If the previous game is any indication, then Red Solstice 2: Survivors probably won’t spend too much time on exposition, despite its rather complicated backstory. Even a gameplay preview presentation headed by developer Ironward’s CEO Hrvoje Horvatek spent little time talking about the sci-fi world, preferring instead to get straight into the action, which includes both real-time strategy elements and time-based resource management. But for background’s sake, the short version is that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, forcing everyone to live on Mars, which is still generally inhospitable due to botched terraforming efforts. Oh, and there’s a rampant mutagenic plague that turned large swaths of the inhabitants into zombies and giant monsters called the STROL. Without a cure, the only reasonable response to this threat is to load up on firepower and blast every last STROL to smithereens.
The playable Red Solstice 2 demo isn’t much different about skipping a lot of exposition. You play as the Executor, a cybernetically enhanced commander who leads the effort against the killer mutant hordes. Players are dropped straight onto the alien world, where they have to explore darkened hallways and fend off creatures that shamble in from all directions. That gets players used to the controls, which might be a bit awkward for those who are used to using the right mouse button to handle both attacking and movement. A zombie got a few good bites out of me before I finally realized that right-clicking was for movement only and the left mouse button fired my gun.
The lesson didn’t come a moment too soon. After blasting my way through some enemies and picking up as much loot as I could find, I made my way to the evacuation site for pickup. Soon after leaving the surface, an orbital laser turned Tharsis, the largest colony on Mars, into a giant glowing crater. That’s about when EMMA, an artificial intelligence, invited me to make myself at home on a ship that would become my mobile command center. In short, Mars is a mess and players need to assemble a skilled cleanup crew.
Class role call
The gameplay presentation began with a quick introduction to Red Solstice 2’s six classes, which generally differ in how they deliver bullets to incoming monsters. In single-player mode, commanders have direct control over the Executor’s actions and can use a variety of different weapons and gadgets, given they have enough ammunition and inventory space. Meanwhile, accompanying squadmates act as AI-controlled followers who have just enough autonomy to riddle enemies with bullets, but will otherwise need players to issue orders to them. Deciding which soldier classes best complement a player’s style and loadout can be critical to completing mission objectives without being overrun by mutant hordes.
For starters, the Assault class is the most well-rounded as the expert in frontline combat. They’re typically used to secure territory and clear perimeters using a range of weapons such as assault rifles and flamethrowers. Next are the Medics, which might be the most important class since they heal injuries, remove debuffs, and revive fallen squad members using a fleet of drones.
The Heavy support class is pretty much as straightforward as it gets. Heavies carry heavy chain guns and can be outfitted with even more guns, including a backpack-mounted turret with independent targeting. These guys could probably clear an entire wave of enemies on their own if they didn’t quickly burn through tons of ammunition. Just about as destructive is the Demolition class. As its name suggests, this soldier tosses mines all over the battlefield like candy in between firing rockets and mortars from gigantic launchers. Demolitionists are especially useful for dealing with large and heavily armored enemies, and can expose hidden foes by blowing up their cover.
Then there’s the Marksman, who usually hangs out in the back with a powerful long-range sniper rifle that can pierce through lines of oncoming enemies big or small. Marksmen are also able to scan the environment for threats and turn on cloaking to remain hidden until it’s time to strike.
Lastly, the Recon class is all about stealth and survival. Where the Marksman usually stays in one position while cloaked, Recon soldiers can walk right past a horde without being noticed. They can also create explosive decoys to draw enemies away before wiping them out. Deployable drones also allow them to retrieve ammunition and resources from nearby loot boxes even while the rest of the squad is engaged in battle. But perhaps the most useful skill is the devastating airstrike which is able to vaporize mutant hordes.
Forming a killer squad
Similar to games like XCOM, players must gather resources, expand regional influence, and develop new technologies to equip their squad while leveling up the soldiers. Players are also free to choose which missions they want to take, usually at the cost of skipping another. Pressing the ship’s scan button both searches for nearby opportunities and advances time needed for technological research and construction. Another factor to consider is a persistent storm that makes its way across Mars. If the potential rewards are high enough, it can be worth risking a drop while the storm is at its peak, which significantly changes the landscape and slows down movement. Otherwise, players might decide to wait things out.
Once you’ve chosen a mission, you can spend resources to increase the challenge in the hopes of picking up greater rewards. Options include increasing the number of enemy waves that will attack while you’re busy trying to get into buildings in search of resources and ammo. Most of those resources will go towards researching and building new gear for your soldiers as they level up, which is critical for taking on bigger threats later on. You can change the loadout and skills of each squad before sending them out on missions in addition to customizing their armor colors for easier identification.
The action picks up almost as soon as your squad hits the ground. My character hadn’t taken three steps before a mutant came running at them, and things quickly ramped up from there. Fortunately, you can assign characters to be on constant overwatch and they’ll automatically shoot small enemies with pinpoint precision while traveling. This can unintentionally make Red Solstice 2 feel like it’s on autopilot, especially when the team is hunkered down behind cover, which confers damage bonuses. However, the automation makes sense when more followers are involved. Giving soldiers autonomy, in addition to holding down Alt to slow down time, gives players time to take in the battlefield and issue commands. AI-controlled followers can also be ordered to loot nearby chests, even in the middle of battle, and they’ll bring its contents to the Executor for immediate use.
I was on my way to recruit my first follower when I made the mistake of busting down the door of an abandoned facility. Inside was a huge STROL nest that came bursting out. After that, it was pretty much a trial by fire as I rushed toward my teammate’s waypoint while walking backward and spraying shotgun pellets at the oncoming horde and conveniently located explosive red barrels. After eventually running low on ammo and health stims, I was able to break through the door leading to her location. We were then able to use the entrance as a chokepoint to fend off the flood of mutants before having to deal with several more waves of enemies before we could move on and pick up more soldiers.
I learned the hard way that the best way to play Red Solstice 2 is with a heavily-armed squad. I didn’t have an opportunity to fully appreciate their individual skills outside of the medic. I’m guessing that at this early stage of the game, it’s less about making strategic use of each class and more about pumping out as many bullets as you can.
You can never have enough bullets
Each map is procedurally generated, so no two missions should be exactly the same. This also means that players will have to check their maps often as they’re walking to keep an eye out for different choke points. It’s also important to know your surroundings, because things can very easily go horribly wrong, forcing players to make a hasty retreat before they’re completely overwhelmed. You might even run into a giant horde while looking for an escape route.
During the gameplay presentation, Horvatek explained that it’s far better to make a run for the evacuation point and leave with only a few tasks complete than to die. Dying means that you lose precious resources while escaping means that you receive fewer and lower quality rewards than if you accomplished all the mission objectives.
It might also help to have a few friends at your side. Red Solstice 2’s entire campaign can be played solo or in 8-player co-op. Not that these AI followers are slouches, but sometimes it’s good to have some human company. Horvatek suggested that multiplayer games should have a designated leader to keep things organized, which to me seems like something easier said than done when playing with people you don’t know.
One of the missions includes escorting a military convoy on behalf of one of Mars’ corporations. The benefit of having corporate overlords in the Red Solstice universe is that practically all of them are armed to the teeth. You’d think that having a multi-turreted tank in the lead of your convoy might make accompanying foot soldiers a little unnecessary, but whatever. Unsurprisingly, sticking close to the tank makes short work of the oncoming waves of mutants. In return, your squad clears away derelict cars and other debris blocking the way. You can even bring up the map, complete with the convoy’s path, to get a head start. The faster you finish the mission the bigger the rewards, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight trip from point A to B.
Ordering a unit to stand in the way of the tank halts the convoy, and it can be stopped indefinitely as you search nearby buildings for loot. It also gives units that have fallen behind a chance to catch up. Whether or not it’s a good idea to stop in the middle of hostile territory is up to you. Enemies flow in from all directions, and you’ll eventually need the tank to take on the larger enemies toward the end.
Later on, the convoy becomes disabled and players will have to make a stand against multiple enemy waves. This is where players have a chance to make full use of the different character classes and throw everything they’ve got at the hostile waves, including shooting giant monsters in the head with a sniper rifle and calling in a devastating air bombardment.
That’s just the start of the game. It’s hard to know where the game can go from there, but it’ll be exciting to find out when Red Solstice 2: Survivors launches on Steam June 17, 2021.