Storm in a Teacup (studio)
29 October 2019 (released)
29 October 2019
Close to the Sun is clearly inspired by one game. One game it’s developers clearly love and may have even worked on previously. Bio-Shock is a beloved sci-fi classic, a dark tale set within a city that’s under the Pacific Ocean. Being one of the greatest games ever made according to many gamers and critics. Close to the Sun wants to bask in that greatness so much, that it imitating it with such great affection. But does this affection pay off or come across as unimaginative?
The story of Close to the Sun centres on Rose, a young woman who’s been called upon by her sister to come aboard a massive ship known as the Helios. A ship/city manufactured by Nicola Tesla and regarded as a safe haven for the brilliant. Yeah starting to sound a little like Bio-Shock? Well things go wrong very quickly for Rose as she’s thrown into a race against time (figuratively and literally) to save her sister Ada and escape the metallic death trap.
So I will say that Close to the Sun has an interesting story that gets good very early on, but loses a lot of steam by the end. There are some elements left opened in the hopes that they will be answered in a sequel but there was so much wasted potential here. It even has many of the same beats as Bio-Shock such as the same environments, twists and the general setup rings very true to the game that inspired it.
It’s a shame as some of the story elements could’ve been explored upon and even become part of the gameplay. Because the gameplay is seriously lacking.
Okay so the basics of gameplay revolve around simple exploration, solving a handful of one dimensional puzzles and par-take in the odd chase sequence. Nothing really evolves from these core elements aside from one or two set pieces which are really just chase sequences in disguise.
Now the world is pretty stunning and the atmosphere is enriching. Close to the Sun manages to keep you invested through its compelling world and the horrors that await you on board the Helios. Wondering the world can be pretty intense but this tension is gone when you realise that there is little conflict for most of the game or little penalty or fear of death. The first few chapters do build intensity but as mentioned again, it’s all gone by the end.
While there are many collectables and most of them are pretty neat, adding to the world and story. There’s not much else to discover. The world’s design is very linear and if it weren’t so beautiful, it would’ve been much more tedious.
Outside of exploration and the odd puzzle, there are a few chasing sequences and these are fine. The locations and designs to the arenas you’ll be running around in are crafted well. My favourite would be midway through the game in the theatre as the layout is fairly complex and the chase is broken up to have a few moments where you’re being stalked by a deranged killer. But again there’s little tension here as outside the chases, there’s very few moments where you’ll die. These times would be from the environment and it appears you would have to do something wrong on purpose to just even get a scratch.
By the end of the game, the chases do become a little flat while lacking any exciting dynamics and having very little room for error. Often causing me to have flashbacks to the events of Outlast 2, but even Outlast 2 had elements of conflict outside the chases. But the chase sequences here are fine and most of them are well crafted and offer some excitement during a campaign which can drag at times.
Now I say any game needs some form of conflict but saying conflict isn’t all about guns and fighting. It’s about threat, obstacles and challenge. If the puzzles are a little more developed then, Close to the Sun would have a better chance of offering an enthralling journey. It does in many ways but in many others it lacks and just ends up being (I hate using this term) a walking simulator for the most part.
I hate to say but Close to the Sun is rather disappointing but will surely find a place in many gamer’s hearts. Yet it could be easily forgotten about just as quickly. It looks stunning; the story has some interesting ideas yet sadly doesn’t expand upon them and lacks any compelling gameplay for the most part. It’s uneventful, usually building up to something but never giving you the payoff. Even to have one dynamic element could’ve saved Close to the Sun from being an uninspired version of Bio-Shock.
++ Visually compelling
+ Interesting story with some good ideas
-- Lacks any interesting gameplay mechanics
- Slow, sluggish pacing through most of the game
An Xbox One review copy of Close to the Sun was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review