A strategy game Solargene, dedicated to the colonization of the solar system in the near future, (mid-21st century), was released in early access on February 1, 2022. The game is described as a colony simulator with minimal game conventions, the developer promises a reliable simulation of physical conditions on planets, space flights, the movement of planets and satellites themselves. Was it possible to combine such a reliable simulation with an interesting gameplay? Well, let’s find out.
“Clothes make the man”
The first thing that catches the eye when getting acquainted with the game is its main menu. The camera takes incredibly beautiful angles, flies around all the planets of the solar system, which itself adjusts to the desired order. In developing the graphic component of their game, the author used footage and materials obtained by real space agencies. The resulting game views of the solar system itself, the surfaces of its planets and satellites are so similar to the real ones that it is simply astounding.
Unfortunately, there is something in graphics that can be considered as disadvantages. The unequivocal disadvantage is simply the incredible “graininess” of the picture, from which the eyes are very tired. Things are a little more complicated with the system of changing light and dark cycles (which, of course, occur in accordance with the rotation of planets and their movement in orbits). In the absence of a significant number of light sources, local nights are imperceptibly dark, which is, of course, realistic, but very tiring for the eyes.
The visual design of the elements of the colony is also awesome: technical buildings, structural elements, decorative elements, furniture, workstations – everything looks exactly as if it was invented and built in the middle of the XXI century. On the one hand, the technologies of the first third of the century, already surrounding us, are unmistakably recognized, on the other hand, they managed to give a certain element of futurism and sophistication. Summing up, we can confidently state that visually the game is mainly delightful.
Construction and development
Construction in Solargene can be divided into planetary and orbital. The system of construction on planets and satellites allows to realize very bold fantasies: buildings are erected in blocks, each of which can be assigned a certain purpose. The blocks themselves can be combined with each other almost without restrictions. As a result, it is possible to erect buildings of a very complex shape and with a large number of stages.
There is also space for creativity inside the rooms. The placement of furniture and objects is quite free, there are a great number of “decorative” structures that turn the rooms of the player’s base into extremely believable, as if created for a high-quality high-budget sci-fi film.
The functional elements of the base are pleasing with their elaboration and logic: for any object in the game, it is easy to find some real prototype or at least understand the principle of its operation. Whether it’s bioreactors that process biological waste into methane, smelters that purify ore, or assembly lines for complex materials, everything looks appropriate and authentic.
The second level of construction is orbital. You can create space stations and ships in it. The peculiarity of inhabited orbital structures is that to simulate gravity, it is necessary to use centrifugal force. To accommodate people for a long period of time, it is necessary to create special rotating sections on stations and ships.
The modules available for stations and ships do not differ much from those for planetary bases. The author of these lines did not find any limits for orbital construction, so over time it is possible for a small research station to grow to an entire orbital city!
The construction of spaceships deserves special attention. As you know, the weight of a ship is critical for space travel. The higher the weight, the more fuel will be required to make the flight. Thus, the construction of ships in Solargene requires a relentless search for a trade-off between the mass of the ship represented by the payload and, in fact, the mass of the structure itself, the mass of fuel and the ability of the engines to create thrust that disperses the ship. A simple example: the more cargo you want to take with you, the heavier the ship and the more fuel you will need. Fuel, in turn, also has a mass. Upon reaching a certain mass of the ship, the engines may simply not be able to disperse it enough for an interplanetary flight.
The colonization mechanics of Solargene includes establishing a colony on a celestial body and delivering colonists and materials, which in some cases is a very non-trivial task. Interplanetary flights take into account the location of the planets relative to each other, so sending the ship at a suboptimal time is either extremely difficult or impossible.
Advancing through the technological tree, of course, will make interplanetary flights somewhat easier, after the discovery of new types of efficient engines. But even the most advanced technologies in the game will not make it possible to ignore the laws of physics. Scientific discoveries give not only quantitative, but also qualitative increments for colonies, ships and stations: air recirculation, effective hydroponics, hydrogen fuel and so on will open. It is worth noting that the structure of the scientific tree itself in the game for a person who more or less follows scientific discoveries is of particular interest. At its very beginning, it presents already existing technologies that require more practical refinement for their mass use, but as new branches of the tree are opened, technologies become more and more complex, without departing from what is recognized in modern science at least at the level of theory (with the exception of anti-gravity and jumping engine).
Solargene is absolutely fascinating in the first hours of gameplay. At first, it seems that finally came out the “same,” the perfect simulator of colonies. However, unfortunately, the game represents in its current state rather an alpha version of the “same”. The more hours spent in the game, the more obvious its numerous shortcomings, flaws and simply mistakes become.
First, the user interface. This is one of the worst interfaces seen by the author of this review over the years. If at first it seems that the sub-menus falling out of the sub-menus are intended to give more subtle control over the development of the colony and the construction in it, then after a while they begin to cause only irritation. On the second ten hours it is no longer easy to force even to start some new construction, remembering how many clicks need to be made to simply lay the foundation for the future base. Interplanetary flights in terms of their direct controllability are absolutely horrible. The ship’s menu provides information about the so-called “Delta-v” (the ability of the ship to change speed), thrust, mass… but there is absolutely no clue about how these parameters will allow the ship to make a flight! “Delta-v”, equal to 25 m/s with a thrust of 1200 kN, is sufficient for a flight to Mars? Enough only for the start? Fundamentally insufficient?…
Secondly, the colonists stuck. Yeah, a lot of colony simulators have that problem. But in Solargene, it is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and widespread. The game does not highlight the “points of interaction” of the colonists with the objects of the base, and the intuitive reading of their location by the player is not always correct. For example, colonists will fundamentally not be able to use benches placed in a line, because interaction with them is carried out on the side, about which the player learns far not immediately. Hungry colonists can easily ignore free tables. Tired colonists may not reach the beds. Going to the workplace, a colonist can turn around and go about his business. Problems with pathfinding exponentially increase as the number of colonists increases. The large colonies are akin to the Brownian movement. The colonists chaotically rush through the base, doing work and meeting their needs rather accidentally than purposefully. Oh yes, each of the colonists will need to set up a resting bed manually. To each of the potential hundreds (!) colonists.
Third, the camera. If it is still possible to control it in the planetary construction mode (although, for example, in the case of multi-storey buildings, it is extremely difficult), then it begins to behave disgustingly in orbit. It “sticks” to unnecessary objects, makes some stumps when trying to aim at rotating sections, refuses to move away or approach, is blocked in any direction.
Fourthly, mistakes and shortcomings. Some mechanics in the game simply do not work. Colonists, for example, do not get the status of hungry in the presence of dry rations, the number of which does not decrease over time. Liquid fuel generators either do not operate or do not consume fuel. The maximum acceleration of time is constantly interrupted by reports of the emergence of another commodity crisis, which prohibits the purchase of rice on Earth, which is already grown in huge quantities in colonies. Moreover, even at the maximum acceleration of time in the game, the ship’s journey to Mars takes several real hours. Resource balance is missing as a phenomenon. Fuel for thermonuclear engines is hundreds of times more expensive and complex than primitive rocket fuel, hence, thermonuclear engines should be significantly more efficient, but the difference in efficiency is quite difficult to detect primarily due to the above problems with the informativity of the interface. Experiencing the superiority of thermonuclear engines is also difficult – it is not clear what share in the expanded capabilities of interplanetary flights will be played by new engines, rather than, for example, the best choice of the start window. That may be very useful in other matters. It is not a matter of education.
Solargene is a potentially great game. Unfortunately, it came out into early access in a solid alpha state. The author’s idea is very well traced – to create a realistic simulator of the colonization of the solar system, where different planets will extract different resources, there will be trade between them, transport communication will provide specially designed ships, on some planets there will be huge cities, on others – small mining settlements… The frame of this structure has already been created and looks excellent. The implementation of private game aspects still leaves much to be desired, much better. The Strategycon team will follow the project with the hope that after a while it will unlock its potential in all its glory.
What I like
- realism, scientific reliability;
- large scale;
- good prospects for future developing.
What I dislike
- terrible interface;
- a lot of problems with significant number of game mechanics;
Played: 36 hours.
Game: provided for free by developer.