App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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As you plummet toward the surface of Venus, you look back on your days transporting colonists to the moon and think about how silly it was to ever feel like that was difficult. Approaches to the moon didn’t involve navigating a torrent of asteroids at speeds of 250 km/h. The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere that retains so much heat it can fry you alive before you even land. The moon doesn’t have storms that kick up so much dust you can’t see the landing zone. But here you are, flying a tin can equipped with about twenty seconds worth of fuel, straight at one of the least hospitable places in the solar system, all for the sake of humanity. These are thoughts you’ll have while playing Solar Explorer: New Dawn, and you’ll probably oscillate between loving and hating every second of it.
Solar Explorer: New Dawn is a lunar lander game, but it’s almost presented like a flight simulator. Pre-flight briefings contextualize your mission and also let you prepare your spacecraft for different kinds of flight conditions. Once you feel like you’ve adjusted everything appropriately, you then launch into a gorgeously detailed flight mission that involves three separate phases: launch, approach, and landing, where you’re put in control of actually piloting a spacecraft and bringing it safely down on a planet surface.
Although Solar Explorer: New Dawn looks like a realistic flight game, playing it is actually quite easy. You can tap on either side of your screen to activate side boosters that move your vessel from side to side, and you can tap and hold on both sides of the screen to activate your rear boosters to gain or lose speed. That’s it. Using these simple controls though, New Dawn finds ways to put your skills to the test through increasingly difficult scenarios across the solar system.
In New Dawn, you play as a pilot for the United Earth Space Agency (UESA), and your goal is to transport necessary supplies to different planets to start colonies on them. There’s actually a surprising amount of writing surrounding missions that explains what you’re transporting and why, and it makes each mission feel more meaningful than they would if the game was just a series of challenges free of context.
More than the story though, New Dawn’s atmosphere and presentation does a whole lot of heavy lifting to transform this relatively simple lunar lander into a compelling, white-knuckle thrill ride. Every flight has a tremendous sense of speed to it and is backed by an appropriately intense soundtrack. This makes every mission feel extremely dangerous, and every successful landing you make feel like an absolute triumph.
Whenever you complete a mission in New Dawn it feels amazing. It doesn’t matter if you landed a craft beat to hell by asteroids or executed a perfect flight plan. On the flipside, failing in New Dawn can be supremely embittering, especially because it will probably happen a lot, and sometimes there's nothing you could have done to prevent it.
There are certain runs you'll make in this game where success just seems completely impossible. Asteroids may align such that hitting them is unavoidable, you might randomly enter the landing phase grossly off-target of the landing zone, or you might land at an angle that sends your supplies flying off the sides of your ship. At times like these, New Dawn is completely infuriating, especially considering the game doesn’t offer the ability to restart missions once they’re started. You just have to take your L in all its glory before trying again.
The bottom line
Solar Explorer: New Dawn may be mechanically simple, but its presentation and structure creates enough variety that you’ll walk away from play sessions with a story to tell. These tales might not always have a happy ending, which can be frustrating at times, but they serve to make your successes taste all the sweeter.