Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Soldier Man Space Hero Says Halo To Good Horror

In Soldier Man: Space Hero, you play as the heroic Soldier Man, a man who is a space hero, waking up from his cryogenic sleep. Created by developer BearHunter, this game was a submission for the Haunted PS1 Halloween Jam 2020. SM:SH does not hide that it is recreating a certain scene from a well-known title. The officer on deck—probably on a ship called the Column of Autumn—orders you to get to the bridge for further instruction from the captain. But things go awry on the way there, and unlike most horror, it’s not even in the context of the game itself. 

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

Haunted PS1 is, of course, about horror games. But very few of them are actually about PS1 games that are haunted. When we think of hauntings, we think of ghosts or other entities that inhabit an otherwise harmless place or object, and use it to play spooky pranks on you. It probably wouldn’t make much sense for a ghost to control a regular horror game. Why stick with an already spooky genre? Take a non-horror game and make that scary.

Soldier Man: Space Hero is one of these titles. The game itself is emulating the intro scene from Halo: Combat Evolved opening level, almost to a T (minus the aliens and gunfights of course). As you play, the game appears to be suffering from a series of glitches. With each glitch comes a peek into another vision of the game. Just a glimpse into the eldritch things entering our world through the computer. 

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

The gameplay of Soldier Man: Space Hero is extremely simplified. Walking around with the occasional button that needs pushing. It is a game jam project, after all. Truthfully, there doesn’t need to be much here. Were there a gun and other enemies to fight, the experience would be radically different, and likely a lot less terrifying. The simplicity here works well. 

What Works:

The subversion of a genre is always interesting. Soldier Man: Space Hero is certainly not the first to come up with this idea—Papercookies’ No Players Online may have been an influence—but it is executed well. Taking an iconic franchise such as Halo and turning it into a psychological horror game would work great for any similar title. I mean, just think about the popularity of Minecraft’s Herobrine. And that wasn’t even in the damn game!

Another thing that works is the initial tone. Right off the bat, Soldier Man: Space Hero portrays itself as a parody. From the hastily drawn MSPaint cover image to the name itself, the game clearly doesn’t take seriously the dynamic space opera/ western/ political drama that is Halo: Combat Evolved. And frankly, I don’t either. But it does set a great tone for the shift midway through the game, creating further contrast between what you expect and what you get. 

What Doesn’t:

Soldier Man: Space Hero is a game jam game. And like all game jams, the developers run out of time before their vision can be fully realized. So too has it happened here, where the finale of the game involves an NPC apologizing for the game’s incompleteness. There’s certainly no shame in an incomplete game jam game. But the ending could have been a little less jarring.

How To Fix It:

Like I said, an incomplete game jam title is to be expected. There’s nothing wrong with that. A way to improve the ending of Soldier Man: Space Hero could have been some kind of dialogue—dialogue that the apologizing character even references was the developer’s plan. Or to go another route, the game could have you open a door leading to a dark abyss or something and then have the horrors come in for the kill. It doesn’t need to be that complex or even reveal that much. Less is more in projects like this. 

Wanky Musings:

I can’t speak for everyone, but the best way to scare me is to take something familiar and make it, I don’t know, make it wrong. My brain just can’t handle a known becoming an unknown. Videogames are no different. Soldier Man: Space Hero takes an established concept and adds unknown elements. It’s a simple formula, but it works great every time. While the game itself is not finished, it certainly has tremendous potential if the devs ever go back to work on it more (and it seems like they will be). After all, what could be scarier for a Halo player than to not have a gun?

You can download Soldier Man: Space Hero from itch.io by clicking here.

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