I think I was possibly the only person to find NASA’s release of color pictures of the planet Mercury depressing, which made explaining the feeling I got rather difficult. I love astronomy, the obscenely massive distances involved, the stars, the stellar phenomenon and the possibility that at that very moment, billions of light years away, someone somewhere is also looking up at the same night sky as me. So, yeah, maybe I found it a little depressing when I saw the pictures of Mercury. Because, see, we waited YEARS for that damn satellite to get into position to take those color pictures. And as it turns out, Mercury is pretty gray anyway so the whole thing was a stupendous waste of time.
What really got me was the planet itself. Mercury has not had an easy time of it. Pock marked and battered by radiation, the planet itself is an absolute hell. Life can never exist there. All of that space available on Mercury, and none of it will do a damn bit of good. A few hundred thousand miles closer to the sun, and that could have been us. Mercury is the universe’s way of giving us the finger and reminding us just how little we matter, all things considered.
And then I picked up Solar 2 on Steam, which helped me to regain some of my optimism about the workings of the universe, but not before scaring the crap out of me and bringing up some weird questions about the nature of things.
The premise of Solar 2 is actually a lot like Feeding Frenzy. What, you don’t know what that is? I thought everyone who was ever bored with an internet connection knew what that was. Basically, in Feeding Fenzy at least, you are a fish. By eating other fish you can grow larger and eat BIGGER fish, until the point where you’re basically death incarnate in the seas. There wasn’t a lot of substance to Feeding Frenzy, but it did help to whittle away hours spent locked behind a desk.
In Solar 2, you start as an asteroid. One single, lonely rock in the infinite cosmos. At this stage in the game, your goal is to run into other meteors and absorb their mass, becoming bigger and eventually turning into a planet, that wonderful harbor of life.
But you’re not entirely alone. God is with you. Literally. In Solar 2, God actually resembles a Space Invader more than a divine entity, though honestly we only see his face at the bottom of the screen while he’s giving us hints. “Go, explore,” God says to you. “And when you’re done with that I’ll have some MISSIONS for you.”
The missions available to you depend on what you are at the time. As a meteor you’ll be given tasks like obliterating a planet full of dinosaurs. As a planet, you’ll have to travel long distances without running into meteors. Honestly, these missions weren’t all that compelling and you don’t really GET anything for them, so for the most part I just ignored them. The real draw here is the upper left of the screen, which tells you what the next stage in your evolution is. Growing larger and absorbing the universe? I’m in.
As a planet, you’ll need to wrangle meteors into orbit and absorb them int0 your planets mass. When a planet gets big enough it can support life, which will construct a force field around your tiny space rock, build orbital cannons, and space ships to fend off creatures from other solar systems and the random white ship nomads who seem content blowing up all solid matter in the universe. (I hate those guys the most. Its like what are they even doing?) Nurture the life on your planet, God says benevolently, and they will aid you where they can.
Of course, once your planet gains enough mass it erupts into a hideous fireball, killing all life and becoming a star. The first time this happened, I was horrified. “WHAT HAVE I DONE” I wailed at my monitor. “IS THIS ALL WE ARE? ARE WE ALL STAR FUEL?!”
This lasted until I wrangled my first planet into orbit, and decided to protect it. At this stage in the game, you have to increase the mass of your star by eating whole planets, who in turn still eat meteors. If a planet gets too big, it will also turn into a star and join in orbit with your original, creating a multi-star system. Basically what I’m trying to say here is don’t get too attached to those planets of yours.
There are a lot of dangers for fledgling solar systems out there. Or rather, there are three dangers, which you’ll encounter over and over. You will run into other solar systems in a fiery cataclysm that will leave no survivors, white ship aliens will blow you up, or you’ll run into a black hole, which will eat you. Luckily you can back up your favorite systems and re spawn as them anytime you like, which takes some of the edge off. Anytime you try one of God’s missions, though, be prepared for pain.
The longer the game went on, the more creeped out I started to get by God. Some of the things he said and did are downright unsettling, like the time he said my planet has “sexy beaches.” Once he asked for my help in setting up this sweet heist he was planning.
Yeah, I’ll let you mull that over. God is planning a heist. Kind of throws theology under the bus, doesn’t it?
Anyway, Solar 2 is a fun game if you can get it for cheap, but I don’t think it has nearly enough content to keep anyone’s attention for longer than one play through. Some way to customize planets or to go head to head with other people online (who WOULDN’T want to crash a solar system into their friends?) would have helped this game go a lot further, I think. The game does, however, inspire a sense of wonder at the vastness of it all, right before God says something snarky or asks me to join a cult.
No, I’m serious. He wants me to join a cult. A star cult. That is like a normal cult, but for gigantic flaming balls of gas.