NEED TO KNOW
WHAT IS IT? An action adventure skating hybrid from the creators of Hyper Light Drifter
EXPECT TO PAY £28.80
DEVELOPER Heart Machine
PUBLISHER Annapurna Interactive
REVIEWED ON 64-Bit Windows 7, Nvidia GeForce GTX-970, Intel i7-4790K, 16GB RAM
Style and substance feel opposed in Solar Ash, Heart Machine’s follow-up to the acclaimed Hyper Light Drifter. It has an abundance of the former but a vacuum where the latter should be. Visual novelty and slickness keep it skating along but it never manages to fill that void, no matter how many outlandish set pieces, stylish transitions and beautiful landscapes it conjures.
You play as Rei, a ‘voidrunner’ who plunges herself into a blackhole to activate a MacGuffin called the ‘Starseed’ which we’re told can save her planet, which is currently caught in the singularity’s grasp. Inside this black hole is a dreamlike landscape rendered in soft clouds and goopy surfaces, all of it in bold colours. This is the ‘ultravoid’ as the game calls it. It’s delightfully tactile, with Rei plunging into the candyfloss-like hills as she lands, or pulls some of the sticky mass behind her as she jumps. Even the collectibles, plasma, are rendered as blobs of liquid. The world feels ephemeral, as if it’s doomed to be washed away. It’s a palpable mood, enhanced by sheer scale and verticality – a world of massive planetoids suspended in space, clinging to each other via clouds or thin rails.
If the world feels ‘wet’ then so too does movement, with inertia carrying you through slips and slides as you skate. Chain the skates with grinding on rails and eventually the game does allow you some serious momentum. Picking up speed to throw yourself over the crest of a hill or round a corner, lashing out at enemies on the go, is where the game comes alive. In those moments Solar Ash captures a roller-coaster energy, letting you barrel across alien landscapes with confidence. Anyone who’s done any skating in real life, especially on ice, will appreciate how much it captures that particular exhilaration, even if it’s far more easily earned.
New areas slowly get bigger and much more open, so as your skill grows so do the playgrounds that are available to you. Some personal favourites were an area of floating shipwrecks and a spooky fungal biome where rails for grinding can be summoned with spores. Not every area feels as fleshed out, but those that have that extra novelty to them kept a smile on my face.
As wonderful as moving through the world is, though, what you’re tasked with doing is much duller. Each area follows the exact same structure: find and destroy a few obstacles in each area to summon the boss, then attack the bosses’ telegraphed weak points so you can hit it in the eye, and then do that two more times. Then it’s onto the next area to do it all over again.
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