Solar Struggle: I Will Survive

Review of Solar Struggle: Survival on XBLIG: Buy
Stripped down to pure action, Solar Struggle: Survival proves sometimes you need nothing more.

When I first played Solar Struggle: Survival, I was a little off put by the seemingly limited control.  The game is a 3D space shooter but does not allow the ships to fly up or down.  After a few minutes of play however, I found moving on a 2D plane felt natural and removed the need to learn a complex 3D radar.

The game provides no setting or background story.  This is by design.  Solar Struggle: Survival is the spin off of Solar Struggle, a larger game involving a story and campaign mode.  I have not played Solar Struggle, so I cannot say if Survival is an improvement.  I can say that Struggle’s simplistic design and scope make it the idea arcade action game, the kind you just pick up and play.

The game is played in a series of waves, with most waves ending in a boss fight (the boss ships are literally titled “Boss Enemy”).  Experience is earned by destroying enemy ships and may be spent as currency on upgrades.  Boss enemies will drop new weapons.  The upgrade system is my favorite design element in Struggle.  At any point a click of the thumbstick opens a radial menu and access to upgrade weapons, shields, and the hull.  A few clicks to spend experience, then click the thumbstick again to get back to the action.  The experience is seamless and keeps the adrenaline rush of combat high.

Combat in Struggle is highly satisfying.  Waves bring on ever increasing numbers of hostile ships, setting up great kamikaze runs on enemy formations.  Aggressive play is rewarded, as long a healthy shield and hull budget is maintained, and I’ve found this to be my preferred play style.   Occasionally I will lead the enemy ships far away from the center, causing them to form a line as the chase me, then pull a hard 180 degree bank and charge the line head on, taking down as many as I can in a single pass.  A bonus system rewards taking down multiple ships but appears to reset when you get hit.  With my play style, I’ve never held a score multiplier long.

I must confess I’ve yet to beat the boss at the end of the 13th wave.  This is mostly because he uses my tactics, namely charge the other ship blasting all guns and missiles in a deadly game of space chicken.  I think I could take him out with mines, which can be dropped behind the ship, but for some crazy reason my ship’s auto turret gun will take out my own mines!  This is my one real complaint with the game.

Graphics, music and sound are good, but not great.  The enemy pilots frequently scream while dyeing and sometimes taunt the player, but this quickly becomes repetitive.  The 3D ship models are excellent but their beauty is hidden by poor lighting.  The game’s HUD highlights enemy ships, so the lighting issue doesn’t affect gameplay.

Solar Struggle: Survival is a must Buy for any space shooter fan.  The non-stop action is supplemented with an awards system and unlockable ship types that give reason to play the game multiple times.  The leaderboard is local only, and this is a game that would benefit from a global top scores list, but with Microsoft blocking Indie Games from real leaderboards I can’t fault a developer for not adding a peer based system.  Even without high score bragging features, Solar Struggle: Survival is a game I continue to enjoy.

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