I only played the original Red Solstice for around 3 hours (just to get an idea of what to expect in the sequel). Red Solstice 2 adds some new systems and depth to the game, and brings a significant visual overhaul. And, after having had a chance to play it for nearly 30 hours, these are my thoughts.
The story revolves around the spreading of the STROL virus across Mars, which threatens to destroy all the human colonies. Tharis has already been nuked by Solar (a beam weapon) due to the resurgence of the STROL virus. Thus, it’s up to you, the Executor (a cybernetically enhanced super soldier), and your team to stop this threat by reducing the infestations across the planet.
Graphics & sound
Graphically the game is decent looking. You’ll be exploring various colonies on Mars in different areas (Mining, Snow, Desert, Outskirts and Swamp). Each of these maps is relatively large and full of buildings to explore and loot. They are also visually different enough to add some variety. The combat suits all look great and the in-game animations are passable.
Audio wise the game sounds good. The numerous guns, the explosions, and the combat effects all do a good job of making everything have a feeling of impact and weight (with the exception of the kicking down doors sound, which is very muted). I also really enjoyed the music and thought it added a lot to the intensity and tension of the combat missions.
There are two modes that the game can be played in, campaign and skirmish.
The campaign is divided into two layers. The strategy layer, which is actually quite similar to Xcom 2’s base management in many ways, and the battle map layer, which is reminiscent of an RTS game where you only control only a single unit or small group of units in a mission.
The Strategy Layer
In this mode, you see the planet and all the possible locations to build bases (most of which will be locked at the start). You have a “Landship” which serves as a mobile base of operations and can be upgraded to unlock a number of different benefits. You’ll fly around Mars scanning and doing missions to collect supplies, specialists and new recruits for your team, as well as establishing outposts around the planet.
Some of these missions will only require a certain amount of time to pass before offering rewards, while others will require a combat deployment and subsequent completion of a main mission to get the rewards (some of which will reduce in the spread of infestation as well).
You can use the supplies and specialists for research upgrades in order to improve your landship, outposts, and units. Building outposts is crucial in slowing down the spread of the infestation. As the campaign progresses the global infestation will continue to increase, increasing the difficulty of the missions themselves,
The strategy layer of the game is a nice addition, but unfortunately, its co-op is not what I was expecting. Although other players can join you, they can only play along for the deployment missions (battles). They cannot see or have any impact on the strategic aspect of the campaign and do not take any campaign progress back to their own games. However, any XP they receive on missions to level up their character will carry over to their own game.
Battle Layer & Skirmish
The battle layer is arguably the main aspect of Red Solstice 2. It’s similar to the original game, and both the skirmish and campaign battle missions play out the same way. This mode features 3D environments, and is played via an isometric perspective with the ability to rotate and tilt the camera, much like an RTS game.
You can move your character around the map with the RMB, and you have 4 abilities that you can level up during the mission (numbers 1-4), as well as 2 utility skills (F, V). What these abilities are will depend on the class you’re playing, and what build you have chosen to use for that class. For instance, they can be a healing AOE if you are a medic or a powerful short-range blast if you’re assault. Shooting can be done manually by holding shift or via the overwatch function (which does less damage and acquires targets more slowly).
The game has 6 classes in total (some of which will need to be unlocked via research in the campaign or by leveling up and using skill points in skirmish). The Assault and Medic classes are the only two available at the start. While playing, you can unlock Marksman, Recon, Heavy, and Demolitions. Furthermore, all of these classes play quite differently. Not only that but having a balanced team is crucial for the higher difficulties.
There’s are also a fair amount of build customization options for each class. Leveling up gains you skill points that can be used to unlock new abilities, upgrades and such. Some of these are passive, whilst others are active. However, since you can only have 4 active abilities at any given time, you’ll have to make some tough choices as to what skills to take, as well as your suit’s energy limit.
There are a number of mission-specific settings that can be changed prior to starting one. For example, you can customize the difficulty along with a number of other settings (at least in skirmish mode). Do note though that in campaign missions, there are some limitations as to what you can change. Regardless, you’ll be given information on which waves you’ll need to be aware of that could be problematic (or more difficult) and what enemies they will contain. Unfortunately, there is no way to access the wave information once you’re actually on the mission, which seems odd, especially since this is relatively important information. In my opinion, the devs could have added it into the large map, instead of say, the unnecessary list of keybinds on the right that take up 1/4 of the screen.
When deployed, you and your team will have to finish a main objective or two, along with some optional side objectives. The more you accomplish the more XP you get. All the loot found in the mission is only for use in that specific mission, so there is no reason to take anything you don’t need.
If you’re playing the campaign you’ll have up to 3 AI squadmates or up to 7 other human players. There is currently no way to add AI bots to skirmish mode though (another odd design choice here). So you either team up with friends/randoms or go in solo.
As time passes you’ll be assaulted by waves of STROL enemies (of which there are 33 types of varying threats) with each wave getting more difficult. For the most part, waves increase gradually, though – and as I said earlier – every mission will have specific danger waves that you need to be aware of. Generally though, the longer you are in a map the more challenging it becomes (maxing out at wave 16). In addition to this, there are also 5 difficulty settings, ranging from easy to nightmare. Be warned though, the higher difficulties can easily overwhelm an unprepared team.
Missions can last anywhere from 10-30min depending on how many objections you intent to complete, and things can get pretty crazy. Buildings can be explored for loot and ammo and used for cover. Cars, barrels, and gas outlets can be also exploded to aid you in combat. In addition to this, maps can have STROL holes and biomass that will continuously spawn enemies. So it’s generally a good idea to deal with them.
You and your team can opt to leave anytime via the various exits on the edges of the maps, or complete the mains mission and then wait for extraction.
The missions don’t seem particularly varied, so you’ll be doing similar stuff most of the time. Hold an area for x amount of time, defend some folks in an area for x amount of time, then escort them to extraction, destroy some nests, escort a convoy. Did I mention hold an area for x amount of time and hold an area for x amount of time?
Once you’ve completed the mission, you’ll be rewarded with XP, as well as one or two skill points to use on upgrades for your next run.
Despite its repetitiveness, the overall gameplay loop is quite enjoyable. It’s tense and requires teamwork. Needless to say though, playing coop makes for a better experience.
The biggest issue I have is the downright awful optimization. The game could not maintain 60fps in most missions at 1080p on my system. I had frequent drops into the mid-40s. I also saw it drop to as low as 27fps on some rare occasions. Turning down the settings to the lowest did not solve those framerate issues, which are not related to what is happening on-screen. I mean, sometimes those drops happened when there was barely anything on the screen at all. Now while this is not the type of game that requires high frame rates, for me, these optimization issues are something that really annoyed me. In fact, they made it really hard to fully enjoy the game.
The next issue I had was with the design of the skirmish lobbies. If you manage to find a good team of random people, you will lose them once the mission ends. The only way you can stay connected with them is by adding them all to your Steam friends list. After each skirmish mission, you’re automatically taken back to the main menu (even if you’re playing with your friends), Ironically, when you complete a campaign mission, the game takes the entire team back to the lobby together. In skirmish mode, you’ll have to re-invite them for every single mission.
Occasionally, I was taken back to the main menu when trying to join a game. There were also desync issues when the game launched, but those have mostly been fixed with a post-launch patch.
The UI can also be overly cluttered in certain places where menus overlap other menus. This can be really troublesome when you’re trying to find specific information. Often times the game doesn’t explain many of the systems, leaving you to discover them yourselves under the archive section. Even then, though, things are not straightforward. For example, there is no explanation on how to unlock other classes in skirmish mode (hint: it’s hidden under the weapon unlock section which is under profile… because that makes perfect sense).
In the loadout screen, you can save various builds and you can set the right order for your action bar skills. However, the skills will revert back to their default places on your skill bar when joining a match (despite having loaded the correct template). This must be a bug because it doesn’t make any sense at all.
By pressing ESC or TAB you can see the map of the entire level, which is a great way to get an overview. However, there is no way to zoom in on the map at all which makes it hard to get more precise information on entrances to buildings. You also can’t zoom the camera closer to your unit, so you’ll need to get used to controlling ants (unless you’re on top of a high building though they do allow you to tilt the camera vertically which will… decimate your frame rate even further).
Finally, there is no voice chat support in the game. Thus, and if you want to communicate effectively with others, you’ll have to use discord or type chat messages (which is currently bugged as well).
While I have enjoyed my time with The Red Solstice 2, the serious performance issues have really marred my experience. Despite it getting somewhat repetitive at times, though, it’s not without potential. However, in its current state, the game feels like a beta or early access release.
At an asking price of $30, my advice would be to wait for a very deep sale (in case you are interested in it). I do hope the developers will sort out the bugs, fix the performance issues (the devs on Discord are apparently aware of the issue and are looking into it), and add some needed QoL updates. However, these are things that should have been sorted out before the game released.
- Enjoyable combat
- Base management and overland strategy
- Optimization issues abound
- Can get repetitive
- Fine control of AI is cumbersome
- No returning to lobby after a skirmish mission
- Numerous bugs
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using an Intel i7-6700k CPU@4.5gh, 32GB Ram, and an nVidia RTX 2070 Super graphics card.