Step aboard the Helios, a huge vessel that knows no checks and balances or government intervention. Scientists are free to produce experiments not normally allowed by any governed society. Who is responsible for this passion to speed up technology? Well, none other than Nikola Tesla. In Close to the Sun, you play as a journalist, Rose, who is invited to the Helios by her sister (a resident and scientist). When Rose arrives, something seems a bit off. There is nobody around. It’s a bit too quiet and eerie. There are painted words that give warnings. But Rose can’t leave, she has a sister to find and possibly a story to uncover. This is just the start, as bodies become a common occurrence with pain and misery as a backdrop. What has caused this chaos? Has an experiment gone wrong? Nothing else matters, but finding Rose’s sister and getting the “expletive” out of there.
Here’s what I liked:
Futuristic Horror in the Past — It might be 1897, but the Helios is packed with technology not meant for the time period. At first, you may feel you’re playing a simple walking simulator. You walk around empty areas and explore areas that appear to be full of detail. But soon, you will be running for your life. With masterful scare tactics and a creepy vibe, you’ll explore an absolutely gorgeous environment that raises the hair on your neck. No, that’s not the electricity doing it. The fact that it’s a “what if” scenario is just fantastic. Tesla was a real-life innovator that sought to bring the future to everyone sooner. I love horror games and this one has quickly bumped up into one of my favorites. The story is smart and the puzzles can test your thought process. There are times you won’t know who to trust and as you get deeper into the vessel, you’ll soon wish you never boarded.
Personality Stays True — It’s not all grim and gruesome. The characters seem to still hold a sense of humor, even with all of the wretched evil just through the next corridor. Your relationship with your sister shines through the darkness and the understanding you have with the mysterious man on the other side of the walkie talkie is admirable. Voice acting is fine, but do not carry the story on its back. As you discover things to read, you’ll get to know what things were like before they got worse. You aren’t force-fed these backstories, but do have the option of learning them yourself in-between objectives. Through the whole campaign, you start to feel for Rose and her sister and may even relate them to your own relationships. I paid attention the entire time and absorbed every word. It’s as if you’re playing a novel and choose how fast to turn the pages.
Mood Through Sound — You should play with the volume up. A lot of the scares come from sound. Random thumps make you question your safety. While visually everything looks fine, sounds will tell you that nothing is actually okay. There are plenty of normal sounds that become frightening because they’re unexpected. The hissing sound of steam, the crackling of a fire, and the zapping of electricity will make you wonder if death is just around the corner. When you’re talking through the walkie, there is an almost echoing sound that makes you feel you’re in an empty and vacant surrounding. I think the sound design is top tier and sets the entire mood, preventing your uneasiness from ever settling.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Stiff Movement — You can’t win them all. Unfortunately, movement is a bit limited as far as smoothness is concerned. If you’ve ever lagged in a game, you know there is a feeling of slowness, as if your control movements are taking a second to register. It’s sped up a little in the chase sequences, but as a whole, it’s clunky. While it doesn’t ruin the entire game, it could deflect some people from wishing to continue at the beginning, as it’s the first thing that will leave a real impression with you. But beyond those first chapters, you’ll soon become engrossed in the world and it won’t be as bothersome. Raising the controller sensitivity in settings can help a little bit.
Absence of Cinematic — While not necessary, it would have been a great addition for a few cinematic scenes. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch a segment of action where you’re not controlling it. It would just be the icing on the cake. A few scenes could have looked wonderful if they were built as a cinematic. It’s more of something I wished it had, rather than anything I didn’t like. Without giving away spoilers, there’s a certain lab scene that could have been much more emotional. It deserved it, being the most pivotal twist you may not have expected. However, cinematic scenes are expensive and take a long time to make. The absence of them in no way hinders enjoyment, but man would it have been awesome.
There are always comparisons with other games and here is no different. You’ll have an almost nostalgic feeling if you’ve played the first Bioshock. Specifically the story, which focuses on the karma related to doing things without moral decision making. The gameplay is quite different, however. In Bioshock, you eventually become a strong force to be reckoned with and the frightening sequences dim down because you know nothing can stop you. In Close to the Sun, you never reach this point. In fact, things get worse! You cannot kill what is after you. There is no discovering powers or finding strong weapons. You’re always escaping tense situations. They get more stressful as you progress, making it more horrifying the farther you travel. It’s a spectacular and beautiful experience you should not pass up. This is easily one of the best releases of the year, and if you have read this far, you already know it’s something you need to try for yourself.
Score: Must Buy
Close to the Sun was published by Wired Productions and developed by Storm in a Teacup on Xbox One. It was released on October 29, 2019, for $29.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.