Italian developers Storm in a Teacup released their SOMA, Outlast, Layers Of Fear inspired first person adventure game Close to the Sun on PC (console versions release later in 2019). The game’s setting is during the close of the 1800s and presents an art deco theme which likely will draw some comparisons with Irrational Games’ Bioshock. However, right out of the gate, Close to the Sun isn’t about super powers, shooting or even action but presents a gripping suspenseful tale as lead character Rose investigates a deserted ship The Helios on instruction from her sister.
Without heading too much into spoiler territory, the game fuses investigation, the odd puzzle and the option to look closer at the nooks and crannies of the ship. Often players can head straight past many optional items of interest and with numerous documents littered about more details come to light for those who take the time to slow down and explore a little.
The puzzles aren’t too taxing either, where players possibly over-thinking is cause for stumbling. The way forward isn’t hindered as a result which is good. Generally it’s a pretty easy game to navigate thanks to context sensitive button prompts and an obvious way forwards most of the time. The game perhaps falls short in its scripted moments where the action heats-up. Rose isn’t the fastest sprinter and it’s actually the moments where she needs to escape which somewhat ruin the peaceful but tense atmosphere.
Sadly Storm in a Teacup decided to force the player into tight scripted encounters where the slightest error results in death and a respawn. Rose can’t defend herself without weapons and the option to pick anything up is not the point here. A shame then the chase scenes feel badly executed and tarnish the overall experience after dying several times rather unfairly. Luckily the checkpoints are quite forgiving, but in a way the game didn’t need these chase sequence and would have worked just as well without. Thankfully these are far and few between but feel somewhat tacked on considering the game’s focus rests on exploration and atmosphere.
Probably the game’s greatest asset aside from telling a story is the representation of the Helios. A massive ship adrift in international waters free from rules and regulations of any governments. This has meant Nikola Tesla (the game’s key figure) and his dedicated scientists perform the unspeakable. Again, without offering too many spoilers, players get to see some of his creativity and real-life inventions as they explore. Yet, amidst the peace and tranquility, horror quite eerily presents itself.
Storm in a Teacup’s attention to detail is superb and with the Art Deco theme offers some fantastic locations. The Unreal Engine looks grand here with neat fusions of light and dark bathed in neon style colours at times. It’s an impressive feat which keeps the game interesting throughout. Performance wise players can tinker with the options to suit, but mostly our RTX 2080 Ti performed well at 2160p – not quite holding a steady 60 fps though with the options maxed out.
Audio comes as a mixed bag and whilst Rose’s narrative works well, some sections feel a little too forced. A Die Hard movie reference seems out of place as well but at least it shows a bit of humor tossed in from time to time. Emily Moment who plays Rose does a good job overall but some of the other cast perhaps sound over-dramatic. Music features well here with wonderfully crafted moments to compliment the visuals. The rousing score offers great aural presence throughout. The only negative is the mix seems off at times where the voices sound too low making it hard to hear what is said. Hopefully this will be addressed with a patch.
In terms of longevity, due to the nature of game resting firmly on adventure, there is no reason to play more than once. It’s a first time deal only which means it’s advisable to explore as much as possible, take it all in the first run. Sure, players can replay chapters and find collectible documents and letters, but the real meat of the game doesn’t change. Without exploring too much players can complete all 10 chapters in around 3 hours.
Close to the Sun is an enjoyable adventure game that’s light on action and will appeal to those looking for an easy-going interactive story in first person. In fact, as mentioned the action sequences spoil the game to a degree and don’t feel like they should be part of the game. An unseen macabre or foreboding presence would have worked far better. That said, as it stands the game is enjoyable for what it is and boasts excellent audio and visual elements making the journey totally worthwhile. If you’re after a Bioshock 1.5 experience then this is not it despite what the visuals suggest. They might share similar themes but that’s about it. The game is less shocking horror and more about intriguing investigation. Based on its own merits, Close to the Sun feels akin to a walking sim through a fantastically realised ode to Nikola Tesla and the Art Deco period.