The sub-genre of action tactics strategy gaming has great potential. It can help create tension in an ever-changing and evolving real time environment, while also emphasizing teamwork to solve the unknown. Ironward's refined sequel to Red Solstice 2 Survivors is it able to energize the action-tactic sub-genre with its refined sequel?
Red Solstice 2 combines action tactics and real-time gameplay. Cell is an elite special-operations unit that players will command (a la XCOM). It fights against the virulent STROL viruses on Mars.
The concept is fascinating and the voice acting excellent, but the characters and narrative aren't memorable.
Graphically, this game is a significant improvement over the original. It features smoother textures and a better audio design, especially for the weapon sounds. There are certain sections where the environment is too quiet or insufficient, making the game feel dull and uninspired. However, this is rare.
Ironward decided to merge the two modes unlike most strategy games, which often have single-player and multi-player. This merging can be best seen in the campaign's dropin co-op system. Here, players can invite others or open missions for the public. Other players can then replace AI followers with their own avatars. It's possible to play single-player, multiplayer or both and still avoid their interconnectedness.
Single-player will allow players to gather resources and research technologies. This system is almost identical in design to XCOM's single-player offering. However, it's a system that works since there's always something.
The strategic layer is not without its problems. In a game where there are many activities at once, it is a major oversight to not have a clear system of time control to allow players to pause, assess the situation, then act. While it does appear that the game automatically pauses when players move away from the World Map, it is not sufficient to make up the difference for the lack of a simple play/pause.
The second issue with the strategic layer's mission information is that in order to check it after it's appeared, players must waste valuable in-game game time flying to the site to get more details. This is extremely frustrating, as many side missions require time. Therefore, flying around the map to find the right task is a waste of time and a nonsensical waste of time. It's even more odd that when a missions first appears, the game automatically pauses and the players receive a mission menu for them to view regardless of their current position on the map.
The core of the game is tactical missions. Players can deploy their avatar and allied Marines (AI or Human) and complete objectives. There's a good variety of primary and randomly spawning second objectives. Additionally, players can loot the battlefield to find more equipment and ammo in the lockers and boxes scattered around each map. There is a lot of opportunity for teamwork and coordination. Players also have the option to find creative solutions on-the-spot to tackle increasingly more difficult challenges.
Another highlight is the enemy variety. The mission features an absurdly large number of mutants. These include slow-moving, stealthy, and swift assassin types as well as giant burrowing worms. The bestiary contains so many enemy types it borders upon being pointlessly granular. It can sometimes feel like padding. The enemy variety can be a boon to the moment-to-moment gameplay. Players will need to adjust to any new tactical situation and adapt to the new enemies that appear.
Drop-in coop and individual mission can be divided into the multiplayer mode. Drop-in coop is a way for random players or friends to join in on single-player missions. But only the campaign's hosts will progress through the story. Everyone else gains XP. A player can also create their own missions independently of the campaign. It's a simple and flexible system. Players can also join live servers halfway through missions.
Both single-player as well multiplayer are intertwined. Multiplayer has a semi shared progression system where upgrades made in single player can be transferred to multiplayer. Although rank gain and experience points are completely shared, large areas of weapon unlocks as well as class-specific items and weapons remain separate. This means that you can always have a better experience playing either one or the other mode without needing to go backward in your progress.
Talking about unlocks and rank, there are many available. This includes new classes and weapons, as well as buffs. But there are not many cosmetics. There is enough content to satisfy a range of playstyles and augment existing builds.
Another interesting feature of the progression system, apart from completing more missions to earn more experience points, players will have to complete mission specific challenges in order to gain new ranks. This encourages players and teams to work together to everyone's advantage.
Red Solstice 2 is not a consistent experience. Although single-player and multiplayer integration sound great on paper, the design principles of these modes are extremely contradictory. The multiplayer component of Red Solstice 2 is clearly intended for multiplayer play. This leaves the single player lacking and poorly balanced. It also makes it difficult to determine the value of the single-player experience. Map design and AI companions are the two areas where single-players suffer most. They can cascade into smaller design issues, but they are still quite prevalent.
There are two options for tactical map design in terms of story mission maps or side mission maps. These story mission maps can be small to average in size. They are well-paced and have good multiplayer potential.
Side missions maps are enormous (and can also be used to perform non-campaign multi-player missions). They were clearly designed to serve as a playground and allow for lengthy, multi-stage multiplayer matches. However, single-player is not able to make the most of these maps. The long sections of walking around to the objective are interrupted by short firefights.
It's unlikely that objectives will spawn so players can just drop in and complete the mission quickly. Players will need to travel great distances to get to the objectives. These side missions are a long, tedious, repetitive task that players will have to complete. While multiplayer is great because you can play with just one friend, any activity will be more enjoyable. But, Red Solstice 2 has its own challenges, and it can be difficult to find friends, especially when playing with randoms. It is also disappointing that there are not many voice chat options and the chat system is very basic.
Red Solstice 2's inconsistency or poor communication of information to the players is another major problem. Ironic given that both soldier loadouts or the in-game archives provide lots of information (and stat breakdowns) and are a great example of so many words without ever being used.
You can see this in the absence of a tutorial on how to use the AI Follower Command System, lack of information about dynamic in-mission secondary objective, and very little explanation regarding the progression system. A tutorial on squad commands further reduces the reason to play solo.
While you are completing your main objective, which can be divided into multiple stages, secondary objectives may occasionally appear to add to the challenge. But, the game doesn’t show the consequences of completing side objectives. This is especially true for the single-player campaign.
It is surprising to find that even though the game is small, the options menu is very comprehensive. The AI squadmate pathfinding works fine, but they will get caught on outcroppings, or take odd paths. It doesn't hurt the gameplay.
The game ran smoothly. Anyone who meets the recommended specs, or lower, should be capable of running the game without too many problems. I did not encounter any crashes. I only encountered a bug during a story mission in which I needed to defend the location. The enemy hordes I spawned were unable to do anything and just sat around, doing nothing.
Red Solstice 2 Survivors: A Game of Actions is a good attempt at the sub-genre of action tactics. However, the game's design is not perfect. It has fundamental conflicts with how it intertwines multiplayer and single-player. Red Solstice 2 is similar to Radio Commander. It felt like the design concept and execution were in conflict. Red Solstice 2 can feel like an inconsistent game due to these design issues. It is not recommended for people who want to play together.