadows around you, reflections force you to do double takes to ensure that it is just you, and the blood red lighting that signals locked doors all create a very unwelcoming experience, reminding you that you’re an outsider on the station where something has very badly gone wrong.
When you explore the outside surrounding areas of the facility, you’re faced with thrashing dust storms that set the PS5 DualSense’s haptic feedback off, vibrating as the red planet’s dust particles lash at Jack. Your vision is limited, and while you don’t spend much time outside of the station, the storm’s crippling atmosphere made me want to get back inside as quickly as possible.
One of the game’s strongest highlights was the stellar voice work, and not just of the main trio – Troy Baker of The Last Of Us fame, Roger Clark from Red Dead Redemption 2, and television and film star Julia Brown making her debut appearance in games – but of the entire cast. The game offered great insight into the life of each crew member aboard Fort Solis through video and audio logs, and successfully managed to capture their unwinding unease regarding the transpired events, while also playing on yours.
One of my only minor complaints is that my immersion was occasionally broken by the banter between characters Jack and Jessica while exploring the space station, interacting with objects, and during what should have been somewhat tense moments. While it was nice to see the interactions between the two and how close they were, which helped in the lead-up to the game’s end, it did draw away from the uneasiness the game worked so hard to induce with its design.
A second concern is the game’s longevity. Once you’ve finished, there’s not much reason to complete another playthrough of the game as there are no other modes nor the narrative choices that make other similar games popular. Rounding up the final few collectables – lore pieces as well as flags that unlock character models – may provide you with another hour or so of gameplay, but that’s it. That might be fine for someone who doesn’t mind one-and-done games, but for those who enjoy replaying games, you won’t find much here, particularly with the mystery – the game’s main drawing point – solved.
Should You Buy Fort Solis?
I had a blast with the game and loved the slow nature of the unravelling mystery, as well as the exploration of the unwelcoming and frightening mining facility. The game is gorgeous and utilises the DualSense controller’s features to enhance the gameplay experience. While many might see the lack of combat, traditional “game”, and replayability as a drawback, it was actually refreshing to sit back and enjoy something a little more simple, linear, and cinematic.
Fort Solis is an excellent debut title from Fallen Leaf, and a gripping slow-burn space thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat for its four-plus hour duration. A must-play for anything that enjoys deeply cinematic games but doesn’t want the stress of decision-making that similar games within the genre are popular for.
Fort Solis (2023) Final Thoughts
Fort Solis is an impeccable cinematic sci-fi thriller that offers a gripping mystery to unwind by exploring a desolate and lovingly designed mining facility, although it does suffer a lack of replayability and traditional gameplay, which some may find too slow.
Review copy provided by Plan Of Attack for PS5.
Fort Solis is out now for PC and PlayStation 5, and will launch on October 26th for Mac.