Fort Solis Preview: A Promising Sci-Fi Story
When Fort Solis was originally announced last year during Summer Games Fest 2022, many assumed it would be a typical sci-fi horror game in the same ilk as Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol, and Alien: Isolation. However, after getting a chance to go hands-on with the game, it’s clear that developers Fallen Leaf and Black Drakkar Games are after a much different experience, one that has the chance to not only separate it from its sci-fi horror peers but deliver a unique story with some familiar faces.
Entering the demo at the gaming convention, I had very little of an idea of what Fort Solis was really about. By the time it was over, I was left with just as much curiosity. In a very brief (15 minutes total) behind-closed-doors session, it was clear that Fallen Leaf was looking to showcase more of the tone of the game than anything else. Instead of any real action, I was instead treated to more of a showcase of what the game will look and play like. Despite the little amount of real gameplay, I came away impressed by what Fallen Leaf was building.
What we know about Fort Solis now isn’t much, but it seems to follow most sci-fi thriller stories. You play as Jack Leary (portrayed by Roger Clark), a man tasked with investigating a mining station on Mars that has suddenly gone quiet. Arriving in the station, it’s clear that something bad happen; papers are strewn about, things were clearly left in a hurry, and most importantly, there’s no one in sight.
Gameplay in Fort Solis seems about as barebones as you can get, with most of my time spent slowly exploring the empty space station. There was a brief quick-time event moment, which had me dodging a falling platform as I entered a room. According to a member of publisher Dear Villagers’ communications team, the quick-time events in Fort Solis do have some sort of consequences. Had I not dodged the platform, for example, Leary would have developed a limp, but it’s uncertain for how long.
After exploring a bit more, the demo abruptly ends as Jack makes his way outside via a mining tunnel, and comes to find himself trapped in a surprising storm happening on Mars’ surface. While there wasn’t much to criticize during my time with the gameplay, it did move somewhat slow, but that seemed more by design than anything else. It’s clear Fallen Leaf wants you to feel just as trapped and isolated as Leary is, and it does work, even though it might move a bit more slowly than you’d like.
The only companion you have in your journey is fellow crew member Jessica Appleton (portrayed by Julia Brown), who will serve as a guide and voice of interaction throughout. Despite the drastic differences, their brief interactions in my demo reminded me of the relationship between Delilah and Henry in Campo Santo’s hit adventure game Firewatch, and that might not be by surprise, as it was a game that Dear Villagers mentioned was an inspiration to Fallen Leaf.
Despite not getting to experience much with my time of Fort Solis, it’s clear that things like atmosphere, story, and how the game looks are the real focuses here. In terms of graphics, they’ve knocked it out of the park, as Fort Solis might be one of the best-looking games I’ve seen in some time. Not only does everything look stunning, but the character animations in the game might also be some of the best in any game, a surprising thing coming from an indie studio, but something Fallen Leaf clearly wanted to nail thanks to their casting.
Alongside Roger Clark (who starred as Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2) and Julia Brown (who makes her video game debut in Fort Solis), the third star of Fort Solis is Troy Baker. Baker briefly appeared in the demo session I had in the form of a video message, but even in that, it was clear that getting these actors’ likenesses down was a huge focus. Relying heavily on the latest motion capture technology, Fallen Leaf has done a fantastic job of showcasing everything from the subtle hitches in someone’s gait when they move, the grunts of effort they make when hopping off a platform, or just their various facial expressions when they talk.
Atmosphere is king in Fort Solis, and it’s another area that Fallen Leaf seems to have gotten just right. Alongside games like Firewatch, Dear Villagers mentions that movies like 2009’s Moon and 2021’s Ad Astra were huge influences on Fort Solis, and it’s clear when playing. Unlike games like Dead Space or even Alien: Isolation, there is no overarching threat or monster waiting to scare you. Instead, the dread comes from just how normal everything seems.
Playing past horror games set in space has you conditioned that opening doors or entering a new room will finally show off some unseen alien creature ready to pounce. Fallen Leaf channels that by presenting the trappings of a typical sci-fi horror game but delivering something a bit more methodical. The way the game is presented (in a tight, third-person perspective) also helps add to the overall tense feeling of people. Rooms are large but feel small thanks to how close to the protagonist you are, and looking around feels like one big sweeping camera movement, priming you for a scare that isn’t there.
In the end, it’s unknown exactly if some sort of monstrous presence does exist in Fort Solis, but it seems that Fallen Leaf are much more interested in exploring the more mundane aspects of life in space, and the simmering dread that comes with it. The game can still probably use a few fixes in how you play to keep from getting stale, but in just 15 short minutes with the game, I was ready for more.
It’s clear that Fallen Leaf has a strong vision of what they want to accomplish with Fort Solis, and based on my short time with it, it’s one they’ve succeeded heavily at.