Published on July 18th, 2014 | by John Markley1
Solarmax 2 Review
The premise is simple: You’re waging an interstellar war against… somebody; it’s a bit light on story, but presumably they have it coming. Each side- just two at first, though later stages have more- starts each stage with one or more planets and a fleet of ships, which you use to occupy additional planets and battle enemy ships. Every planet controlled gradually produces more ships and increases the maximum ships you can have.
When a fleet reaches a planet with enemies in orbit, battle ensues, with each side steadily losing ships inshowers of tiny sparks. Once you’re victorious, occupying the planet itself takes time depending on the planet size and your numbers.. If the planet belongs to an enemy, you’ll need additional time to eliminate their control and revert the planet to neutral status first.
There’s one type of generic ship, and your control is limited to moving them around.. There’s still a fair bit to think about during combat, though. A fleet larger than its opponent inflicts casualties at a faster rate, making destroying a larger force in detail by overwhelming separated parts of it one by one a highly effective strategy. Splitting your forces is a serious risk—but an unavoidable one, because there’s too much happening at once for a single force to keep up with.
Battles take time to play out and occur on the main map like everything else, so it’s possible to send reinforcements from other planets into the fray as the struggle continues. The timely arrival of help can turn the tide- but sending ships in piecemeal can quickly turn into a meat grinder, giving your fleet in combat enough reinforcements to keep fighting a losing battle you’re better off retreating from, if you don’t think ahead.
Maps get steadily more complex and begin to contain additional objects with their own strategic importance, such as space stations that fire on passing enemy fleets , warp gates that instantly move fleets to another location, and barriers that restrict travel. Later stages also include objects orbiting other objects, which can have extremely important effects as travel times between different bodies shift and previously safe journeys fall within weapon range of hostile space stations. Fleets can number in the hundreds, with up to five sides fighting at once.
I quite liked Solarmax 2, but keep in mind what it is and isn’t. If you’re looking for tactical space battles or a chance to build your own interstellar empire, you won’t find it here. The mechanics are simple and streamlined even compared to most other mobile strategy games, and so abstract that the interstellar war premise is just window-dressing.
However, the game does what it does quite well. The mechanics are extremely simple, but on later stages they make for complex, rapidly evolving situations that move at a frantic pace but still demand planning and forethought. The stages are well-designed, the increase in difficulty and complexity is well-paced, and the transparent simplicity of the mechanics means that when you lose you usually have a pretty clear understanding of why, which makes trying again less frustrating. It’s fun and very addictive—I burned through the game’s 36 stages on Normal difficulty in a single day and almost immediately went back to play again on Hard.
The graphics and interface do an excellent job of making things easily intelligible and controllable, even in the pandemonium of later stages. Everything is clearly laid out, with swarms of dots accompanied by numbers to indicate forces at each location and circular progress bars for occupations and ongoing battles, all appropriately color-coded. Map objects- differently sized planets, space stations, etc.—are instantly recognizable, and controls are immediately visible and conveniently placed. The tutorial is excellent, introducing mechanics clearly and very quickly.
The graphics are simple but pretty, with flaring swarms of explosions when fleets clash and some beautiful starfield backgrounds. The sound effects are fine, especially explosions The music is very good—moody, atmospheric, and a bit haunting, giving everything a strong”desperate struggle before a cold, uncaring universe” tone that got me more invested in events than I would have expected in a game with such a minimal story.
I had a lot of fun with Solarmax 2 and would gladly recommend it to people looking for fast-paced, highly streamlined strategy. It’s not going to satisfy those expecting 4X interstellar-empire-building, but taken for what it is, it’s a lot of fun.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: Simple but highly engaging strategy with great presentation.