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New gamebook with high expectations
Sol Invictus is the sequel to gamebook Heavy Metal Thunder and does a similarly great job of immersing you in its setting while driving forward the story – right up until it runs into a brick wall, that is.
If you were ever into those make-your-own-adventure books as a kid (or big kid) then gamebooks are something you should really check out. Reading to a carefully crafted audio track is brilliantly immersive, and the way the story’s direction changes rather than having you outright fail is refreshing to say the least.
As a book, Sol Invictus is an enjoyable read for sci-fi fans, but it’s not a particularly challenging one. This is so it appeals to a wider audience, and honestly, it’s worth putting up with a few clunky phrases in exchange for audio and great artwork. Perhaps, in the future, this is the direction some publishing houses will choose to go, allowing for big-budget gamebooks and interactive stories.
One thing to stress is that the language is far from kid-friendly and so is the content. It’s very descriptive of violence – which may be fine for a lot of people, but it’s probably a title to exclude for Family Sharing.
On to the game part, it has some great systems at play. You really feel like the skills you choose lead to something. Picking a character with ‘Xenology’, ‘Computers’ and ‘Flying (light craft)’ eventually leads you to things like commandeering alien vessels. Choices like these are great and really make the player feel like they’re in the driver’s seat in the story, even if it is going in the same direction regardless.
Usually, at the end of a page of text, there is a multiple-choice question asking what Cromulus (your character) will do or say.
The problem is the dice-rolling and combat elements – which is exactly where Heavy Metal Thunder fell down as well. The first thing you need to consider is player input, and how it can affect the result. Sol Invictus has this little ‘mini-game’ in which you tap two dice that are rolling in what is basically a slot machine deciding whether or not your character dies.
Often, there aren’t checkpoints just before combat sequences, so you have to rewind, select the same options again and pray for a better result. The worst part about it is that at one point, even when the combat was successful, a bug meant that we were met with the following message:
‘You are dead. Retry?’
All the player wants to do is read the next chunk of text and pick a direction to take the story, while this game of pure chance just feels like an unnecessary barrier; a brick wall to continually smack your head against. The obvious argument to this is that the player should make sure to spend all their money and skill points on combat, but then you don’t get to pick any skills you actually want. Yes, you could go through the game as a meat-head with a shotgun. But then again, why would you? If it’s completely up to chance, you’re bound to eventually succeed without combat stats anyway. The system just doesn’t work for this kind of experience.
Frequent crashes occurred in odd places, like trying to purchase food in the ‘Second interval’ chapter. This inexplicably closed the app completely. Though there’s an autosave function, it did break the immersion.
Sol Invictus has a decent narrative, and is packed with great artwork and audio tracks. Sadly it’s difficult to recommend, unless you like someone tearing your book in half and placing the second piece in a locked cabinet.
Price: $0.99 / £0.79
Size: 168 MB
Platform: iOS Universal
Developer: Cubus Games
- Great story
- Stylish artwork and audio
- Few clunky phrases
- Too chance-based