Red Solstice 2: Survivors is the third instalment by Ironward on their Red Solstice franchise. It should be noted that I’ve barely spent any time with the first game, so I went into this sequel pretty much like a new player to the series. Still, although this sequel seems to be much superior to its predecessor in every single way, it, unfortunately, suffers from a lot of problems, but we’ll get to those in due time.
Red Solstice 2: Survivors takes place during a rampant STROL virus infestation on Mars. That’s the same virus that wiped out all life on Earth. Now it has made its way to Mars, thus bringing Humanity to the brink of extinction. Players take on the role of the Executor, a cybernetic soldier that acts as the commander of The Cell, the active military force that’s fighting off the STROL plague on Mars.
Much like its forerunner, Red Solstice 2: Survivors stays faithful to its inspirations, by delivering a solid real-time tactical experience. It may look like a twin-stick shooter, but I can assure you that it plays nothing like that. Instead, the game focuses on delivering a slower and much more methodical gameplay loop. Instead of raw action, it focuses on thoughtful planning and teamwork. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do in theory. The reality is, things don’t always go according to plan.
In terms of gameplay and controls, Red Solstice 2 is actually much closer to something like an RTS, rather than a twin-stick shooter. However, the key point here is that you control a single unit. The mouse is used for telling your character where to go and to manually aim. In any case, there’s also an Overwatch mode that is essentially aimbot. With this enabled, you’ll automatically shoot at any enemy that comes within range until they’re dead. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to using both methods of shooting. Therefore, it’s up to the player to find when’s the right moment to switch from one to the other. Likewise, you can also lock the camera to your character or freely move it around. In general, movement, shooting, and inventory management are extremely intuitive.
The game offers two different game modes, Campaign and Skirmish, with varying difficulty levels and up to 8-player co-op thanks to online multiplayer. There is also the option to play the Campaign solo, with 3 AI-controlled companions. With that said, don’t ask me why these bots don’t work in Skirmish, personally, I just can’t make sense of it. Nonetheless, Campaign and Skirmish are two very different experiences. In Skirmish, missions are much longer than in the Campaign, usually ranging between 40 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, the Campaign focuses not only on telling the story about how the STROL virus is decimating Mars, but it also features a strategic layer.
If you’re familiar with the newer XCOMs, then you’ll quickly get a grasp of it. Essentially, it’s your typical planetary campaign, you’ll slowly expand throughout Mars, develop your mobile base, research new technologies, manufacture new weapons and items, and then choose to take on a myriad of main story and side missions. This all happens while the virus is spreading, which you can fight by continuously completing missions. It’s not an innovative concept, but it’s a concept that works really well. Furthermore, this implementation fits exceptionally well in this universe and with the gameplay loop of Red Solstice 2.
With that said, although much shorter than the side missions, the main story missions are a lot better paced than the rest. The side missions are a slog to play, mostly because you’ll find yourself having to run back and forth on a huge map. It just feels like they serve to artificially stretch the length of the game. It also doesn’t help that there’s isn’t that much in terms of mission and objective variety. Actually, side missions even have side objectives within them, but the game doesn’t make it clear what rewards you get for completing these. There’s only so many civilian rescues, convoy escorts and search & destroy missions that you can do before it starts to feel tiring.
Furthermore, despite featuring huge maps, there isn’t much incentive to go out and explore after the point where you get what you need to complete the mission. If you complete the mission with your inventory full of items, then these will just be lost. There’s no way for you to take them back to base and use them in future missions.
Now, one of the biggest problems with Red Solstice 2 is its progression system and how bad of a job the game does in explaining it to players. It’s extremely confusing. Honestly, it took me a while to fully understand it. I even had to read about it on the forums, but even then I still couldn’t fully comprehend it. With that in mind, I’ll be concise. First and foremost, if you’re going to hop into someone’s Campaign lobby, you might get spoiled, as the game doesn’t take how far you’ve progressed in your campaign into account. Having said that, when you play on someone else’s campaign, you’re only gaining experience and levelling your profile. To progress in your campaign, you have to host your own lobby. Meanwhile, since Skirmish is its own thing and consists of random missions, everyone progresses equally when playing there.
However, the problem with the way things are structured, as I’ve just described, boils down to the profile system. Each player only has one profile, which acts as your account rank and levels up as you play the game. In turn, as you level up you gain points that allow you to unlock new stat bonuses, new weapons, new classes, and so on. The thing is, when you’re playing your campaign, you can only see part of your profile, with the rest of it only being accessible when you’re in Skirmish. Still, there are only a few things that are shared between Campaign and Skirmish. For example, weapon and class unlocks don’t work in your Campaign, because you unlock them by researching them. However, they work when you’re playing some else’s Campaign or when you’re in Skirmish mode. By reading this, it may all sound simple, but the fact is that the game doesn’t tell you any of this. The game just presents itself to you, and you have to make sense of how it actually works.
In spite of all that, the fact is that the game can be quite entertaining. There are 6 classes that you can play with, and you can customize pretty much everything about them. The game not only allows you to change how they look and their weapons, but also their passive and active abilities, as well as other minor stat boosts. When you combine this with a decent array of weapons and gadgets at your disposal during missions, plus a potential team of 8 all working together, you have the recipe for a whole lot of frantic action. Having to face constant and unrelenting waves of mutants as you make your way through each mission can become something trivial when you have the right tools for the job. There are proximity mines, gas pipelines, artillery strikes, tactical nukes, nitrogen grenades, chain explosives, stimulants and many other items that you can find stashed throughout each map.
Red Solstice 2: Survivors would’ve been a terrific game if its only problem was how poorly it conveys information to players, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. For example, although having AI-controlled teammates will surely please players who are looking for a solo experience, unfortunately, they aren’t that great. I’ve had issues with companions refusing to move or follow me, despite me ordering them to. They also aren’t that smart, as they’ll always stay next to something that’s about to explode other than run away from it. Despite all that, the most annoying thing about them is that they don’t recognize when you’ve placed a trap to capture mutants (which can give you permanent stat bonuses). In such cases, they’ll just continuously keep killing everything that comes within range. It’s incredibly annoying, and nigh impossible, for a solo player to capture mutants. There’s also the issue that you can’t manage the bots’ inventory, which plays a huge role during multiplayer, as resource management is a bit part of the gameplay.
Some of the problems that bots have are probably just bugs, but unfortunately, the game also has plenty of those. For example, the camera lock doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, but other times it simply focuses the camera on my character but it doesn’t latch to it. I also can’t reliably drop items from my inventory. When I try to do so, my camera will incessantly move in a random direction instead of staying in place. I’ve also had times where, for no apparent reason, I’d just be unable to shoot and use items for the rest of the mission. This last one was undoubtedly the most egregious bug that I’ve experienced because you just lose the ability to do anything. These are just a few bugs, the ones that I experienced. If you take a quick look at the bug reporting section in the Steam forums, you can see plenty of other bugs that other people are experiencing. Needless to say, this hasn’t been the smoothest and most stable of game launches.
At the end of the day, even though I enjoy the gameplay loop of Red Solstice 2, it can quickly start to feel repetitive. There is very little variety in terms of missions and objectives, and the fact that a bug can completely ruin an entire mission is just too much to bear. I’m sure that a lot of people will enjoy the game and attempt to unlock everything there is to unlock, but others will surely get tired of it rather quickly. Overall, Red Solstice 2 is a good game, but woefully, it’s rough around the edges. It isn’t very welcoming, it can be extremely confusing, and people who play it solo will have a very different experience from those who stick to multiplayer.
I currently only have about 12 hours in the game, but I’m well aware that this is the kind of game that you can keep playing for hundreds of hours. With that said, whether it’s fun or not, it’s somewhat of a gamble. I enjoy playing it, but given all the issues that I’ve mentioned, I find it hard to recommend at the moment. You might want to give it some time to get to see if at least some of its issues get fixed. Red Solstice 2: Survivors has some really neat ideas, but given all the bugs and how bad the game explains itself to players, it just isn’t always a fun experience.