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Solar 2, a new and interesting space-sim look-alike from developer Murudai, blends the feel of open space sims with shoot-em-up style gameplay and movement to make a truly unique game. It starts you out in an endless universe. Not as a spaceship, not as a god beckoning planets to your will, but as an asteroid. A small, uninteresting asteroid. The progression of the game comes from building your asteroid up to a planet by crashing into other asteroids, then going from planet to star, then from star to star system, and to the eventual fate of becoming a black hole.
The progression is rather interesting, as once you get to the planet stage, you are to absorb asteroids by carefully coaxing them to orbit around you before pressing a button to eat them up. The rest of the game, or at least most of it, revolves around this secondary mechanic. Eventually you become a star (or a set of stars) that have planets revolving around you, that you both nurture to life, and absorb for more power. This creates interesting challenges, as you must grow the planets by having asteroids orbit them and absorb them, but avoid catching them in your own gravity field and colliding with you for a quick death.
The physics in Solar 2 are simple but amazing. They do a good job of making you feel like if you get too close to something larger you may collide with it by accident and make you use finesse with which to capture your smaller prey. There’s also a strategy element where planets will grow life on them after certain points, and they will shoot at enemies if they get too close. Entire wars can break out if you’re not careful, and oftentimes you may end up on the losing end of them.
Generally, you can build yourself up pretty well, but there will always be something procedurally generated to be stronger. Missions also factor into this, which are available at any time, but are rarely able to be completed until you’ve amassed a considerable star system. The only irritation that I had was that friendly ships will simply crash into you shortly after spawning if you’re moving too quickly in space, which can be cumbersome when you need to save up the big powerful ships. The missions also add a ‘story’ to the overarching universe, which ends up putting you through some crazy stuff before the end. There’s various cheats you can unlock, named “God Options,” and some physics tweaks you can enact, but there are also achievements for beating the entire game without using any of these. Definitely a tall order.
The sound design in Solar 2 is well done, with excellent ambient music playing during your floaty voyage, and plenty of contextual sound effects that let you know when things are happening. From when a planet picks up an asteroid to when something collides with something else, messing with the physics, or when a planet erupts into a star, everything is well communicated using the limited HUD. My only problem is with that exact action. When a planet orbiting your star(s) becomes a star, it completely rearranges the orbit pattern and shape of your solar system. While sometimes this happens effortlessly and smoothly, many times I found that the rearranging motion caused many (and one time, all) of my planets to simply collide with one another and either rocket outward into space or smash directly into a star, damaging it and destroying the planet. While I’m sure this wasn’t completely unintentional, there’s no apparent way to easily track a planet’s size without viewing them individually, which can become a pain when you have the maximum allowed.
Gripes and nit-picks aside, Solar 2 is an amazing indie game that allows for hours of wide-eyed, slack-jawed fun. It does a lot of things very well and very right, and ends up adding a very addicting progression that kept me coming back to play it several times before I ended up writing this review. It’s really a great product, and if you enjoy outer space sims, god games, shoot-em-ups, or just top-down adventure games in general, it’s not any of those things at all, but you may find you’ll love it anyway. It's currently available for PC, with a slightly different version as an Xbox Live Indie game.