Close to the Sun takes place in alternate reality, where renowned inventor Nikola Tesla truly fulfilled his vision and potential. Playing as Rose, you board Telsa’s world famous research ship the Helios at the request of your scientist sister, Ada. Once on board however, it soon become apparent that not only are you unwelcome here, but whatever has gone down is bad news. As you step through the main doors, the word ‘Quarantine’ are scrawled across them in blood. From then, you’re off on a horror adventure that, while engaging enough to see you through to the end, doesn’t lean heavily enough on the setting and atmosphere to stand out as one of the greats.
The majority of the short runtime will see you ambling about the Helios, going from room to room investigating clue after clue as to what’s gone on, where your sister is and how you are going to get out. The characterisation of Ada, Rose and the supporting cast is well realised, with some admittedly cheesy dialogue still being brought to life in a convincing manner. I found myself getting invested in the scenarios, whether that be chasing down someone for info, or Rose’s often convincing mumbling as she sees something see can’t quite explain. The pace of these exploratory sections can drag a little at times, especially when solutions require some back tracking across areas. Rose moves at a snails pace even when holding the run button, and somehow turns even slower – even at the max sensitivity. But for the most part, solutions come forward pretty naturally and you’ll always have the feeling of progression.
Occasionally though, the horror elements will kick in. Whether escaping from a knife wielding maniac or some otherworldly beasts, the tension early on is quite palpable. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that these are not sections that require much thought or effort. The knife wielder, for example, is an early sequence; when he appears, Rose is informed to avoid him at all costs after she witnesses him murder some unlucky soul in front of her before wandering off. I was prepared for a stealth section to follow, but I soon realised that he had vanished from the room completely. It was only when opening the gate to proceed did he reappear. These segments all play in exactly the same way throughout, with Rose suddenly gaining a boost of speed as she runs from her aggressor in scripted chase sequences. Again, the first time through these feel tense; pull the trigger and the view will swing to to look behind you. The chaser is never far away, and combined with the music and general audio I did find the heartbeat went up a few notches. But it’s hard to fail these areas. As long as you keep running, they’ll never catch up to you. The only time I died was when I missed a signposted route, ending up in a dead end and restarting the sequence. On a second play, these chases become rather dull, with any and all tension ripped out from them.
It’s a shame, as the world building the Storm in a Teacup have done is absolutely gorgeous. While very reminiscent of Bioshock, the detail and artistry on display is stunning, putting Unreal Engine 4 to good use. Huge golden statues glimmer under bright spotlights, water refracts and ripples beautifully and even the plethora of bulbs and dials distort under the less than perfect glass casing. The grisly scenes are immaculately detailed too, with bits and pieces of the unfortunates strewn about the place and blood smeared over finely detailed carpets and walls. When there’s a lot going on the resolution can dip noticeably – on my OG console at least – but that never really distracts too much. The audio is of a high quality too; bangs and crashes off in the distance, the echoing of unseen footsteps and crackling of electricity all give the world an authentic sense of place.
Outside of the disappointing horror elements, there’s an engaging narrative to keep you hooked throughout. Flashes of past events hint at the fate of the crew, while the twists and turns of the characters – while not wholly unforeseen – are well executed enough to at least keep you playing. Chapters are short too, with the 10 on offer lasting anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour each, depending on how thoroughly you explore the world.
While I was disappointed by the horror aspects in Close to the Sun, overall I found my time with it to be quite engaging. The story and characters get their hooks in just enough to keep you playing, and the world building – from the gorgeous visuals to the incidental details and notes left behind – is brilliant. That it keeps its run time brief is to the games credit too, as yet more chase sequences would definitely have harmed the experience.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.