I always enjoy taking some time to sit down and play indie titles or watch indie movies. They offer such a fresh experience from what is continuously try to forced upon us by the more prominent companies, and it is refreshing to try something that I’ve not played a billion times before. The recent XBLA indie title SOLAR ANNIHILATION definitely falls into this refreshing category – it’s a simple game, but one that is a lot of fun to play.
I ask everyone to first imagine the game of Asteroids, that classic 2D arcade game that had you sitting alone in space as large, dangerous hunks of rock attempted to smash you. You controlled a tiny ship, bent on your survival as you blew these meteors away and skirted around the screen just trying to live. Now that you have that image, let’s expand it a bit. SOLAR ANNIHILATION is set up similarly to that for a starting basis – you take control of a ship in space and are able to fly around to all corners of a sandbox galaxy (no more wrapping around, this is the 2010’s damnit!). You’ll dodge some asteroids, but the bigger menace will be the enemy ships and battlecrusiers ready to take you down in an instant. As you play, you’ll be able to upgrade your ship and add companions to help you out as you struggle to fight back the encroaching enemy fleets.
The game focuses on your efforts to prevent the encroaching enemy forces from taking over and you’ll be doing anything from simple recon and flying around the galaxy to shooting down battlecruisers and collecting resources to keep the effort moving along. Each mission takes place on the same giant, sandbox galaxy. From here, you’re allowed to pretty much fly anywhere you’d like. With the help of the hyperdrive upgrade, it can make those longer trips (it’s a pretty big map) a lot shorter and much more bearable. Progressing through the levels brings more difficult challenges for you to face as well – defending your starbase from waves of enemies was actually a tough prospect, especially so once I ran out of bombs. In total there are 18 missions to play through, each with their unique flair right up until the end, which is a blast.
I spent a majority of my time in the mission mode and enjoyed it. I didn’t necessarily enjoy dying as much as I did, but with how easy games are nowadays it was fun to die a lot and restart levels. It grounded me a bit I think and made me try harder at actually winning. I went so far as to even time my attacks when it came to dogfighting multiple opponents so I could maximize my effectiveness and not get blown to smithereens.
The game also supports an “Instant Action” mode which pits you against endless waves much like the starbase defense mission I described above. It scores you based on well you do and it’s not a bad attraction away from the main game. Granted, it’s the “horde mode” that we all know very well, but it is a fun (and even difficult) change of pace in a game that is so easy to die. There are also upgrades available for you to purchase using points gained from missions and the instant action mode. There aren’t many upgrades, but they do help within the game; one upgrade being the ability to build an armada of your own and growing it with more and more points you put into those specific upgrades.
Graphically the game is what it is – fairly simple, but in that simplicity it still looks fantastic. The giant floating sun the game is centered around is bright and well detailed, while the planets are fun to watch as they float by. Your ship, while not so incredibly detailed, it still stands out nicely against the darkness of space behind you. There’s some neat music that goes well with a game of this caliber too, but nothing that stands out.
I do have some minor faults with the game, one being that it’s far, far too easy to die. It’s so easy that even your friendly ships can shoot you down, which was a terribly nice surprise right in the middle of that huge fight to save the starbase. I also think there could have been more upgrades for the ship – there are only a set amount. While you can keep “upgrading” your companions to have more and more, there are just so few actual upgrades for yourself – 3. And more bombs please! Bombs were the fastest (and practically only) way to destroy some of the larger enemies – without more it became a chore to take down just 1. It became a pain when there were multiple ones to blow up.
Beyond those though I did enjoy the game. It’s got the indie charm, and aside from the minor drawbacks I listed, reddeathgames did a great job on this indie title and for a price of only 80 points I definitely recommend people pick it up. It’s got enough missions and a nice side activity to keep you interested, and it’s fun to play to boot.Note: Solar Annihilation was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.