Come out to the Helios, we'll get together, have a few laughs…

Close to the Sun

Close to the Sun is the latest offering in the genre mashup that blends horror with a story driven narrative experience. It is developed by Storm in a Teacup and published by Wired Productions. This particular review focuses on the PC version of the game, but will be coming later this year to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It should be noted that the PC release looks to be an Epic Games Store exclusive. I maybe wouldn't hold my breath on seeing it appear on other PC storefronts, at least not any time soon.

With all of that said, let's take a little trip to the past. Let's head back to the 19th century. Back to an alternate timeline in which Nikola Tesla was even more eccentric than his real-world counterpart was. Back to a time where the famous inventor built a massive, almost imposing ship called the Helios. This ship cruises around international waters and serves as a floating home and research base for the brightest minds in the world.

Close to the Sun

You assume the role of a young journalist named Rose Archer. Her story begins just after she received a mysterious letter from her sister, Ada, in which it was requested that Rose come to her out on the Helios. I must say that I really liked Rose's character. I believe a combination of solid character writing and acting were at play here which allowed Rose to be one the most "real" characters in any game from recent memory. She reacts to situations like you or I would. She reacts in horror at things that should illicit that response. She keeps to a whisper when she needs to evade a foe. She stresses and has panic attacks at key points, much as I probably would in the same situation. She even cracks a joke here or there to try to ease some of the tension.

Your first steps aboard the Helios are met with silence. There are no welcoming parties. In fact, there just is not anybody there at all. There are a few nuggets of information scattered in the first areas that provide a bit of background information, but it is still mostly a mystery to both the player and Rose. After a small bit of exploration, Rose steps through a pair of open doors and discovers that the entire ship is under some sort of quarantine. It is at this point where the game really begins.

One of the first things you will notice is that the game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments and detail are perhaps some of the best I have seen from any developer. With that said, Close to the Sun is obviously going to draw some comparisons to the BioShock franchise. The devs, however, really want to stress that this game is nothing like BioShock outside of the art deco style for the environments. Let us just be perfectly clear here: BioShock did not invent art deco nor did it invent the ocean. There is no combat in the game and the stories are completely different. If anything, the gameplay found here is more akin to something like Layers of Fear or even SOMA, only it's maybe not as good as either of those two games.

Close to the Sun

As you make your way through the early areas of the game, a few jump scares quickly make you realize that you are not actually all alone on this ship. Sadly, the horror in Close to the Sun never gets much deeper than these rather "by the book" jump scares. A mysterious figure or shadow appears accompanied by a quick, loud blast of music. It might get you here and there, but it just isn't enough. This is made all the worse by the fact that there was one instance where I was able to go back to the area where the mysterious figure was and find that they were still there. By this I mean that the character model was off to the side running into a wall instead of being despawned as it should have been.

Close to the Sun
Jump scare man isn't quite so scary when he's stuck running into a wall

There was another time I was able to see a foe just standing in a static position waiting for me to hit an environmental trigger so that they could begin moving. There are a few chase sequences found in the game, but even these are not exactly high tension scenarios. They are very linear in their design, with mistakes only really setting you back 30 seconds of progress at most.

When you aren't being chased, a bulk of the gameplay focuses on a small bit of exploration and puzzle solving. The puzzles are simplistic with the solutions either outright provided to you in your immediate vicinity or at least very strongly hinted at. Given the supposed size of the ship, you sure don't seem to actually see a whole lot of it. Many of the areas spread out across the game's 10 chapters are all visually glorious, but there is usually a very set path that you need to follow. You can, if you want, stray from the intended path but you are almost never given any reward for doing so. Perhaps this was intentionally done to compliment Rose's rather slow "run" speed that is barely above a light jog. Even the game's collectibles seem to be contained to areas right near the intended path. Without even trying, I managed to collect 80% of the game's total collectibles.

Speaking of collectibles, the game does track how many them you have throughout each chapter. However, what it doesn't do is allow you to view those collectibles outside of actual gameplay. Meaning that if you, for whatever reason, wanted to go back to read one that provided some interesting backstory, you would need to replay the chapter that collectible was found in.

Close to the Sun

Thankfully, it should not take you too long to replay any portion of the game. Clocking in at about 6 hours of game time, Close to the Sun is short. Again, that is 6 hours with having found 80% of the game's collectibles. There are no additional difficulty modes. There is no New Game+ to work through. So, unless you're a completionist that needs to replay a chapter for a collectible, there really isn't too much more to the game. Given that the overall experience is already that short, it is made all the worse by the ending that feels incredibly abrupt. I even sat through the credits to see if there would be a bonus scene or a teaser for some DLC, but there was nothing.

To say that the ending left me unsatisfied would be an understatement. It left me with more questions than answers. but I saw nothing of the sort. The entire premise and setting for the game are positively ripe with cool, interesting ideas that just end up going nowhere. For example, the first few chapters of the game seemed to focus on a feud between Tesla and Thomas Edison. There was a whole lot of talk about Edison spies aboard the Helios and a "war room" of sorts that showed possible spy locations throughout the world. All of that really went nowhere in a hurry. Even more egregious was the squandered opportunity with the game's other main focus: time travel and alternate dimensions. I will not say much as it can ruin parts of the story, but there could have been a lot done with the time travel angle that was simply never tackled. This goes right back to the fact that this game left me with far more questions than answers. I even started the game over after I finished it, thinking that there was maybe some additional content added that would tie the story together, but I found nothing. It felt like I only played the first episode of a multi-episode game. In fact, I literally just took a moment from writing this review to look up to see if this is supposed to be an episodic game and I cannot see any indication that it is. What you see here is what you get.

Close to the Sun

In parts of the Helios, you can get a look at some of Tesla's numerous inventions like a death ray, or his "earthquake machine." You can see these devices. You can even read a bit about them by way of the collectibles. However, other than finding out a cool bit of history, it does not lead to any neat payoff. You do not see these devices in action. They play no role in the game other than to show off some of Tesla's inventions. Really, the only standout invention that I do recall seeing in action, outside of the Helios itself, was the Tesla coil.

Maybe I missed something in my play through or, more likely, I am just looking for an excuse to like the game far more than I actually did. However, Close to the Sun is just not that great of a game. The $29.99 price tag certainly works in the game's favor, but even then, it is difficult to recommend without considerable hesitation. The setting, the concepts, and the ideas presented are all fantastic, but the actual execution, the simplified gameplay, and the lack of resolution on multiple plot points left me very disappointed.



Score
2 out of 5 stars


Additional Information
  • Close to the Sun (Developed by Storm in a Teacup, Published by Wired Productions)
  • Starting at $29.99 (USD) for PC (Coming later in 2019 for the PS4 and XB1)
  • Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1809

System Requirements
Minimum
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 / AMD FX 2.4 GHz
  • Memory: 8GB
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX Series 7 or AMD Radeon R9 with 3GB RAM
  • Storage: 50GB
Recommended
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 / AMD Ryzen 7
  • Memory: 8GB
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD RX 470
  • Storage: 50GB

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This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.