Close to the Sun Review
Close to the Sun is a new release from Storm in a Teacup which is billed as a story drive horror game. In actual fact, what we have is a ‘walking simulator’ (as much as I don’t particularly like the name for the genre, it is what it is at this point) based in an alternate version of history aboard Nikola Tesla’s mysterious city like ship The Helios at the turn of the 19th Century.
You control Rose, who received a letter from her sister Ada asking for her help. Rose, a journalist in 1897 makes her way to the Helios, which houses the greatest scientific minds of the time, working towards Nikola Tesla’s vision. It’s obvious from the beginning that everything is not what it seems. And the story quickly takes a turn into the surreal with elements of time travel. You set out to find your sister and figure out just exactly what happened aboard the Helios, and what caused the death of so many of its occupants.
It’s hard to ignore the comparisons to Bioshock’s Rapture when watching trailers for Close to the Sun. And the same is obvious when playing the game. The steampunk aesthetic seems ripped from Irrational Games’ hit title. That may seem a little harsh on Storm in a Teacup, but I’m a huge fan of steampunk (I even have a steampunk themed full sleeve tattoo), and Bioshock is one of my favourite story driven first person shooters, and with it Rapture one of the most enjoyable game spaces I’ve played in. So, to be able to go back into a similar environment is most welcome.
I will emphasise though, that the similarities with the environment is where the similarities end. Close to the Sun is purely relies on exploration, collecting items and solving puzzles to drive the narrative forward. There’s no combat here at all, and while there are some ‘action’ sequences, they are more akin to chase scenes, than anything a shooting game will provide you.
Storm in a Teacup have drawn from other influences in this genre to craft an extremely enjoyable story across 10 chapters. Keeping you guessing along the way as to what has happened to cause the problems on board, why Ada has asked for your help – apparently, she doesn’t know either, or how you’re going to get off the ship to safety. This is the games main strength, moving through the story itself. Unfortunately, there are several occasions when it lets itself down with its puzzle and level design.
While it wasn’t a constant problem, the puzzles in the game can border on a little frustrating. Tying you up for the wrong reasons. Rather than it being a difficult puzzle, trying to remember items, codes or keys that you’ve found, or going back and forth across a level took up additional time that drew me away from the enjoyment of the story. If I’m stuck on a puzzle, I want it to be because I’m thinking about how to solve it, and not for anything else. It’s a shame that these little issues are present, because Close to the Sun is teetering close to being amongst the top-level games in the genre. But falls a little short because of this.
Close to the Sun is certainly an enjoyable journey, one that does include some jump scares and horror moments along the way while exploring what is a bit of a disturbing view on an alternate timeline. If you’re looking for a new game within the ‘walking simulator’ genre, you could do a lot worse than looking in this direction. Just aware, that it falls short of being a top tier experience.