Redspotgames and Z-Software blow most other indie titles out of the water with what may be the most impressive visual offering in the XBLIG pool.  SolarStruggle foretells days of conflict, an era that is dominated by a conglomerate known as The Consortium.  Through monopolies and heavy funding, The Consortium has a hand in most everything in the future.  Even so, space is just too expansive for anyone to serve as sovereign.  To demonstrate this point, the Campaign begins as the cargo ship Thelios is attacked.

With stunning graphics, cutscenes aplenty, and voice acting throughout the game, SolarStruggle is a tough act for future XBLIG titles follow.  The Campaign sees pilots engaging in dogfights and escort missions as the twisting plot is untangled.  Before each mission you’re able to customize your ship by choosing to employ thruster, armor, shield, generator, and weapon combinations.  After each mission you’ll see time played, enemies destroyed, accuracy, and score per your performance.

The Skirmish mode forgoes storyline, opting for horde survival dogfighting.  In Skirmish, players must shoot enemies as quickly as possible.  Points will be awarded for each downed enemy; the number increases depending upon the wave and the multiplier.  Multipliers are achieved by defeating swaths of enemies in a short period of time; by the same token, multipliers decrease if sufficient time passes before foes are shot down.  A boss appears at the end of each wave, and these ships drop blue powerups when defeated.  With these and the experienced gained during battle, ship systems and weapons may be upgraded by bringing up the ship’s systems wheel.

These stats from Campaign and Skirmish modes don’t simply get posted to a scoreboard; SolarStruggle features a clever method of gauging players’ progress in its Awards.  Much like Achievements (but named otherwise to avoid Microsoft’s wrath), Awards can be unlocked through gameplay in the Campaign mode and the Skirmish mode.  From the main menu, selecting the Awards submenu will display all of the objectives that must be met in order to complete the 37 goals.  Some of them are fairly easy, requiring completion of a Mission.  Others take a little more effort; Miserable demands 10% accuracy in a mission.

While at the list of Awards, players may press Y and receive a unique Award Code.  This code is tied to the gamertag and progress, and may be submitted at http://awards.solarstruggle.com/ as a monument to the player’s achievements.  In this way, SolarStruggle stays far ahead of any would-be competition that other Indie Games could muster.

There is so much to SolarStruggle that you really feel like you’re getting a bargain for the 400 :MSPoints: price tag.  Though the voice acting during Missions can sound at times like Sylvester Stallone and at other times like Slippy (the annoying frog from Star Fox), it’s hard to find fault in it given that this is an XBLIG.  The visuals are well above par, the gameplay is intuitive and fun, and Awards introduce a competitive element much more impressive than mere leaderboards.  The only missing component is multiplayer functionality.  Nevertheless, this is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title at an Indie Game price.  In fact, it may command the biggest budget yet afforded for an indie.  SolarStruggle is simply light-years above anything else in its category.

You can find more information on SolarStruggle as well as the trial and full versions of the game on the Marketplace. Visit the homepage at http://www.solarstruggle.com/en for more details on the game.