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Fort Solis’ incredible character animations are a step forward for video games

Fort Solis was one of the many horror games shown off during last year’s Summer Game Fest, a showcase that was filled with games that seemed inspired by Dead Space. However, with just a trailer that touted top-tier video game acting talent in Roger Clark (Red Dead Redemption) and Troy Baker (The Last of Us), it was overshadowed by new gameplay from The Callisto Protocol and the announcement that Routine was still being made after more than a decade. But I’m a huge horror game fan, so when I saw that Fort Solis would be shown off at PAX East 2023, I knew I had to see it.

Summer Game Fest: Fort Solis World Premiere Trailer

What I learned during my 15-minute demo (the game was shown behind closed doors at the show) was that Fort Solis isn’t your classic space corridor shooter. It seeks to be a tight, narrative-driven psychological thriller with some exploration elements in the vein of the eerie single-player game SOMA or a mysterious sci-fi drama like the 2009 movie Moon. The demo didn’t reveal a lot, but it showed that developer Fallen Leaf has a vision and, at the very least, the animation prowess to provide an oddly realistic experience.

All in the details

The demo wasn’t a direct slice of the game; instead, the developers sought to combine elements from various parts to give the player an idea of what to expect. Fort Solis‘ hero is Jack Leary (Clark), who is tasked with investigating an isolated mining station on Mars after a routine alarm. At the beginning of the demo, I arrive at a totally empty station, and it’s a bit of a mess. Soda cans and papers are scattered everywhere. I get the feeling the place was abandoned in the middle of things. It’s not the messiest an abandoned space station in a horror game has looked, but it’s enough to be concerning.

A Fort Solis character stands in a red hallway.

Jack starts exploring, picking up items and going through computers to read emails and watch vlogs. Two videos show off Medical Officer Wyatt Taylor (Baker), who talks about some space sickness and isolation among the crew. An email talks about rumors concerning wild animals.

At one point, a platform falls over and nearly crushes Jack, so I had to succeed on a quick-time event to dodge. If I didn’t pull it off, Jack would develop a limp. Next, I start searching around to find a key to start a cart and then manually open some heavy steel doors. After traversing through a tunnel and emerging outside the station, I discover it’s somehow raining. The demo ends on that odd detail.

What’s immediately striking about Fort Solis is its character animation, which is some of the most realistic I’ve seen in a video game — a claim I typically hate making. The team relied heavily on motion capture, especially for Clark’s performance as Jack. The game uses a third-person perspective, giving a good view of how Jack moves. He walks with an emphasis on his shoulders, bending over slightly when putting something in his back pocket. He hops and groans when he’s injured. Wyatt has a lot of subtle facial expressions in his videos; you can see the exhaustion and grim acceptance. It’s extremely impressive considering the game isn’t finished yet and the demo I played was a few months old.

It also leans into a more real-world look by removing the HUD. Like in Dead Space, the game places menus on parts of your body, such as a multitool on your wrist or computer screens. There are a few screen elements, like highlighting an object you can interact with, but it’s bare for the most part. The developer running my demo also said the team is working on improving interactions in the environment.

A character stands in a hallway in Fort Solis.

Its third-person perspective helps to create a sense of claustrophobia, even if the demo isn’t physically dark or gloomy. The player is positioned just over Jack’s shoulder, so his frame takes up most of the screen in walking shots. The corridors feel small, and there are no readily apparent windows. The team worked to make movements and gameplay feel seamless, like it’s taking place in one long camera shot.

Jack is the only character you’ll see in real time. There’s a voice in his ear played by Julia Brown (The Last Kingdom), and people appear on screens, but the developers say that he’s alone on the station, although they were coy concerning what’s to come.

Fort Solis could still use a few tweaks to make interactions feel less cumbersome and slow. I don’t know if there’s a way to make Jack move faster, but his more reasonable movements make traversing across the environment and solving puzzles feel tedious, especially if you have to backtrack. It might look like a real person walking around, but it doesn’t make for the most enjoyable interactions. Based on what I’ve seen, Fallen Leaf’s tiny team has managed to create an intriguing sci-fi mystery, regardless of how the motion capture pans out in the release build.

Fort Solis is set to launch in the third quarter of 2023 on PC and PlayStation 5.

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Carli Velocci
Carli is a technology, culture, and games editor and journalist. They were the Gaming Lead and Copy Chief at Windows Central…
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