STAFF REVIEW of Close to the Sun (Xbox One)

Sunday, December 15, 2019.
by Josh Morgan

Close to the Sun Box art Close to the Sun is a first person adventure by developers Storm in a Teacup, that leans heavily on atmosphere and story, while also providing some light puzzles and collectible hunting. From the second you board the Helios you’ll notice that things aren’t what they seem, and after around 10 hours exploring every nook and cranny of the 10 levels for collectibles, you’ll finish the game with more questions than answers. That’s not a bad thing.

“Come aboard the Helios, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.”.

The Helios is a massive ship in the ocean that is home to Nikola Tesla and his large research team. You are Rose, having received a message from your sister, Ada, a researcher aboard the Helios, that asks you to come as quick as possible. Not much information is given, but as a loyal sibling you are, you listen to her words and hop on the first boat to meet up with her on the Helios. Right off the bat, Close to the Sun gives off a Bioshock vibe. Not only in looks, but the backstory of the Helios is a lot like Rapture. A crazy genius builds a remote research facility away from people telling him that he is breaking rules, or crossing the lines of morality. What could go wrong when you are confined to a ship in the middle of the ocean and you start messing with the fabric of time? In the words of one of the people you will meet aboard the Helios, “We’re harvesting energy from time, this shit is complicated.”. So of course things have gone wrong, this would be a short game if it didn’t.

First, you are on a small auto boat that is approaching the Helios,and as you circle the massive ship and enter one of the access docks, you begin to realize how large this ship really is. With the fog and the dark sky you only see glimpses of the ship, never see the whole thing, but I think that really helps set the tone for the game. Right off the auto boat, you never have a good feeling about what you are getting into, and there is always more you don’t know about your situation than there is that you do. Having the Helios shrouded in mystery of fog and darkness is a great way to start the game with this tone.

The story unfolds with dialog as you are exploring and small cutscenes where you lose control of your character, but the viewpoint never leaves from Rose herself. Another tool they use to provide story is the many items littered about the Helios. There are magazines, newspaper articles, office memos and photos all over the place for you to pick up and read for more backstory. Apparently, they are so far advanced that they can manipulate time, but cannot figure out how to send voice recordings instead of wasting TONS of paper on department memos. One easily missable set of documents were in a regular room not far from the main path of the story. They had the notes and memos from Albert Einstein and his time aboard the Helios, and is a very cool detail about the importance of the research facility if you aren’t looking around closely. There are so many small details that can be missed if you are just playing through the game and hitting the main story beats. To truly get the most out of Close to the Sun, you need to search for every item and read them closely.

There is no combat, but there are enemies that you will need to run from during a handful of chase sequences. These chase sequences are incredibly intense and scary since you are limited to first person view you never get a good look at how close the enemy is behind you, leaving you to always assume they are right on your ass. You’ll navigate unfamiliar hallways and turn into dead ends bringing a brutal death scene at the hands of your pursuing enemy. This is where these sequences start to cross the line from intense to frustrating.

After five or six attempts of taking wrong turns, fumbling over obstacles or getting caught on objects on the floor, you will begin to notice that your pursuer isn’t as close as the hair on the back of your neck was telling you. It becomes more trial and error at this point just trying to find the right path to the end of the sequence. If you take a wrong turn you are forced to watch an incredibly long and graphic death scene that is not skippable. Fail multiple times in a sequence and that death scene starts to get frustrating when all you want to do is quick reset the checkpoint and make a left turn instead of right.

There aren’t many puzzles in the game, but the ones that do appear are pretty fun. Most of them involve unlocking a door to advance the story, but some go a few steps further and have you searching for a clue in a room that will unlock your next objective. One puzzle that sticks out was a safe that had symbols on the dials, and in that room was a poem written in a book, so you had to use that poem to solve the order of the dials. It was a very clever mechanic that I wish showed up more often in the game.

The story isn’t the only thing that lifts heavy inspiration from Bioshock, the graphics also reminded me of my days in Rapture. Abandoned hallways made of the most expensive wood, brass and gold are covered in blood streaks and littered with bodies and garbage that tell a tale of chaos and destruction that you are here to sort out. Lights flicker, sounds and shadows come and go in the distance and you are all alone not knowing what is around the corner. You can tell that a lot of thought and care went into the environmental design of the Helios as it is the true star of the game, much like I thought Rapture was the true star of Bioshock.

Throughout the story you will come across yellow glowing silhouettes that offer some details of the events that happened before you boarded. You’ll see people running from... something, and at times they will lead you where to go in your journey. They also offer some back story, as some of the yellow silhouettes are story related and can offer a hint to your objective. These glimpses of the past, and the fact that you never get up close and personal with another character (other than Ludwig... but you’ll need to meet him for yourself) hide the fact that they didn’t spend any time detailing character models or faces. I think this was a great decision, as all that time was better spent on the Helios and making sure the environment and atmosphere are at their best.

Bioshock is my favorite game of all time, and the Helios drew me into its environment and story very similar to how I was drawn into Rapture 12 years ago. The story telling and voice acting are all top notch and are backed up by an atmosphere that many Bioshock copies have tried to mimic, but I felt never got quite right. Close to the Sun is a joy to play through if you don’t get too frustrated at the chase sequences and as long as you like hunting for collectibles to fill out some backstory.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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