At this point, Bioshock is nothing more than a distant memory, as Ken Levine, the original developer behind the series has no intention of continuing spiritually, whereas 2K, the publisher has seemingly stopped caring about it altogether. However, just because the people involved have no intention of continuing the legacy, then it doesn’t mean that third parties share the same sentiment. And a debuting developer, Storm in The Teacup is looking to continue the dystopian legacy of the Bioshock series with its just released steampunk, survival horror, Close to The Sun.
Close to The Sun, tells a story of a journalist named Rose, who has been summoned by her sister to a vessel housing all of the world’s greatest minds, in order to help her with an undisclosed affair. And just like in BioShock, Close to The Sun’s utopia turns out to have been thrown into a complete disarray, by a supernatural force, which is hell bound to destroy everything on the board of Helios, the ship within which Close to The Sun is taking place.
Initially, the narrative of Close to The Sun may come across as banal, as it is clearly a straightforward take on Levine’s BioShock. But when the latter used fictional characters to build its setting, then Close to The Sun refers to once living historical figures, mainly Nikola Tesla. While on board of Helios you will find references to people such as Marie Curie-Sklodowska, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein – and many more. However, the only truly present figure is the aforementioned Nikola Tesla, who appears throughout the title.
The core narrative of Close to The Sun is satisfying in itself, but what truly makes it great, is the interpersonal relationships between Rose, her sisters Ada, Aubrey, Tesla himself, and many more. And the best thing about all this, is that Close to The Sun injects a steady dose of doubt into your mind, as throughout, not all characters turn out what they claim to be, or at least not what the world paints them as. Once you add into the mix the tear in time-space continuum, where past, present, and future are all taking place at the same time, you are left with a game which makes you second guess everybody, even yourself.
When you first arrive on the board of Helios, the events of the story have already taken place, and due to Rose’s future actions, which have taken place in the past, different characters will react to you in different ways. Some will be keen towards Rose and do their best to help you out. Whereas others will do their best to end Rose’s life. This is where the main aspect of horror kicks in, as you never know who you should truly trust.
There is a certain amount of duality to almost all characters featured within Close to The Sun. However, there are some people, and ‘things’ which are outright hostile towards you. And yes, you have to do your best to avoid them, and even those, but Close to The Sun doesn’t force you to hide in lockers, or underneath beds. As Storm in a Teacup has brilliantly replaced the all too common hiding tropes, with escape scenes. So instead of having to spend hours upon hours, hiding away from each and every threat, you simply can outrun them within minutes, if not seconds.
The escape sequences of Close to The Sun are rather brilliant, as they turn the mundane face-offs into rather brilliant and thrilling encounters which are not only immensely exciting, but are also a sight to behold. As more often than not, those escape sequences take place within rather picturesque, and at times grimly impressive locales, which are simply a great sight to the eye.
The escape sequences are some of the better parts of Close to The Sun, but there’s more to this title’s gameplay, than simply running away. And in all honesty, there is not that much more, as those additional sequences are limited to some rather simplistic puzzles, lever pulling, and exploration. The initial puzzles are slightly more complex, then they quickly devolve into motionless button presses. So, while Close to The Sun does start off as a horror-puzzle hybrid, then it quickly becomes just a horror game – but with few extra steps.
Just like your Layers of Fear, you’d expect to be able to complete Close to The Sun in a couple of hour’s tops. However, this particular horror is surprisingly lengthier than one would be led to believe. Depending on your success rate during escape sequences, and the early puzzles, it should take you at least twice as long – if not more. However, due to the title’s pacing, it does feel at times like it drags a little. As towards the middle of the title, you will often find yourself trotting across the decks of Helios seemingly doing nothing but walking and listening to other characters.
Despite of all the above outlined gameplay sequences, Close to The Sun often feels incredibly passive, if not outright pedestrian. As for the most part, you are a spectator to the events that unfold before you, and very rarely are you taking part in the proceedings. This can make you feel powerless, and at times even unnecessary, as the large part of in-game vents is nothing more than a series of cut-scenes, which simply allow you to walk, and look about.
Now that we have gameplay and story out of the way, it is time to talk about the graphics and performance, and as far as the latter goes, it is stable for the most part. However, Close to The Sun has a tendency to drop a couple of frames here and there – especially during the latter stages – but it never turns into a slideshow, nor does it ever crash. So, while it does slow down, it never absolutely collapses unlike Layers of Fear 2, which was an absolute mess upon its release in my opinion.
Close to The Sun features an abundance of detailed and sprawling environments, which look great from a far. However, whenever you get too close for comfort, you will soon realise that the vast majority of in-game textures isn’t as high-quality, as perhaps you’d like. As more often than not, more complex textures such as rust on metal, or wood grain on furniture appear blurry and out of focus, whenever you get to close to them. At times, even the simpler textures such as the ones one elevator walls, looks just as underwhelming as the ones for the more complex nature.
Visually, Close to The Sun is not really a breath-taking game. But thankfully, the audio of this particular release always creeps in to save the day. As the creepy sound design, and masterful execution of sound effects, is simply second to none. The game generates a sinister atmosphere, which is lacking even from some high budget, AAA games. Shuffling of the feet, creaking of the floorboards, yanking of the chain, thumping of heavy machinery, and rustle of flames, are all simply excellent, and create an atmosphere like no other. And I really can’t say a single negative thing about Close to The Sun’s audio, as it is simply excellent.
To conclude, all that really has to be said about Close to The Sun, is that it is a great effort by the debuting studio, and even with all of its flaws taken into consideration, it is still one of the better horror games to be released this year. It is by no means a masterful experience on par with Outlast 2, or The Observer_, but it is still good enough, for you to part your ways with your money, and most importantly your spare time, and despite of the rather tame score, I am recommending this particular game wholeheartedly.