Close to the Sun Review

May 6, 2019

Nikola Tesla’s inventions, all realised and allowed to dominate the world. A mysterious, giant ship adrift in international waters. Experiments with the ‘one electron’ theory making time ‘bleed’. Creatures beyond understanding living within exotic matter. Any one of these cool sci-fi ideas would make for an compelling story, but all of them are at the heart of Storm in a Teacup’s Close to the Sun, which launched this month as one of the first exclusives for the Epic Games Store on PC. It stands out as an indie title with a lot of potential, mixing adventure with horror elements, in a beautiful setting that invites players to explore everything to reach the truth. But, much like one of Nikola Tesla’s coils, it’s one that’s cool to look at, and may even have some hair-raising moments, but doesn’t offer much beyond its brief moment of flash.

The game is set in an alternate timeline where Nikola Tesla is a globally recognised titan of industry, supplying half the world with electricity and christening his success with the launch of his greatest invention – the Helios. The Helios is the world’s largest ship, an enormous city unto itself that sails through international waters, capable of defending itself with a high-tech ‘death ray’ and housing the world’s top scientists, free to explore their own pursuits. One of these is Ada, sister to the game’s protagonist, Rose, who sends her a letter summoning her to the Helios to help her escape. Something has gone terribly wrong with time on board the Helios, merging past and present, and Rose has to overcome the many safety measures in place to find her sister and make their way off the ship before it’s too late.

One thing I hate to have to address is the obvious similarities this game has to another. Despite the developer’s disclaimers that Close to the Sun is not Bioshock, it’s hard to avoid thinking about it constantly while playing. The art-deco inspired Helios is a scientifically-improbable achievement at sea that allows scientists to pursue their own projects and agendas unhindered by governments or nations, overseen by its benefactor, Nikola Tesla. Telsa, by the way, is not only ever-present through propaganda plastered on every wall, but also revealed to be perpetually suspicious of spies and those who would seek to undermine Helios – agents of Thomas Edison, in this case. The Helios’ scientists, often wearing masquerade masks, meet their gruesome ends after one particular experiment has unintended consequences and allows the ship to fall into anarchy and decay. You, as an outsider, are clued in to where to go via a faceless voice over the radio, one who may have less-than-genuine intentions. The closeness between the two games in aesthetics and storytelling is honestly distracting, even if they have different gameplay styles.

Close to the Sun does hit the nail on the head with mood and atmosphere, however.  The Helios is immaculately detailed, and very impressively rendered in Unreal Engine 4, with many locations to explore that juxtapose beautiful art-deco architecture, with some pretty gruesome scenery left behind in the wake of the incident on board. Certain locations are just jaw-dropping to behold, like the ship’s grandiose theatre, while others are almost painterly, with beautiful rivers of ‘exotic matter’ slipping through areas of the ship. With support for my ultrawide display, Close to the Sun’s presentation certainly drew me in, even if the narrative didn’t completely satisfy. In a story built around time travel and time loops, part of the fun is usually seeing how everything connects and makes sense, and in that regard Close to the Sun‘s story is a disappointment, cut short before any of its major mysteries can really be resolved outside of the most immediate problems. Instead, they’re left for some future sequel, which frankly guts the curiosity I had built up over the course of the game.

Most of your time in Close to the Sun is spent exploring the Helios’ many areas, from crew quarters to laboratories and power stations. You’ll find various (although not a huge amount) of letters and notes strewn around which give you some insight into life for the people on board, and at times ghostly visions show rudimentary representations of their lives. There are a few puzzles strewn throughout the environments, often revolving around number sequences or finding the right lever, which are fairly simple to understand. Annoyingly, the story-driven nature of the game can prevent you from being creative at times, I had already found the solution to one problem in the crew quarters, but had to wait until the game had decided it was time a prompt would show up to allow me to use it and continue. However, exploration for the curious can be rewarded, particularly with a cipher that can be used to decode secret messages if you’re particularly wrapped up in the plot.

Of course, Close to the Sun is also a horror game, and its exploration contains more than its fair share of mild jump scares. However, it reaches its peak intensity with several chase sequences which play out somewhat like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, as you have to navigate through a maze within the ship to find the appropriate route to escape. There’s a bit of trial and error involved, but it does provide a good amount of spooks when you get caught, as Rose has no way of defending herself. The beautiful exotic matter that appears more and more throughout the game becomes a wonderful little trick by the developers that sets you on edge, as you learn to associate its presence with some serious shit about to go down. Unfortunately, buggy action prompts to vault over or under scenery can trigger far more trial and error than you needed, and make the formerly tense chases routine as you attempt them again and again.

Beyond its fantastic aesthetics, no matter how familiar they may seem, Close to the Sun can’t help but feel a little empty. Its plot is fine, if unresolved, but character interactions are never developed enough to become truly engaging. Its environments, while impressive and detailed, aren’t interactive beyond a few collectable items and the puzzles involved in main thrust of the story. The action, while intense, is few and far between. For an independent game, Close to the Sun looks outstanding and if its presentation appeals to you then it’s worth checking out. But, unlike Icarus who flew too close to the sun in the Greek legend, Close to the Sun itself doesn’t feel like it even reaches that point. It’s a serviceable story wrapped up in an interesting premise, that doesn’t reach the heights I had hoped for, although it does make for an enjoyable afternoon of adventure.


- Fantastically detailed world aboard the Helios to explore
- Creepy atmosphere and mood


- Basic gameplay and riddles
- Unfinished and derivative plot, despite some interesting setup

Overall Score: