The Enigma of Solaris

by jkj yuio

Science Fiction

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Number of Ratings: 10
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- EJ, January 27, 2024

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short sci fi game, January 27, 2024
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game reminded me of the first Star Trek movie in many ways.

It's a Strand game, a system that's been in development for some time. This game uses 3d-art custom made by the author, much of it quite good, especially the character art.

The game itself is short, with a nice core concept but somewhat rushed-feeling prose, kind of like a tech demo. I almost felt like this was a way to show off the Strand engine more than a stand alone story, as there's not a lot of time to get to know the characters before the big ending.

Overall, there are a lot of strong parts here, but it could have benefitted from more people, more places, more things, and more time for the plot to develop.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Artificial AI, December 24, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

This is a short choice-select story about saving a threatened space station and perhaps the ground population beneath it. It is attractively, liberally illustrated. I find myself increasingly preoccupied with the “is this human or AI?” question when I encounter this style of art these days, and I hate it. The question I mean. On the one hand, enabling artistic expression for everyone, including all-thumbs illustrators like me, is a powerful creative tool. On the other, the massive-scale corporate theft necessary to feed it is despicable. In this case, the art was in fact NOT AI-generated, sidestepping that particular concern for another day.

Though if the artist had been AI, at least here it’s kind of thematic?

The setup is you are a commando engineer, called to fix an injured space station. The presentation is reasonably good, illustrations wrapped by text with choices at the bottom. I liked the darkening of old text as a way to emphasize the new, though the illustrations more often than not provided sufficient break that it wasn’t really necessary. The choices on offer are sufficient to make progress, if a bit constrained. The blocking is a bit weird though, you have a full exploration cycle before encountering the ship’s boss?

The story itself ramps quickly from ‘well, what’s going on?’ to ‘ok, dire decision to make!’ I think the story kind of sabotaged itself on two fronts though. For one, nearly the entire plot, certainly the player’s main conundrum, is completely exposed (Spoiler - click to show)in the blurb! Before the player has started playing! That’s some spoiler-Inception there BTW, spoiler-blurring some spoiler spoilers!

The second way it sabotaged itself was with the writing - it pretty routinely telegraphs its intentions in advance of the narrative in a way that both jars and dilutes whatever surprises might be coming. It applies an urgency to your work, before the need for urgency is uncovered. An NPC (unprompted!) alludes to a difficult choice long before any such choice is apparent. Even the text pacing is off - after some scene setting we get some observations by the protagonist, followed by a REsummary of the setting and setup! It is a jittery focus - from macro to micro back to macro.

There are other choices that jar in the moment - stilted, unnatural dialogue, choices being forced when there are clearly other options possible - that latter maybe ultimately gets some measure of justification? The question mark is because it is not clear that the narrative recognizes these things NEED justification or not. It is possible I am doing more work than the narrative there! Anyway, you make your choice then things proceed to an ending with a reveal that is interesting but also kind of confounding on its mechanics. All in all, the text consistently put me just off my center enough that it never crested beyond a Mechanical exercise for me.

Played: 10/16/23
Playtime: 15min, finished

Artistic/Technical ratings: Mechanical, Mostly Seamless after bugfix
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience seems complete. Well half complete, but complete enough.

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Approached as a very short game, December 20, 2023
by Denk
Related reviews: Strand

Ok, I am obviously an outlier here, though five people gave this game 8 or 9 during IFComp. However, I did not play this game during IFComp. Instead I found it as an entry in the Short Game Showcase 2023.

So I expected a very short sci-fi game, which it was. It delivered a very smooth experience on my phone and I was in the mood for a short and simple but yet interesting game. Sure, there are no puzzles but I liked the story and the user interface and graphics were great. There is a sort of moral choice at one point and the ending was interesting.

I think this showcases the Strand engine well for choice based games, which still seems to take into account location based gameplay though I am not sure. However, I do know it can be used for parser games as well.

In general, I rate games based on what I feel when I complete the game as I believe in subjective ratings as enjoyment, being impressed etc. is all about feelings which are always subjective. The game gave me very much what I was looking for at that particular time and I enjoyed it a lot.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, talky golden-age sci-fi, December 4, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

I grew up reading Golden Age sci-fi, and for all that even at the time I recognized its corniness, I still have a big soft spot for that kind of thing. As a result, while I can’t tell whether or not the opening of The Enigma of Solaris is intentionally camp, I loved it all the same:

”Agent Grey,” the colonel announced, his voice carrying the weight of gravitas that only a military man of his rank could muster, “we have a situation on Solaris.”

Grey leaned in, her senses alert to every word. “The Solaris, sir?”

(The use of “muster” so close to “colonel” is an argument for intentional silliness, it occurs to me).

If you guessed that this is immediately followed by some exposition where the characters explain to each other things they already know perfectly well, points to you. It’s a formula, but it’s one that’s not presently overused in IF, and like I said I’ve got some affection for it, so after the briefing established the situation (research station mysteriously losing power, go investigate and save the day), I was ready for adventure.

Things get a bit more serious when you arrive at the station, and the early sequence of poking around to gather clues is pretty engaging. But this turns out to be quite a short game, and what initially seemed like it was going to be a high-tech investigation quickly turned into an extended NPC interaction sequence with few if any choices for the player to make. Said NPC is another sci-fi caricature – he’s a scientist who’s lost perspective on the risks of his research – but trying to reason with someone like that isn’t particularly fun, and the eventual reveal of what’s going on on the station struck me as a bit underwhelming.

While the prose never loses its over-the-top charm, I couldn’t help but wish that the plot matched that tone rather than staying relatively grounded, and I wished too that there was a little more for the player to do. This partially could be due to the extreme concision of the game – it’s really maybe 10 minutes at most – so I could understand it if the author didn’t feel like it was worth fleshing out too much. A game that took this same basic approach but which had more robust gameplay and leaned further into the far-out elements of its inspirations could be a lot of fun, but as it stands, there’s just not that much to the Enigma of Solaris.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Just pull the plug…, November 22, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

The Enigma of Solaris is a short interactive game set on the Solaris station, where you must find the reason for the power loss threatening the lives of its inhabitant, fighting any hurdles along the way. It can be played as a choice-based or (limited) parser. There seemed to only be one ending.

The story was reminiscent of those old pulp sci-fi stories, with the strive for advancement at the cost of human life, and the hubris of it all. The game is not afraid to go at full speed into those tropes, which makes it a bit comical (in a good way). The visual characterisation of the NPC add a bit of creepyness to the situation, with it’s uncanny valley-esque vibe.

Though I quite enjoy bite-sized games, this one felt somewhat incomplete - as if a whole part of the story or a different angle to it was missing. Starting strong with multiple options to explore the station, interact with different elements, and diagnosing the issue, the player sees its agency disappear by the second half of the game - railroaded towards the ending, with not even the illusion of being able to make a choice.

I think it could have made the ending a bit more satisfying if you had a final choice between fulfilling the mission to save lives or being persuaded to take a path of higher purpose just before the end. Maybe even a bit more choice in conversation with the second NPC.

There was also a bit of friction with the engine used, with the image messing a bit with the placement of the text (if they were more to the side, it would be nicer), or the longer portions of the text forcing you to scroll up and down to read the new bits.

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- nilac, November 20, 2023

- jaclynhyde, November 16, 2023

- Edo, November 6, 2023

- Sobol (Russia), November 5, 2023

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