Suspense in a Martian mine: a review of the psychological indie game Fort Solis

By: Vladyslav Nuzhnov | 22.08.2023, 22:46

Fort Solis is a debut third-person psychological sci-fi thriller game by Fallen Leaf (supported by Black Drakkar Games). The game takes place on a remote mining station on Mars - Fort Solis. One day, the station sends out an alarm, and Jack, an ordinary engineer, decides to find out what happened there and goes to check it out. However, he has no idea what is actually waiting for him there. The game attracts the most attention with its star cast and visuals, which are created on the Unreal Engine 5.2 engine. But it is not quite the game that most gamers expect. Fort Solis is a walking simulator for 80% of the time, and not everyone will enjoy this kind of gameplay. However, the story of the game is so intriguing and immersive that after the final credits, you will experience various emotions in your head: from "wow" to "what was that all about?". And to understand whether it is worth buying the game, the editorial team of gg will tell you about all the main points of Fort Solis that you should know.

5 Reasons to Buy Fort Solis:

  • Star-studded cast led by Roger Clark and Troy Baker
  • Stunning visuals created on Unreal Engine 5.2
  • You want to play a cinematic game
  • You love meditative games that give you a feeling of solitude
  • You have long dreamed of visiting Mars

2 Reasons Not to Buy Fort Solis:

  • You are not ready to pay $25 for a 4-hour story
  • You don't like "walking simulators"

Quick jump:

Backstory: Why So Much Attention to the Game?

Despite the fact that Fallen Leaf is a debut game, it looked like it was created by one of the most experienced studios in the world (although, of course, they have people who have been creating games for a long time, but still). Gamers were immediately attracted by the fact that the main roles were played by Roger Clark and Troy Baker. The former played Arthur Morgan in the cult game Red Dead Redemption 2. Players often call Arthur one of the best male characters in video games. Troy Baker is known for many roles not only in games, but his main one is Joel Miller from The Last of Us series. All you need to know here is that the first The Last of Us was chosen by players as the best game of the last decade, and The Last of Us Part II is the first game to collect more than 300 Game of the Year awards. And players began to think that if such industry stars were involved in the debut project of a small studio, something big was in the works.

1) Troy Baker, who played Joel in TLoU; 2) Roger Clark, who played Arthur in RDR 2 (illustration: BBC)

The second point is that Fort Solis was created on Unreal Engine 5.2. There are not so many games released on this engine yet, so if developers mention UE 5 at least once, they will get their attention. And who among the players doesn't want to see what features are built into this engine? (Spoiler alert - big ones).

The developers have also actively told that they want to give players a "narrative experience that aims to tell a story through an interactive environment". In fact, Fort Solis is designed like a Netflix series with 4 episodes that can be completed in 1 evening. The developers were also inspired by projects such as Detroit: Become Human and The Quarry, where a lot of attention is paid to the story, as well as Dead Space. There is only one "but".

Fort Solis is not Dead Space or even The Callisto Protocol. This is a game that wants to tell a story first, so you will wander and explore every corner, sometimes getting distracted by puzzles and action scenes. Therefore, fans of dynamic gameplay or those who have been waiting for Dead Space 3.0 may not like the game at all. However, if you don't fall into either of the two categories and wander around Mars carefully and listen to all the dialogues, Fort Solis will give you an interesting gaming experience that really resembles a meditative Netflix series.

The first trailer of the game presented at Summer Game Fest 2022

If Arthur Morgan and Joel Miller met on Mars

Mars, 2080. Engineer Jack Leary, played here by Roger Clarke, and his assistant Jessica Appleton, played by Julia Brown, are carrying out repairs on a Mars facility when they receive an alarm from the Fort Solis station. Jack tries to contact the station twice, but receives no response. Jessica is alarmed, because someone has switched on the signal, but is unwilling or unable to answer? Jack becomes too curious to know what's going on, so he decides to go to the station in a giant jeep, which is used here to move around the planet.

Jack goes to the station

Jack quickly arrives at the station, but with the alarm, the quarantine protocol has been activated and now all doors and lifts are closed. The engineer has some trouble, but still gets inside the station, which, at first glance, is completely normal. You can't even tell that something is going on here, but that's for now. Jack begins to explore the station to get to know it, and at the same time keeps in touch with Jessica. Wandering through the corridors and rooms, the characters have a logical question: "Where is anyone?". Later, Jessica suggests that it would be good to find the medic Wyatt Taylor, and Troy Baker was cast as him.

Jack arrives at the station and doesn't know what awaits him yet

For about an hour, Jack wanders around the station, and during this time he finds audio and video diaries of the rest of the crew who live (or used to live) here. They describe what they are doing, their emotions, impressions, and experiences, but there is nothing disturbing about their messages. Jack and Jessica realise that the place where Wyatt is most likely to be is the medical department. And this is where the "surprises" begin. In one of the rooms, Jack finds a doctor's uniform covered in blood, but the doctor himself is not there. And with each step, there are more hints that something has clearly gone wrong. For example, Jack finds one of Wyatt's video diaries, where he initially says that everything is fine, but at the end he whispers and says that things are going badly. And when Jack gets to the medical department, he sees traces of fresh blood on the floor, and the atmosphere becomes more and more tense.

Heading to the medical department, Jack finds bloody things and Wyatt's disturbing message

The hero finds the dead body of the guard, and while he calms himself down, he reports to Jessica and examines the body. A few seconds later, Jack sees that someone or something in a closed suit has closed the door to the department and turned off the ventilation system. A tense and dynamic scene begins, where Jack tries to leave the department, because he left his helmet at the entrance to the station, and now he is simply suffocating. Of course, he manages to escape, but now he realises that he cannot leave the station. He needs to figure out what's going on here. At the same time, Jessica sends out a distress signal so that more people can come here, and preferably with weapons. And while they're on their way, the heroes will have to survive the longest night of their lives.

Jack finds the body of the guard, and then the story starts to pick up

For the next 3 hours, we'll have to explore the station even more, go through tense moments, save our lives, and understand what really happened at Fort Solis But we will be able to do this if we still survive until the morning.

In general, I liked the plot of the game. It keeps you in suspense all the time. I wouldn't call it horror, but you are always ready for anything. The story unfolds especially well in the last two episodes: 3 і 4. Here the puzzle starts to take shape, and now there is definitely no turning back, because you have gone too far with your detective skills and you need to end it.

And the final episode of the game is 10/10. In some places, I really sat with my mouth open, because the game accelerates you, accelerates you, and then flies at a speed of 200 kilometres, and you were not ready for this.

So if you value story over gameplay in games, and you also want the plot to resemble a space psychological detective story, you will like Fort Solis. And I hope to see a continuation of this story someday, because the game seems to hint that this is far from the end.

Charismatic Characters with Star Voices

This story would not have turned out so atmospheric if it weren't for the actors. Roger Clarke has made Jack a character whose emotional state is constantly changing. At first, it seems that he is a naive uncle who is calmly travelling to a station. At first, he jokes, actively discusses something, and in general, what problems can such a person have? But then Jack starts to panic, scream, and curse everything. In the end, Jack, played by Clarke, conveys his emotions so well that you feel for this character and want to believe to the last that he will succeed, that he will survive. You always want to play as such a character, he helps to immerse you in the events of the game with his real emotions and not let you go.

Jack Leary

But my favourite of this story is Wyatt, played by Baker. He's like the Joker in The Dark Knight. He was given the least screen time among the main characters, but he leads the way in this tense dance. He is the only one who decides what happens next and how everyone moves here. At the beginning, he is an ordinary doctor who is not very memorable. But then... All these emotions, experiences, tears, notes of madness. As always, Baker is unique. In 2023 at The Game Awards, he should definitely be nominated for Best Performance.

Wyatt Taylor

I would also like to mention Julia Brown, who gave her voice to Jessica Appleton. This character was the least talked about before the release, but she also did a great job. Her character is so stubborn that she will go to the final goal to the very end. She is worried about Jack. You can feel that they are close friends, and even if she starts to joke, you realise that these jokes hide the fear of losing someone close to her. And just like with the other characters, at the right moment she becomes emotional and also enhances the events on the screen. It is still a mystery to me how the developers managed to invite all these actors to their debut game, but this trio tried so hard to give this story such emotions that gamers will remember the plot for a long time.

Jessica Appleton

There are 5 other secondary characters. We will see and hear them only in audio and video diaries. Their main task is to help the player unravel the mystery of the station. We will see less of them on the screen, more of them, but everyone copes with their role. At first, they are all so calm and talk about everything, but later their mood changes a lot and you even start to worry a little about some of them, thinking about how their fate turned out and believing that you will meet at least one of them alive.

All 5 secondary characters. From left to right: Adam, Oscar, Nick, Helen, Asim

Is There Life on Mars?

The world of the game turned out to be contrasting. On the one hand, we have a game that gives you a feeling of loneliness. Especially in the second half. You wander through the empty corridors of the station looking for something, but find only your echo. If you leave the station and find yourself "outside", the situation only gets worse. On the surface of Mars, you'll find only a storm, through which you can barely see your hands, and somewhere in the distance you can see huge buildings where the best scientists tried to explore something and make a world breakthrough.

The entire Fort Solis base

But, paradoxical as it may sound now, the world of the game feels alive. You believe that people lived here. If you go to any cabin, it doesn't feel empty. Some people have sports posters hanging up, some have amassed their own small library during their stay, and some have left a Rubik's Cube on the table without putting it together. If you look into the warehouses, you'll see that they are full of food, water and clothes. In addition to the cabins, laboratories, and corridors, there is also a lounge with billiards, darts, and poker cards on the table.

The lounge where the whole crew used to have fun

And here the developers did not lie. The story is really told through an interactive environment. Most of the items can be picked up and twisted to better understand the history of this world. For example, you can find several flowerpots that were given to the crew by Helen, as she was responsible for the garden. And some of the flowerpots even have motivational stickers from Helen herself, who wanted to encourage her friends.

Most of the items here can be interacted with. This allows you to give the player an immersive experience when the locations do not feel empty

The game is not going to tell you what happened here. It offers to do it for you. After going around all the rooms, examining every object, you will understand everything (or most things) yourself. And for me, it was an interesting gaming experience, because you want to discover absolutely everything to put the story together yourself. I didn't even notice how I got the "Explore all locations" trophy. The game world is so interesting here. The main thing is not to get caught up in the story, because then it will be difficult to follow the next events.

Exploring the crew's cabins, you can understand what they were interested in in life and what brought them pleasure

How to Play the Game?

You will have to walk a lot. This is what the main gameplay is based on. The developers wanted to create an experience that tells a story. They felt that more traditional game mechanics would interfere with the narrative, themes, tone, and pace they were working to maintain. That's why Fort Solis doesn't have weapons, enemies, or anything else like what we're used to in mystery space games. Is this a good thing? Probably yes. The developers of The Callisto Protocol have already tried to make their own Dead Space analogue, but the 5 points from players on Metacritic shows that no miracle has happened. Games should offer something new and interesting. Sure, a shooter in space would appeal to a much wider audience, but haven't we seen that before? But a meditative exploration of a station where there is only you and hundreds of questions in your head is something more interesting. If you've played a conventional Call of Duty before Fort Solis, the game may seem uninteresting. So try to play other "slow" games before you start to prepare yourself.

But what a cinematic walkthrough it is. There is practically no interface in the game. There is only a special device on your hand where you can open the map, read messages and watch videos - that's it. There are no health, stamina, or other indicators that most of us are used to. This, again, creates an immersive experience when you see your character, location, and nothing else on the screen. However, banal fermentation would have bored me as well, but Fallen Leaf found a way to keep the player interested.

1) An analogue of a smartphone on the hero's hand, where you can open the map and read or view records; 2) The only interface element in the game is a minimalist spot that shows what you can interact with

Explore Every Corner, Every Room, Everything You See

As mentioned above, the game has enough objects to interact with, so it is interesting to touch everything that is here, because it often reveals the plot. For example, there are blue SD cards with short audio diaries of the crew. There is also a computer in the cabins and some of the rooms with its own analogue of the post office, where people corresponded with each other. The most interesting thing here is the video diaries. Usually, there are 1-2 videos on one computer, each lasting about a minute, where someone from the crew says something.

The most memorable videos are the ones where someone can cry, scream, ask to go back to Earth because they can't stand what's happening on Mars anymore. Sometimes you can find notes, they also give a better understanding of the situation on the station.

1) Computers where you can watch the video diary; 2) The ability to view the mail of one of the crew; 3) After activating the SD card, you can listen to the audio

There are 122 such items in total, but they are very easy to collect. If you carefully explore the locations and look in all the doors, you will collect almost all of them. I collected 121 items and lost only one video diary somewhere. This is the first time I have collected so many extra items without the help of YouTube. That's why the developers have done their best to make sure that you can easily collect all the evidence and crew messages.

All collected items can then be viewed in the main menu in the "extra" section.

There are also collectibles. There will be 21 posters at the station. They are not difficult to collect. I managed to find all of them, and it was almost no problem. I just had to look carefully in a dark corridor once, and another one was in an open area where there was a hurricane all the time. The main thing is that the developers do not "strangle" you with collecting items. 21 posters is a little more than 5 pieces per episode. And 122 crew recordings are no harder to collect than posters. After all, one computer can have 5 messages, 3 videos, and one audio recording. And this is the kind of collecting I like in games, because you don't have to collect items for the sake of another trophy. You collect them because it's the main element of the game, which was organically added here.

Collectible posters

Puzzles and QTEs to Make It More Fun

Sometimes the game will offer you small puzzles. In order to get to a certain location, you need a resolution level or a battery. At the beginning, we have 0 resolution level, and the maximum is 5. So you have to think about how to get other resolution levels or find a battery, but there is nothing super complicated. Very rarely will you come across a locked safe. There will be a code somewhere on the location that needs to be found and activated. This is a task for attentiveness only. But there will be only one full-fledged puzzle - towards the end of the game. You'll have to think a bit to understand how it should work. I would have added 2-3 more full-fledged puzzles for more variety, but it's good that the game has something else to do besides that.

The only puzzle in the game where you need to think seriously is to reboot certain servers in the room correctly

During the action scenes, there are QTE moments when you need to press buttons quickly. And these scenes immediately raise your adrenaline level. You walk around, and a second later you have to press the buttons to speed up to avoid dying. Most of these moments will be at the end, but I would like to see them throughout the game, because it adds the most variety to the gameplay of Fort Solis. Here's one of the moments when you need to press the buttons on time.

Optimisation, Visuals, and Audio

I played the game on PlayStation 5, and there were some minor issues with the optimisation. In open locations, the fps would occasionally drop from time to time. And given that the first location in the game is open, you start to think that it will be like that until the end. But fortunately, the game maintains a stable 60 frames indoors. The only thing is that the fps dropped the most before the game's finale in one of the rooms in the botanical garden. It feels like there were only 20 frames, but it was an isolated incident. Although the first day's update should fix these issues, and the game will keep 60 fps everywhere.

On PS5, the game runs in two modes: quality (30 fps and improved graphics) and performance (60 fps and slightly worse graphics)

The developers should also pay attention to textures that live in their own dimension. There are some bugs with them, and it is impossible not to notice it. There were not many such moments, but still, it is better to fix it before the release.

In one of the rooms, the texture on the board simply did not load

Incredibly Beautiful Mars and Attention to Small Details

If we put aside the problems with some textures, the visuals of Fort Solis are one of the game's strongest points. Every object is detailed, and you want to look at everything. I especially liked the way the characters' costumes were made. All these belts, carbines, tools on the belt, a helmet with various small details deserve special praise. The surface of Mars is also well done. You can see all the traces of transport, and if you look at the lamps, you can see the dust better and there are plenty of such small details. And it was all created by a small team. That's why the graphics are even more impressive. In the right hands, Unreal Engine 5.2 can really produce a realistic, exciting and cinematic picture.

Detailed costume of the main character

Although the variety of locations is not great, but, as we have already mentioned more than once, there is always something to see. The surface of Mars is especially well done. It is both fascinating and frightening with its silence and mystery.

Mysterious Mars and the stations that are hidden on it

Audio That Enhances the Tense Atmosphere of the Game

There are no problems with the audio in the game at all. The developers also paid attention to details. For example, when the hero walks, the carbines knock against him from time to time, and this creates a characteristic sound. When you pass through any automated door, there is also a sound. They even recorded the sound of a Rubik's cube being turned. And all the time, tense melodies play in the background, which do not let you forget that you are investigating a mysterious case involving disappearances and deaths.

There are not many songs here, but it is worth mentioning the main one. The song "If You Let Me" was written specifically for the game by Polish singer Mary Komasa, and it sounds at the moment that is most memorable in your head, which only enhances the emotions of the game.

What We Did Not Like

There is only one serious drawback in the game - poorly implemented map navigation. By pressing R1, we get a map that shows all the rooms and corridors that connect them. There is even a yellow indicator on this map that shows our location, but there are a few nuances. The yellow indicator does not always accurately show our location. I had a situation when the indicator showed that I was far from the target, I walked a few metres and my indicator was right next to the destination. How does this work? Perhaps this bug will be fixed after the release, but it was confusing. Or it could show me that I was walking along one corridor, but in fact it was a completely different one, and I ended up in the wrong place.

Also, Fort Solis is divided into several levels, and when the game asks you to go down conditional corridor A, it can be on the third level, and you are on the second level, and here it would be nice for the game to hint that you should go down or up. Since we have a game with a minimal interface, it is not necessary to plot a route, as is done in open-world games. I just want the map to be honest and show me the exact location and indicate which station level I need - that would be more than enough. In general, it would be even fun if the map's poor navigation was explained by the fact that there is enemy EW on Mars (electronic warfare - editor's note).

The map in the game is implemented as a separate application on the hero's bracelet

But most of the problems with navigation arise on the surface of Mars, especially for the first time when you do not yet know the location of the buildings. It would be nice if the developers added the ability to display a marker on the screen if you are looking for your target for a long time. For example, Sony did this in The Last of Us, and it helped a lot. Otherwise, if you're ready to play a project where you mostly have to walk, there are no serious drawbacks.

The ability to turn on navigation in TLoU II if you can't find your way around a location for a long time. Such a feature would be useful in Fort Solis when you wander for a few minutes and don't know where to go next

5 Things Know About Fort Solis

  • Fort Solis is a psychological thriller created in the style of a TV series
  • The game has only 4 episodes, and you can easily complete it in an evening
  • The star cast gives this story even more emotions
  • Unreal Engine 5.2 will make you examine every object of the station
  • The developers have created an immersive experience that immerses you in the world of the game and motivates you to fully explore it
Fort Solis
Genre Sci-fi psychological thriller
Platforms PlayStation 5, PC
Number of players Single-player
Developer Fallen Leaf, Black Drakkar Games
Publisher Dear Villagers
Time to complete 3-5 hours
Release date August 22, 2023

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The editors would like to thank Plan of Attack PR agency for kindly providing the game for review