On the surface, Storm in a Teacup appear to have crafted Bioshock-lite with Close to the Sun.
Close to the Sun explores an alternate timeline where Nikola Tesla’s wildest dreams and wackiest inventions are on full display. Set on Helios, a mysterious ship in international waters, players find themselves in search of Ada Archer, a research scientist with a brilliant mind.
Playing as her sister, Rose Archer, players are cordially invited onto the Helios by Ada, but they soon learn something isn’t quite right. As the journalist explores, so she finds the environment more and more unwelcoming through quarantines and horrors.
It all gets a bit dark and horrible, and on first impression, yes, it looks a lot like Bioshock.
There’s that 19th century Andrew Ryan esque aesthetic with big metal doors and a chaotic landscape. There are psychotic killers running around and plenty of regular chatter over comms.
The big difference is that you’re essentially defenseless. There’s no Plasmids to give you power or wrenches to crack skulls with. You just need to be good at sneaky sneaks, hiding, and running from danger.
And if you’re no good at those things, then you’re going to get stabbed. A lot.
Close to the Sun is a proper big-budget indie with fantastic effects and top-drawer acting, and it effortlessly creates a sense of unease and tension at every turn. You’ll be hooked by its twists and turns, question the motives of every character, and wonder what sort of hidden secrets are buried in the Helios.
This is a game which is confident in its story. Every landscape tells a tale of its own, each clue you find illustrates a backstory and lines of dialogue truly add something to the plot.
And yet, something isn’t quite right. More specifically, the action sequences are a bit bland and unpredictable. Not because you can’t stab and shoot everything in sight, but because, mechanically, they all feel a bit … off.
You’ll regularly find yourself on the run from those with scary weapons and murderous intent, sometimes having to hop over obstacles to put a bit of distance between you and the assailant. The problem being, the interactions don’t always work.
For example, you might come up against some scattered boxes. A prompt to leap over them will appear, but when you try there’s a temporary delay between your character running and registering a button press. In some cases, you have to stop to vault the hurdle as the momentum doesn’t want to carry you across.
And while running, sometimes you might feel clueless as to which direction you need to go. You can almost expect another death or two because you get lost, and are relying on trial, error, and a bit of luck to get through.
But hey, the puzzle solving carries most of the game’s weight, right? Well, not exactly.
See, sometimes, you’ll find the clue is staring you right in the face. Sometimes you have to run the other side of the ship to get your answer. Sometimes there’s a bit of repetition involved.
The point is, none of makes you feel particularly clever and rarely does it tax you. For a game that’s a ‘one and done’ and can be finished in just over four hours, that’s a little bit disappointing.
A more slight, but nonetheless significant frustration is the saving system. In some cases, you have to go deep into a chapter before the game will save, and if you have to quit for any reason, it might make you start a chapter all over. When you’re listening to the same dialogue and watching the same cut scenes over, it gets a little monotonous.
Sadly, these all work against the game at times and serve as a distraction from its intriguing story, affecting the pacing and momentum each time.
I really like Close to the Sun, though. I think it’s a very bold, brave, and intelligent game that smartly weaves its plot together through a mix of dialogue, environment, and suspense.
Storm in a Teacup are one of the most promising and talented new studios out there and while this game isn’t perfect, there’s enough in here to convince me of their vision and ambitions. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
Close to the Sun is now available on PC and will come to consoles later this year.
Review code kindly provided by PR Agency