Starfield is hitting the spot for a lot of players when it comes to that need for something sci-fi, but it isn’t the only game within the genre that joined Game Pass this month that’s worth your time. While it first launched on PlayStation back in 2021, Heart Machine’s most recent title Solar Ash finally arrived on Xbox and PC last week. Despite how our own Tom Orry felt in his review, I found the game to be quite captivating, from the Jet-Set-Radio-like movement to the Shadow-of-the-Colossus-style boss battles. There was one thing in particular that drew me in most of all though: the vibes.
To me, probably the most fundamentally important part of sci-fi is having the right vibe. I think nothing demonstrates this better than those classic book covers for 70s sci-fi novels that tell you pretty much nothing about the books themselves, but they’re visually captivating, so that’s enough right? No Man’s Sky was very much inspired by those covers, and no matter what you think about that game, it’s hard to deny how pretty it is to look at.
Pretty feels like an understatement for Solar Ash. In a sea of realism, a game like Solar Ash quite easily stands out from the rest, with its incredibly bold choice of colours and radically varied environments. Running across the game’s world feels great not just because the controls are as smooth as butter, but because it’s exciting to discover whatever locales are next. It really feels like you’re in some obscure corner of space that is uniquely alien from our own.
There’s definitely a slight nostalgia element at play here, as Solar Ash really does remind me of a PS2 game. With the industry’s general shift to realism, spaces in games don’t always feel distinct from one another; Starfield containing over 1000 planets to explore obviously won’t help with that issue. But much like action adventure platformer games of old, Solar Ash has varying biomes that are all excellently themed: a ruined, modern city, a dark and gloomy region overrun with mushrooms that holds a gothic church-like building at its centre, series of floating islands with cascading waterfalls, Solar Ash has it all.
Each of the areas aren’t necessarily massively unique in the wider sci-fi genre, but they’re so well realised as places that you won’t feel like you’ve seen it all before. A lot of this comes down to the game’s colour palette, but also just how dreamy it all feels. There’s a softness to everything that makes the whole world feel thoroughly inviting.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the kind of sci-fi that Starfield presents either, it’s definitely something worth spending time with – those space battles are still incredibly cool. But Solar Ash has a special quality to it that’s improved by its short run time (HowLongToBeat says it takes around five and a half hours), making it a lovely dose of sci-fi that could act as a good palate cleanser between sessions of Starfield. Plus, you’re probably already playing Starfield through Game Pass, so why not give Solar Ash a go? It might just be the space adventure you’re looking for.