Close to the Sun throws you headfirst into a setting so entrenched in the art deco movement you’ll mistake it for Bioshock in a heartbeat. Cheap comparisons aside, just how well does this little title stand up?
Ok, the cheap comparison is back because Close to the Sun really does wear its influences on its sleeve. It’s as though Bioshock and Outlast had an incredibly twisted night of passion, and 9 months down the line gave birth to this. A world absorbed by the very hight of the art deco movement, coupled with combat-less exploration and intrigue, topped off with an interesting character from the real world who became larger than life. The ideas might not be the most original on the market, but they’re popular because they work so damn well.
You play Rose, a journalist who just can’t escape getting herself into predicaments. So far, so similar. The real intrigue comes from where you are going. The Helios, which can only be described as what you get when you let Nikola Tesla design the Titanic, is one of the most stunning and compelling environments I’ve explored in quite some time. You’ll have plenty of time to explore too, as for all intents and purposes, Close to the Sun plays like a creepy walking simulator, giving you plenty of time to soak it all in. For the most part, at least.
In rather predictable fashion, everything goes sideways almost as soon as you lay eyes on the vessel, with not a soul in sight to see you aboard, or even draw the bridge. You find “QUARANTINE” written across the door, and instantly you realize that you’re not in for a relaxing cruise with your sister. That’s why you’re here, by the way, a letter from your sister heralding you to board the Helios, but once again things really are not as they seem.
The story starts off slow, offering you little in the way of information which rather nicely encourages you to explore. More and more becomes revealed as you make contact with your sister, Ada, and more events begin to unfold. You’ll find your path blocked with puzzles, which are based around standard memory concepts, be it codes or symbols. There’s nothing remotely challenging here if anything these tasks are simply tedious ways to get you to explore a world that is already enticing to explore without this. They’re more often than not shoehorned into the gameplay, with one example being your sister offering only a clue as to how to access her research, as opposed to telling you exactly where her incredibly important, life or death research is. it doesn’t fit the narrative and frankly, feels a little insulting.
These types of games definitely require a patient gamer and someone who is willing to get themselves lost inside a world and take the moments of frustration as a chance to explore and learn, and not a chance to switch to something else. The puzzles often require a little trial and error, and sometimes simply aren’t clear as to what the objective is. This can really slow down the already glacial pace of these segments, which can leave you a little flustered.
second to the puzzles are the chase scenes, which can really dampen the experience with their pre-planned, but often unclear, routes of escape. You’re most likely going to have to repeat these, and they really lose their edge after a few attempts. Unpredictable dead ends and debris you absolutely pressed the jump button over but somehow ran into plague these sections, and really put a dampener on the whole experience. When they do work as intended however, there’s a great sense of urgency and a little fear, which is ultimately the end goal, even if the execution seems to miss the mark.
Close to the Sun is at its best when it really throws itself into its narrative. The alternate-history angle isn’t a new concept, but it’s executed really rather well here. Nikola Tesla is a well-developed character and the Helios has a rich history, all of which is nicely laid out to be explored as the game progresses. There’s a nice segment that acts as a museum of Tesla’s greatest works, where you can hear a little about each invention giving a rather lovely insight to the mind of a genius.
You’ll notice echoes of the past aboard the ship, as the energy that flows around the ship forms visions of pat engagements, from students sitting in lectures, to meals and conversations. It’s a nice contrast of life before and after the events, as you witness the joyous times taking place in the environment of the disaster, often with the corpses of those you are watching strewn around you.
Ultimately, the story falls a little flat at the end. Not all interactions with your sister and the characters around you make a lot of sense, as mentioned above about her convoluted explanations, and I found myself with more questions than Close to the Sun answered. Leaving room for a sequel? Maybe, but I can’t help but feel a little short-changed by the story given the amazing world that’s been created.
With such a world, there’s something to be said for the graphical fidelity of the title. It’s simply gorgeous. If gorgeous is the right word to use for an art deco world that’s falling to bits around you. The lighting effects really help to set the mood with dim corridors and vibrant electrical flashes creating a fantastic contrast that reflects off the gorgeous textures and artwork which adorns the walls. That being said, the animations can, at times, come across incredibly stiff and forced, which does take from the overall experience somewhat.
Lastly, the sound. The effects are deep and well placed, timed perfectly with events while not being afraid to leave you in silence for a moment, really setting in some tension before events, or nothing at all. it helps to keep you on edge and maintain that feeling that you’re not as alone as you seem. The same cannot be said for the voice acting. The voice acting is good don’t get me wrong, but it feels out of place. The writing feels 70 years too modern, the language is that of someone born today, not in the world Close to the Sun is trying to portray.
It’s a shame really because Nikola Tesla is acted out perfectly for his character, while exclamations of “HOLY SHIT” from the main characters just feel a little, modern for the world that’s being lived in. The actors have done a fantastic job, but I can’t help but feel that they’ve been done over by creative.
Close to the Sun is a title for fans of world building. There’s a beautiful world to explore here and while the story might ultimately fall flat, and some of the gameplay elements are more tedious than fun, there is a gorgeous experience to be had here.