Sol Survivor review – tower defense done right

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the carpet bomb.

Sol Survivor is a tower defense game.

For those not familiar with tower defense (since you’re reading this, I’m not sure how that’s actually possible), the mighty Wikipedia proclaims: The goal of tower defense games is to try to stop enemies from crossing a map by building towers which shoot at them as they pass. Enemies and towers usually have varied abilities, costs, and ability costs. When an enemy is defeated, the player earns money or points, which are used to buy or upgrade towers, or upgrade the number of money or points that are earned, or even upgrade the rate at which they upgrade.   …  this cycle often causes the player to enter a state of rapturous addiction, ignoring bathing, spouses, food and sleep.

Okay, that last addition was mine, I admit it.

It possibly flew under your radar, and if so, that is a shame – one that needs to be rectified. To be clear, it’s not just any tower defense game. It is one that offers variety, challenge, and achievements galore. It isn’t necessarily a complete break from the genre, but the sheer number of ways you can succeed at this game begs you to play it, over and over and over again.

It is also perhaps the most polished tower defense game I’ve ever played – the graphics, sound, effects, and UI are all top-notch. The obvious comparison here would be to Defense Grid which is in all respects, its equal.

So let me tell you about Sol Survivor.

Before I wax oh-so-poetically, have a gander at this video, showing the game in all its addictive glory.

Sol Survivor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. Steam tells me I’ve played Sol Survivor for 172 hours

I hope my wife doesn’t read this. I think she knows already, to be honest. And Steam doesn’t count the hours I’ve played on the XBLIG version, which I also bought. It rocks as much as the PC version, so whatever your platform, you really should buy this game. The reason I’ve played this game for more than any other on Steam is simply due to how incredibly addictive it is. I think we’ve all experienced this, either with something like Angry Birds or other Tower Defense games. For me, though, Sol Survivor simply adds to that base level of addiction with varied maps, co-op play, and truly different and varied characters to play with.

2. In Sol Survivor, I can call down (frickin’) lasers and roast my enemies

And if I lasers just don’t do it for me, I can firebomb the little f*ckers. Or perhaps I feel more like noxious gas. No problem. If things are really going sideways, the last resort is always the nuke. That’s covered here as well.

See, Sol Survivor features different commanders, each of which can place a variety of towers. Pretty standard stuff, except here, each commander has a different focus, with the towers they have access to. Some are area of effect gods. Some do damage over time. Some prefer to deal massive amounts of injury to a couple of creeps at once. And that variety is fantastic – repeating a mission with a different commander makes it an all-new puzzle that you have to solve.

So, calling down the lasers. Or firebombs… that is the other capability of your commanders. Each of the 10 commanders has access to a variety of the 19 different Orbital Support options. And it’s not just  for show either – you get massive bonuses for using upgrades throughout the mission.

3. The massive variety of gameplay styles and maps

There’s 4 different Multiplayer gameplay types alone, including Co-op. 20 different maps, with 3 different difficulty levels for each. And if that bores you, see how long you can last in Survival mode. Trust me, it’s hard.

The different maps are spread across 4 different planets, each with a different style of terrain, from ice to desert to lava.

4. I love me some achievements and the Steam cloud

This is probably why I bought both the Steam version and the Xbox 360 version. For each game, there’s a bunch of achievements for doing particular things, such as defeating a particular map using only one tower type. This in itself is addicting, as if the game wasn’t already bad enough. To add ice cream to this delicious pie, all your progress is saved to the Steam so don’t worry about backing up your saves so much.

Nothing gives me a fix quite as much as seeing that little achievement notification pop up.

5. Fabulous camera, UI and graphics

If you’re an FPS player, Sol Survivor probably isn’t going to make you a strategy gamer by wowing you with the graphics. But for a Tower Defense game, this is la creme de la creme. It looks awesome and runs great on almost all hardware.

The UI can be shrunk or enlarged to your preference. The cameras controls – on both PC and Xbox 360 – are smooth, simple, and functional, letting you get your nose right in the action or zoom way out to oversee the battlefield from on high. This is fabulous, especially when you’ve dropped a nuke and you want to watch the destruction. It simply draws you into the game that much more.

6. Subtle and beautifully layered soundtrack

I would call it eerie and ethereal. It suits the game to a T. You notice that it’s there, but it never grows wearisome or annoying. It’s just the right mixture of sci-fi and ambient to complement the gameplay. Kudos to the composer.

7. It’s got a built in encyclopedia!

This might not be your thing. I find it awesome. Basically, everything you uncover as you play – the creeps (enemies), new towers, new orbital support options, new Commanders, new gameplay modes – they’re all listed in the in-game encyclopedia with more information, listing their strengths, weaknesses and abilities. This makes my reference nerd very happy.

If I had to give Sol Survivor a score, I’d give it a 9 out of 10. The only complaint I could really levy against it is that I want more maps, more gameplay modes, more achievements. So I don’t really think that that counts as a knock against it, but since no game is perfect, a 9 it is.

Thank you, Cadenza Interactive, for helping me cheerfully give up 7 full days of my life to this game. It’s been wonderful.

And to those who might be wondering – I paid for Sol Survivor, twice. Yes, I’m gushing, but at least it’s sincere.

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