Review: Red Solstice 2: Survivors pits players against zombie hordes and confusing design decisions

These survivors can’t quite find life on Mars.

Image via Ironward

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In Red Solstice 2: Survivors, Mars has gone to hell. Weird alien zombies shuffle across the surface and are desperate to try and remove you from your slick power armor. The game follows a similar premise to 2015’s The Red Solstice, which was also about trying to stop large hordes of zombie aliens from killing. 

What Red Solstice 2: Survivors does differently is adopt elements of XCOM in an attempt to add some depth and interest to the campaign. Players take on the role of the Executor, an armored warrior in charge of attempting to wrestle control of Mars from the alien hordes. You will be deciding where to attack and when, which weapons to research, and who gets to risk their life against the tentacles and claws of the xenos.

You’ll be building bases, recruiting new bodies, and generally being large and in charge on the battlefield, but unfortunately, this is where it starts to fall apart. 

Strife on Mars

Image via Ironward

Red Solstice 2: Survivors is filled with baffling decisions that don’t make a huge amount of sense. Chief among them is the way that campaign combat works. You control the Executor and can use weapons, abilities, and items that you pick up during missions, but what you can’t do is really control your other squadmates. You can have up to the three AI characters with you, but they will pretty much just follow you around, auto-aiming at enemies and using their abilities when they feel they should. 

It is jarring to have 75% of the units on screen not really needing any input from you to get the job done. It’s also a shame that they just do not take direct commands very well, often ignoring the movement inputs in favor of whatever the AI decides it wants to do.

Sadly, trapped in RS2:S’s combat is the ghost of a far more fun system, where you can hot-swap between all the characters with full access to their inventories and abilities. This would be great, a true strategic challenge and test of a player’s Actions Per Minute that would be really worth diving into. Unfortunately, combat becomes quite samey over time, with no real surprises and little in the way of nuance. You funnel enemies in and let the AI cut them down. 

Another area the game tends to fall down is simple explanations on what to do and when. As mentioned, the game pulls in a world map very similar to that found in XCOM. The problem is that the developers seem to have assumed you will have played enough XCOM to just know how it all works and what you should do. The game will give you a message telling you that a certain type of research is available, but it fails to give you any clues as to how to actually perform it. It never really explains what scanning does or why you should care, and it leaves other important systems a mystery. 

Multiplayer madness

Image via Ironward

Red Solstice 2 is really aiming to be a multiplayer experience. You can have up to eight people load into the match, each controlling their own soldiers and doing their part in the fight between the forces of humanity and the weird minions of Mars. Just like the original game, the multiplayer is where the fun really is, and the game is reasonably self-aware on this, as it includes Discord links so that you can easily hook up with other groups of people that are playing. 

A standout area of the game is the sheer variety of enemies that you will end up battling over the course of the game. When it comes to mutans, it is always disappointing when a game doesn’t really deliver on the general premise of mutation. Thankfully, Red Solstice 2: Survivors delivers a wide variety of twisted, shambling, and multi-limbed monsters for you to take on. 

Mission layouts are, sadly, a bit of an issue, designed to keep groups of friends on their toes in multiplayer mode rather than provide smooth experiences in singleplayer. There can be a lot of wandering around the map, chasing exclamation marks to finish up missions. The game can also struggle to relay the urgency of any particular mission, side mission, or World Map option, and this is perhaps the game’s biggest downfall. Without that sense of urgency, there is little reason to buy into the idea of threat, and this is somewhat compounded by the game’s “just let them die” approach to your team. 

As long as your Executor is alive, then all is well, and your fellow characters are seen as entirely disposable. This robs the narrative and campaign of any real sense of gravitas, and the idea that you are trying to save Mars for anyone other than yourself never really comes into it. 

The verdict

As a fan of the first game, I cannot lie, the execution of Red Solstice 2: Survivors is disappointing. The game looks and runs great, much better than the original, but it is just lacking in all the areas where I really wanted it to excel. Truthfully, there is a lot here to entertain fans of the original, but there is also a lot that might just let you down unless you have enough friends who are into the game to stack a multiplayer lobby with. 

A large part of me really hopes this ends up being another Brigador, a game that had all the pieces when it launched but just need to polish them up and rearrange them a little bit to really make the whole thing shine. 

It feels necessary to talk about Red Solstice 2: Survivors as two different games — an inferior singleplayer product and the superior multiplayer product — and then have potential buyers make their choice based on who they will be playing with. 

As more of a single-player guy, I really do hope that Red Solstice 2: Survivors can get the polish that it needs to turn it into the game that Ironward are clearly capable of making. 

Final score:

6 / 10

+ The game looks and runs great, offering a slick if grimdark world to explore
+ Moment to moment combat is fun overall, if undercut somewhat by a lack of complete and deep control of units
+ The obvious design of the game around multiplayer means that it is the superior way to play
Sadly, that same focus means that the singleplayer mode suffers
The game is sorely lacking in explanation and direction for a lot of the campaign systems
Disclosure: This review was written using a game code provided by the publisher.