Have you ever been in love? Can you love more than one person at a time? Could you ever have romantic love without physical intimacy?
Solo by Team Gotham is a dream-like and exploratory game that wants to take an introspective look on the topic of love. Moreover, the game wants to pose questions at the player, much like the ones listed above, and challenge the player’s perspectives. When you’re not pondering love you’ll be exploring the game’s various archipelagos, interacting with the native fauna, and solving puzzles in order to progress. Are you ready for your solo voyage of self discovery?
Jumping into the game for the first time you’ll be met with a string of questions about yourself and about love. You set your gender, sexual orientation, and your current / historical relationship status. Using these details the game begins to depict your journey within the universe it has created and tailors the experience within the game to meld with your own personal lived experiences. I was a boy seeking love from another boy as I begun my journey through the beautiful and dream-like world.
Setting sail toward my first destination it becomes undeniably obvious that there is some serious The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker influence occurring when it comes to Solo’s visual designs. Even if it may be contentious, I’m definitely a fan of the art and it helped set the tone for what would be a calming and introspective journey. As you explore your first archipelago you’ll begin interacting with giant totems that pose questions to the player. These questions always pertained to love in one form or another. A ghostly visage of your would-be lover also begins appearing, occasionally challenging your responses to the question.
Puzzles are also a big part of Solo’s design and they function as the meat of the game, what you’ll spend the majority of your time doing. Puzzling all comes down to box manipulation. You need to ensure the props you have been given are placed in the right position in order for you to progress. A wand you collect partway through the game will help in this endeavour as you begin moving props at a distance and setting up more elaborate structures. It’s all quite simple in premise but much like any well developed puzzle game there is depth to be found within that simplicity.
“Whilst I occasionally found myself being challenged or surprised by a puzzle, I also found myself being burdened by them too”
Unfortunately I was never all that captivated by the game’s puzzling. Whilst I occasionally found myself being challenged or surprised by a puzzle, I also found myself being burdened by them too. The game moves at quite a slow pace and that certainly remains true for the slow and sometimes awkward act of prop manipulation. Whilst playing I was primarily driven by the unique selling point of this game, which is its exploration of love as a concept. With this in mind, puzzling begun to feel like an obstacle that was obfuscating what I really wanted from Solo. At no point did the puzzle designs turn the dial up to 11 and truly excite me, so they begun to feel like a chore.
Thankfully many of the puzzles found within the game are optional and can be ignored if you’re starting to get tired of the repetition. To the game’s credit there was also a good handful of puzzles that were cohesive to its theme. Building a bridge to help two critters reunite was a great way to marry puzzling with the exploration of love concept.
Is the love of a partner more important than the love of your family? Is love innate or is it learnt? Do you think you’re a lovable person?
As you progress through Solo it really does start to feel like the game is generating a database of your responses to its prompts. It is learning about you as a person. It is building to a climax where all of your choices, your experiences, and your inner most thoughts can come together. Although that climax never occurred. As you approach the end of the game the answers you have given throughout the experience will be read back to you, but that’s about it. There is no meaningful ending, no message about love, no judgement of you as a person, no challenge on your perspectives. It almost felt like the developers didn’t have the confidence to make a final point or leave a lingering thought.
That’s not to say that Solo’s exploration of love theme wasn’t realised or worthwhile. It certainly has the exploration aspect covered and the questions that are thrown at the player did stop and make me pause in quiet contemplation a few times. The problem is that it didn’t go any further. The same questions found in the game could have been posed to you within an online survey, and you wouldn’t have missed out on much.
The Bottom Line...
A gorgeous game with an interesting concept. Solo captivated me with its premise and kept me engaged throughout to see what everything was building towards. Unfortunately the game did not have the confidence to end on a bang and instead became something less than what I was expecting. We may have explored an archipelago of love and reached inside ourselves to discover our truest thoughts and feelings, but in the end we are still left in the same spot we started.