Review: Close to the Sun (Computer)

Reviewed by Tom Bond, posted May 7, 2019, last updated May 6, 2019
May 7, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): May 2, 2019
  • Publisher: Wired Productions
  • Developer: Storm in a Teacup
  • Genres: Adventure, horror
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Close to the Sun is a horror adventure game by Italian studio Storm in a Teacup. Following Rose on her adventures about the Helios, is Close to the Sun a good game, or did it get...to close to the sun?
Tom Bond

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TIME IS NOT A RIVER

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Time is not a river. At least, that’s what you’ll find in Close to the Sun. The game takes place in 1897, following the story of Rose Archer and her arrival on the Helios, a colossal-sized ship designed by Nikolai Tesla. Serving as a utopia for scientific minds of any subject, Rose’s sister Ada lives aboard the ship as a dimensional physicist and invites Rose along to come see the work that’s being done on Helios. After reading the letter sent by Ada to Rose, the game officially starts on a small empty boat, seemingly controlled automatically via remote thanks to one of Tesla’s various wireless inventions. After searching the ship, and checking a few newspapers that are strewn about, you head to the Bridge and hit a button that commences docking procedure with the Helios. As you get closer and closer to the ship, you’ll see just how large the Helios really is. 

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Once you’re aboard the Helios, you’ll discover this gigantic behemoth of a machine is seemingly a quiet, empty ghost ship...at least, at first. After exploring the entryway, and having to open the front door yourself, you’ll find the ship is in an apparent quarantine status, which explains the lack of persons around to greet you. Once you explore around a bit, reading more of those dang newspapers randomly thrown about the place, you’re contacted by Ada through the earpiece she gives you with your letter. Proclaiming no knowledge of a letter sent by her, and after a vague explanation of events, it seems that time travel is the culprit of events, and Ada recruits Rose in helping her escape the ship. Some other characters are eventually introduced through your earpiece, like the aforementioned Tesla whose main goal is to seemingly stop anyone from exploring the ship, and Aubrey King, a kooky but helpful companion who thwarts Tesla’s attempts at locking you up. Each interaction with these characters is well done, the voice actors are wonderful and the characters have interesting qualities that I wish was expanded on in the game. 

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But, unfortunately, here’s where we hit one of the first flaws with the game: the story. The gist of it, without spoiling too much, is that Tesla, Ada and the thousands of scientists aboard the Helios, discovered a new type of energy called “Exotic Energy”, which has something to do with time travel and the One Electron Theory. In summary, the One Electron Theory states that the universe is made up of only one electron that moves backwards and forwards through time, and through this discovery Tesla is able to harness some kind of infinite source of energy!...but at a cost, of course. It turns out that messing with time travel is a bad idea, and after a bad leak of Exotic Energy, things go real bad on the ship. While this sounds pretty interesting as I write it out, actually experiencing the story through the game feels less interesting and more just cliche, and that kind of sums up my biggest issue with it: it’s all just one big “Time Travel Consequences!” cliche, which ends up being really predictable. I won’t spoil the story much more, but I will say I was able to easily guess the vast majority of plot twists you’ll come across within an hour of playing, which is a tad disappointing for what is such a story driven game, especially when the gameplay ends up being a bit lackluster, too. 

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The meat of Close to the Sun consists mainly of walking around, completing some small task like flipping a switch, and then running away from the occasional enemy. That’s it. There’s very little to interact with beyond what’s needed for progression, and the exploration that you can do is only rewarded with small collectibles that don’t serve much of a purpose beyond a 5 second “oh, neat” thought before being forgotten about forever. In one chapter of the game, you might collect some masks from a masquerade ball, and the other would have you picking up blueprints for various Tesla inventions that you might see during the game. While some of these can result in some interesting discovers, like a cryptography puzzle within the game that can actually be solved to find an easter egg from the devs, they feel more like something added to pad out the walking simulator experience and the playtime more than anything else. The puzzles included aren’t really that complex, and mainly consists of memorizing codes and doing things in a specific order, and that’s the extent. The only real action you’ll come across is when you’re being chased by an enemy, whether it’s a crazy dude that tells you Time is Not a River or a spoopy time monster, it gets a tad old when you realize every chase has only one route to go. If you get caught, it’s because you didn’t jump over an obstacle quick enough, or simply because you tried to explore more of the ship looking for that one missing collectible when you probably should’ve been avoiding death. 

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That said, exploring this ship really does end up being a pleasure, even if the majority of the monumental ship can’t be explored. The game has a beautiful art design, with an art direction reminiscent of Bioshock, which looks good and really fits the setting as you explore each chapter in Close to the Sun. Along with this is an excellent ambiance, which will result in quite a fair few spoops when you least expect it. While a lot of these do end up being jump scares, they’re not the cheap “RANDOM SPOOKY SCREAM” kind that you might find in an indie horror game, and have gotten me fairly well more times than I’d like to admit. The further you explore the Helios the more death and damage you’ll find, which brings to light the rather horrible things that happened here before you arrived on board. 

Verdict
Pros
+ Great art direction.
+ Good ambiance with decent scares.
+ Well written characters with great voice actors.
Cons
- Lackluster gameplay.
- Incredibly predictable, cliche story.
- Little actual exploration to be had, and the results of such exploration were rather poor.
9 Presentation
Close to the Sun has that Bioshock art direction that really works in the isolated, spooky setting of the Helios. Along with the excellent ambiance thanks to the audio, and great voice acting, Close to the Sun is quite a pleasing game to walk through.
4 Gameplay
Unfortunately, its gameplay is extremely sparse, and what little there is to do doesn't really make the game all that fun to play.
4 Lasting Appeal
Close to the Sun is more of a "one and done" type game than anything. There are no branching paths, no real choices that affect the game, no multiple endings, and there's no real incentive to play more than the one time, unless you missed a collectible or two that you really want to have.
6.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Close to the Sun starts out quite promising, but simmers out the longer you play. Despite its walking simulator gameplay and predictable story, however, I find I would still recommend Close to the Sun to anyone who likes adventure horror games. The well-written characters and excellent ambiance really stands out, which can make the game quite enjoyable regardless of its flaws.


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