Out of all the mysteries within Close to the Sun, the one that kept me up at night was who could be the nefarious toilet roll stealer aboard a ship full of brilliant minded individuals, despite the fact that all around me strange things keep occurring.
When you get to play with an alternative history, you can do a lot of creative things. Change important moments in history, such as the recent Wolfenstein’s take on the Nazis winning the war. Close to the Sun is set within an alternate history in which Nikola Tesla really honed in on his electrical prowess, raising him to one of the most powerful men in the world.
You play as Rose, a journalist whose sister is a top-rated scientist aboard the Helios, a massive ship that welcomes scientists to express themselves, further pushing the envelope of scientific endeavor. You are requested by your sister Ada to come to the ship, for some unknown reason. The Mystery continues as it seems you are the only one aboard, and the ship seems to be under quarantine. It isn’t long before things start to get stranger, dead bodies, espionage from Thomas Edison’s cronies, an experiment gone wrong and a less than friendly Tesla are just some of the things occurring aboard the Helios.
You are not wrong if you think this game strikes similarities to Bioshock, both are draped heavily in the Art Deco style made popular by the latter game. Even the secluded setting of the huge city-sized cruise ship reminded me of my journey through the ruins of Rapture. It’s a striking aesthetic that helps set the tone and time period for the game beautifully.
To the use the term ‘Walking Sim’ seems negative towards the experience but that would be selling Close to the Sun short, whilst you don’t engage in combat and your hands are used for picking up items you do have more control and partake in more action-orientated maneuvers than games that fall under that genre.
Traversing around the Helios you’ll find a number of items you can interact with, newspapers, documents, and leaflets to read all giving more backstory to your surroundings and on-going events in the world. Some even act as collectibles, which make it a good incentive to search every nook and cranny if you want to be a completionist.
Puzzles will break up the document reading and can be found throughout the Helios, none of which are too taxing. Keeping an eye on your surrounds and using some simple logic you will more than likely find your solution very quickly. These are the types of puzzles I enjoy in games, ones which reward exploration and environmental awareness yet don’t become too challenging and break the flow of the game.
There is no combat in Close to the Sun, no weapons to wield as a form of defense. This only adds to the feeling of being out of your depth in your current situation, you are not a soldier, not someone with fighting experience, just a typical human in a not so nice environment. A few chapters in you do come into contact with Ludwig, a knife-wielding killer who for some reason or another has an issue with Rose being on the ship. These moments turn into a chase sequence in which you must escape the clutches of Ludwig while dodging obstacles and finding a safe area. While these moments break up the slower-paced exploration, at times they can be frustratingly difficult. In the first chase, I couldn’t work out the general direction that I should be running in, and a few button prompts not appearing in time caused frequent deaths. Luckily these moments last less than a few minutes and don’t impact the rest of the experience.
I didn’t expect some genuine jump scares, yet a sudden noise, a light bursting or even a door slamming really unnerved me. This is exasperated by the games atmosphere, the loneliness of the levels coupled with the knowledge something could be out there waiting sets you up for a scare. My most embarrassing scare came from a flock of birds I knew where there, all of sudden flying off, I jumped. A testament to the design of the game.
My main let down, unfortunately, is on a technical level; I found the whole game to be a little too blurry. Posters or other items displaying words upon them were often difficult to make out, without getting extremely close to them. Backgrounds were also out of focus, meaning you lost a lot of graphic fidelity I know the game has. It seems maybe the console ports may have lost a bit of the engine’s capabilities to run properly, but then again I can’t be too sure.
Close to the Sun is a nice sized exploration game with a twinge of horror, its short length is perfect for this style of game. They may be some technical issues here and there, but nothing which drags you away from the great atmosphere this game has.
Take your time uncovering the mysteries of the Helios, the slow-paced nature of this game allows you to fully absorb what Storm in a teacup has created.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*