Someone important once said “Let there be light”, and there was light. Sole is a game all about light and also its deadliest enemy – the darkness. Yet for all the games that I’ve played over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing through things where the hero is a ball of light. Strangely, I’ve played as a candle before – looking at you Candleman – but not the actual light itself. So when Sole came into my psyche I was immediately curious about the whole concept and couldn’t wait for it to illuminate me some more. And I promise that’s the last of the light puns.
Sole delivers one of my favourite types of games; games that tell a story without words or narrative cutscenes. This is one that started out life over on Kickstarter, describing itself as an abstract, aesthetic-driven adventure game. The only experience that is mildly close to it that I can think of is Unfinished Swan, where you paint the world from nothing. In Sole though, you paint with light.
Playing as a little ball of light, in Sole you will be found shrouded in darkness with only the outlines of buildings or cities around you. As you move the ball of light, you find the opportunity to illuminate areas around you. For example, street lamps are lit as you pass, and garden flowers come to life as colour seeps from the darkness. In fact, all manner of trees grow, buildings take shape and an entire world comes alive as you move across and through the levels.
Gameplay-wise and Sole is very simple: all you have to do is move the ball of light across all possible directions. There’s no option to jump, or opportunity to fiy; it’s all just about the movement on offer. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring or dull. Far from it in fact, and there are plenty of different challenges on offer and puzzles to solve. Some of these are straightforward affairs in which you just have to move through them, zig-zagging away and lighting them up. However, there are also tasks to complete. In one level fairly near the start, you have to find a series of light beacons scattered around the map in hard to reach places. When you light these up it opens a doorway enabling you to get to the next area. On another segment, you’re floating down a fast flowing river, left to try and avoid obstacles to progress and to find secret levels. My utter favourite moment in Sole is when you head on to a circular platform, with the viewpoint being changed to a top-down style, thrusting you onto a platform, and leaving you to draw with your little ball of light the outline of a shape which will enable you to solve the puzzle.
Sole’s story is told visually, and at times can become quite abstract, however that isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. The narrative is hinted at though and it’ll be left up to you to work out what is going on from the clues dropped, understanding what might have happened to the world and the reason it has been put into darkness. You will have many questions and while some will be answered as you progress, you’ll more than likely be left with many more unanswered, taking a wild guess at what they may be. Why are there humanoid shadows in the cities? Who is the hooded figure in white? Why are you a ball of light? This unusual visual tale is a good one – particularly if you like this type of thing – and it is one that I have very much relished.
The visuals themselves come with a cel-shaded quality to them, which for short moments looks out of focus, but of course it’s just animated. The lighting is decent though, as you should expect from a game where light is the hero, and there are moments when the game hits heights of unlimited beauty. There are also little points in which Sole will happily glitch and wobble, but these are thankfully very rare and don’t get in the way at all. I’ve been left impressed by the way the game uses mysticism and mosaics as its influence, telling a story as these images appear on lit mosaics of a civilisation that long since passed.
Sound-wise and Sole is all about the soundtrack – it is this which drives the game and the ball of light forward. It’s a nice piece of musical composition, delivered all the way through, soothing the soul at times and keeping the energy up in the faster sections; those set on the river for example. It’s a piece of work that I have really enjoyed taking in, and it complements the game perfectly.
To take in the full Sole experience you’ll be looking at something around 2 to 3 hours in length, and throughout it will experience a spiritual journey that is abstract at times and tells a story that requires you to interpret it at your own pace. It’s not going to be a game for everyone, and much of what is found is fairly simple, failing to challenge your dexterity skills but just about managing to task your brain a little. There are a few glitches and issues, but overall it’s a lovely gaming experience that I have enjoyed thoroughly. Should it have come to market slightly cheaper, then it would be more relevant to a bigger audience, but if you want something special and different then play Sole on Xbox One.