Close to the Sun is an adventure-horror game that cannot get around being compared to BioShock, but I was feeling a lot more Syberia and Prey (2017) vibes from it in the beginning. Most of that is just the aesthetic though, with the Art Deco style becoming synonymous with one standout game, but there are some attempts at similar themes and ideas of society to be found as well. For some reason, placing the world’s most intelligent people all in one hard to reach enclosed area never goes well. The Greek mythology chapter designations bolster the title, Close to the Sun, which references Icarus. They also help create a nice, ominous sounding order to the narrative, but it is also a sign of the biggest issue the game possesses: how everything seems fine but nothing works together fluidly.
The setup is simplistic: a strange letter from her sister drives Rose to a creepy vessel out in international waters where she’ll have to use her journalist instincts to find out what happened and why everyone is quarantined. What follows is an odd nautical walking experience with scary bits and awkward action sequences thrown in.
The visual presentation is quite stunning and creates a strong environment for the player to explore. The surroundings here are a mood in and of itself, almost powerful with the bright blues and yellows contrasting against the drab browns and brass. I would call it masterful if not for some odd lighting sources, several weak textures, a few pop-ins, and using stock photos of famous people. There was also this blurriness at certain parts, especially wall textures, that I thought was on purpose at first until I literally couldn’t finish one of the puzzles because of it. I had to jack up the settings and adjust a few things to be able to see the numbers I needed. I doubt I was the only one with this problem, either.
As a person with albinism, I wasn’t keen on the idea of boarding a small city-sized boat called the Helios (or the words Close to the Sun, for that matter), but I was looking for things to keep me there. The characters presented are intriguing and provide a little bit of motivation to press on. Each character fits for the most part and is beautifully voice acted, except for Tesla himself at some points. There is a part of me that still expects him to sound like David Bowie: smart but more charming.
I want to say Close to the Sun’s story is good, but honestly, it’s just okay and a little too predictable for fans of the genre. This tale will feel stale and hollow, not driving anyone back into the game unless there is just nothing else to play. Often, I had to force myself to keep going. I also feel like I should warn readers that Close to the Sun introduces several narrative points without using them to their full potential and many things are left up in the air or to the player’s interpretation of what happens, which may annoy some in such a story heavy experience. With that said though, the story is more interesting than the gameplay itself.
Players will explore and move around the environments reading small pieces of paper that repeat a lot, looking at things of interest, flipping switches, and occasionally solving some rather easy puzzles. A few of these enigmatic setups will take some players a bit longer if they don’t see the solution right away or did not run into the answer on the way there, but nothing ever feels truly challenging. This isn’t me saying I’m the smartest one on a boat full of the world’s greatest minds, but the game almost made me feel that way. It is easy to get turned around while looking for keys and other information, or simply misread how the game wants the player to proceed, but no area is so big or problem so massive that it becomes difficult.
There is some action here, but I don’t think most will like it. There is no way to attack in Close to the Sun but our protagonist, Rose, can run. I’m not fond of these sections because they force the player to abandon everything they’ve been doing and burst into erratic movement, which is jarring, and forces the player to interact with objects that don’t always register correctly. Knowing where to go becomes a case of trial and error, with a potential repeating cycle of deaths, but only one of these sections gave me any real trouble. The movement doesn’t help, as it often feels stilted while the head-bobbing and camera can make things worse. On top of everything, these portions feel out of place and too similar, like canned action moments that don’t always match the tone the rest of the adventure had set up.
In all of this, Close to the Sun attempts to have several horror elements to go along with its bloody massacre and severed limbs. None of this ever felt like it stuck though and the jump scares are cheap. With the running bits being the only real form of action and the horror only lingering in the early parts, there was never a real sense of threat. I died once in the lightning just to see if I still felt anything.
The game is short, which in some ways is merciful and a disservice to itself and people who were enjoying the game. Thankfully Close to the Sun flows well and doesn’t completely overstay its welcome, but it feels unfinished almost, like a few more story beats and a couple of extra things to do would have filled in the gaps. When I realized this was a 50 GB download, I had to wonder why and where all of that went.
My computer (1060, i5-7600k) was never pushed hard while playing it, but I did experience two crashes while loading new areas. I hope the developers, Storm in a Teacup (great name) continue making games with this type of vision. There are things to like about Close to the Sun and there are people who will enjoy it, but the thing I’ll probably remember the most is the odd Die Hard reference the developers threw in. I guess Storm in a Teacup did fly a little too close to the sun here.
Close to the Sun’s art direction, themes, and basic ideas are going to draw many in, but once the story gets started and the gameplay fails to advance, they’ll be trying to jump overboard.
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