The popularity of space simulators throughout the ’90s seems rather baffling in retrospect. Every title whether it be Wing Commander or the incalculable simulators based on Stars Wars all boiled down to the exact same experience: floating slowly through space and attempting to get a bead on enemy spacecrafts while they continually allude your crosshair, zipping right along the galaxy as your rig can barely keep up with the movement, almost as if you were flying in a tub of molasses instead of deep space. SOL: Exodus attempts to recapture the glory days of the space sim, back before first-person shooters and MMOs dominated the PC landscape.
SOL: Exodus tells a story of humanity taking to the stars to avoid certain doom as the sun threatens to extinguish all life on Earth. Humanity has split into two factions: one looking for a new home, and the other a group of religious zealots convinced that Earth must be destroyed. The two inevitably clash, setting the stage for what should an epic dogfight for humanity’s future.
Exposition is delivered through flat voice-acting with static portraits of the cast, all of whom are completely interchangeable and serve no real purpose. By far the most annoying aspect of these scenes is how they cannot be skipped and play over once the player has failed a mission. The story is largely inconsequential in light of the action, which is supposed to be the main selling point.
Ships can be piloted by mouse, keyboard, or joystick and all work pretty well. Your ship has the standard array of weaponry—machine guns and missiles that lock on targets, though cycling through a group of enemies to find the one closest can sometimes be a pain. One of the oversights of the control system is there’s no way to switch to a third-person perspective, which limits the ability for players to gauge where their vessel is in comparison to the enemies’. Being stuck in first-
person makes trying to target enemies feel sluggish and unresponsive.
Targeting enemies is pretty much what SOL: Exodus boils down to. That and the occasional bad hacking mini-game that pops up now and then. Enemies typically need to be taken down before they destroy a high-priority target, although once in a while it’ll just be enemies by themselves. There’s very little else that differentiates SOL: Exodus from the hundreds of arcade-y flight sims that have come before it.
Very rarely does the action in SOL: Exodus feel like real dogfighting in space. More often than not enemies will largely ignore the player, taking the odd potshot. They mainly focus on their assigned target, spending most of their time dodging instead of fighting, making these encounters no more exhilarating than trying to swat a particularly bothersome fly.
Throughout the eight-mission campaign, there’s little variance between levels. Players are tossed from one nondescript quadrant of the galaxy to the next, destroying countless waves of samey enemies in the process. It’s unfortunate that there are no checkpoints or mid-mission saves, so if the mission is failed it has to be started over from the very beginning, thus artificially-lengthening the campaign.
With that said, SOL: Exodus covers all of what is expected from a flight game: thrusters, a handful of weapons, a halfhearted upgrade system, targeting, etc. The graphics are mediocre, but serviceable, although there’s an unsatisfying lack of weight and impact whenever something gets blown up or crashed into. Also, it’s difficult to get too upset with the game’s lack of originality when it comes with such a cheap pricetag.
Those going into SOL: Exodus should be warned that it’s a thoroughly average space shooter that doesn’t innovate and is going to deliver a boilerplate experience. Everything expected from the genre is there with no twists or surprises awaiting prospective players. There’s really not much that can be said about SOL: Exodus that hasn’t been said a hundred times before back when space sims were popular. It’s a repetitive space sim that fails to differentiate itself from its predecessors, and in the end fails to rekindle any affinity for those pining for the glory days of the flight simulator.