Poor Man’s No Man’s Sky
Humans have always been fascinated by space; it is, after all, the final frontier. Galileo invented the telescope to study the great beyond; Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin committed their lives to stepping foot on other-worldly solid ground. Mankind has been attempting to capture the beauty of space for centuries; this time, indie developer Chris Parsons takes a swing at the daunting task. While the effort is a valiant one, Sol Trader may have bitten off more than it can chew in this odd space simulator.
Initially, Sol Trader promises to be a unique venture into the depths of space. The game begins by retroactively creating 200 years of history to set up the premise of your specific playthrough. Like Minecraft, no two games will play the same. Also like Minecraft, Sol Trader allows the user to input seeds if they would like. However, unlike Minecraft, the randomly generated elements of Sol Trader do not serve to boost the replayability of the game. While the beginning of every game will be randomized, every attempt at a ‘new game’ eventually felt extremely familiar, and my character inevitably fell into the rut of repetition that had plagued his predecessors.
The gameplay of Sol Trader is an odd mix of text-based adventure game and Asteroid-esque space piloting. The flying in the game feels derivative, boring, and difficult to control. Indeed, I recall a time when I simply wanted to land at a planet’s entry gate. It took me over 3 attempts of flying right by it to finally enter the dock. It’s difficulty does not serve to challenge the player; rather, it’s difficulty arises from a lackluster and ineffective flying system. Thankfully, most of your time will be spent in the text-based portion of the game. At its core, Sol Trader is a text-based game along the veins of Tradewinds. However, instead of trading resources, you trade secrets (though you can also trade resources and labor). This is where the true meat of the game lies; getting to know new people, making connections, and rising in the ranks of whatever your character’s goal is.
At the beginning of the game, Sol Trader asks you to pick who your parents will be out of a list of randomly generated suitors. My main character’s name is Gabriel Heyes, son of Tad and Janet Heyes. One of Sol Trader’s high points is the pure depth of families and other relationships. You can click on any character and immediately scroll through the people they know; I could find my grandparents, my siblings, my cousins, and anybody else involved with the Heyes family. Indeed, I once found myself on Venus bumping into my cousin, Eleni. Small world! After your family is chosen, you are then to choose what your goal in the game will be. You can aspire to be president, you can attempt to become rich, you can desire to travel across the galaxy, or you could simply want to be famous. All of these options open up different ways to play the game; I wouldn’t gossip behind someone’s back if I wanted to be business partners. I would, however, gossip if it led to me becoming more famous to the person I was talking to. These systems are deep, and allow for a breadth of possible outcomes of conversations.
Therein, however, lies the fatal flaw of Sol Trader; it’s too damn deep to offer any true focus to the narrative. Sure, Sol Trader begs to create your own stories within the bounds of the game. That is difficult, however, when I see a million different faces with a million different names constantly flashing on the screen! Let’s say I make a connection with “Joe Blow #1”… pretty soon, I guarantee I’ll meet “Joe Blow #2” who looks exactly like “#1” and has a similar personality. Believe me, ‘personality’ is a generous word; you may talk to someone and they may say something generic like “I rose in the ranks of my business”, but you don’t care! There is nothing more to the story. Ultimately, I found it difficult to care about anything I was doing in Sol Trader, which essentially boiled the game down to what it truly is: boring. I was BORED the entire time I played Sol Trader.
Though I can acknowledge the work and effort it took Chris Parsons to create a game that can randomly generate an entire galaxy, I must admit that I did not enjoy this game. It felt like all of the promise of No Man’s Sky with none of the entertaining parts (Though, to be fair, we aren’t quite sure about that game yet, either). I am sure that there will be a small number of people that will obsess over this game; people who love minutia, small details, and getting lost in a stupidly deep game have the potential to enjoy this game. That said, I implore those people to explore other options in the sim genre. Civilization, Football Manager, and even Sims will provide a much more enjoyable experience. Sol Trader is a deep, and deeply boring, game.
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Chris Parsons ; Developer: Chris Parsons; Players: 1 ; Released: June 6, 2016 ; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Sol Trader given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.