CLOSE TO THE SUN Review: A Beautifully Designed Haunted House

PC Review Code provided by Storm in a Teacup

PC Review Code provided by Storm in a Teacup

Most horror games are designed in a way that keeps players on edge, wondering where the next danger is lurking or trying to find the safest way out of danger. However, Storm in a Teacup took a different route when developing Close to the Sun. Instead of putting you near enemies or wondering when danger would appear, the game seemed to flow in sections of safe, eerie, and chase types of sequences. While this isn’t the norm, it also isn’t terrible either. Let’s get into the details of what I mean.

Story

After receiving a strange letter from your sister asking you to come board the science-based ship known as “The Helios” where she works with fellow scientists and Nikola Tesla, you immediately find that things aren’t what they seem. Making your way through the ship you learn that it is designed to be a live-in science facility that separates itself from man-made problems of the world to focus on evolutionary progress. It is up to you to find your sister in the chaos and learn exactly what has happened on the ship while trying to get out of there alive!

Gameplay

Majority of the game is spent exploring your surroundings. You will get to view the amazing steampunk styled ship that takes place in the alternate history where Nikola Tesla is the reigning science leader. Enjoying the beautiful views that the ship provides, including gardens, statues, and Tesla coil based energy, you get a mixture of designed beauty and destroyed chaos.

There are various puzzles throughout the game that take place in large parts of the ship. These often relate to generators and energy in some way, but usually require finding documents with code sequences. The way the codes are put in change from matching symbols, turn gears, and simply pushing buttons or pulling levers.

When there is an enemy in the game, they are usually introduced by a forced look sequence, if not a short in-game cutscene. Once this happens, there is no stealth involved as it quickly becomes a chase sequence. These chase moments require you to take the shortest path possible and leave little room for error, so your chances of dying and trying again are high every time one of these sequences appear.

There is tons of lore notes and collectible information for you to find throughout the ship to know a bit more about the story and background of the people who were aboard the ship when everything went down. Most of it doesn’t directly relate to the overall story, but gives a sense of what life was like during their stay on the Helios or their thoughts as things started going south.

The most unique aspect of the game are the time-fragmented people, or golden ghosts as I liked to think of them. These usually guided you to where you needed to go or towards some extra note with information on it. They play a big role in the overall story, even if they don’t all seem to be important individually. Sometimes they even come with dialogue you can hear, which often provided information related to what they were working on or just more bits of what their life was like on the ship before chaos ensued.

Graphics and Sounds

Everything about the game is very beautifully crafted. Even when you lower the settings, the value of your surroundings is not lessened enough to ruin how well they modeled and textured everything to be. You can see that, if this were a real ship, it would have taken years and billions of dollars to construct.

The sound effects and bits of dialogue that was placed everywhere helped drive the story while making you feel that danger lurked around every corner. The sounds used for the time creatures were also well placed to really bring out the level of danger they bring; if the slaughtered people weren’t enough for you to understand that already.

Replayability

There are no choices to make to change anything and the puzzles are going to be the same when you make your way through the game. Other than wanting to see every note and grab every collectible, there really is no reason to go through the game more than once.

What Could Be Better

I did find myself having an issue with a few parts of the game. Some of these issues are worse than others, but put together they make for a pretty strong negative impact on the interesting design and overall experience that the game provides.

When you lower the Texture Graphics option in the Graphics menu to any under than the highest setting, they keep the surroundings looking nice but tarnish the actual puzzle sections of the game. The most noticeable sections that this happened was when you were in Ada’s room and doing the symbol matching puzzle, as well as, the gear turning number sequence in the main lobby. Both of these puzzles require you to look at the symbols or numbers on the object and match them up accordingly, however when you lower the texture option from the highest setting these just become blurs. Not having the best computer, I tend to run games on the “Normal” setting and kept having to raise the setting up to the highest just to solve the puzzle before lowering it back down. This is a big priority issue when it comes to graphics.

The chase sequences are the scariest part of the game and even make the zoom button turn into a look behind you button which adds to the intensity. However, it is during these sections that the game seems to have trouble with your inputs the most. There are parts you have to vault over in order to keep pace, but there were plenty of times that it just didn’t register my button pressing, which turned into button mashing when I got close, causing me to die. I even started pressing both jump and interact at the same time when I got close to it just to ensure it always picked it up. This needs to be tightened as there weren’t any other part of the game where I noticed this lag between controls and interaction.

I did enjoy the layout that the game provided, but it didn’t take long to realize that it is set up like a common Haunted House attraction you would find at an amusement park during the month of October. If you aren’t in a chase sequence, you can consider yourself safe. Nothing is going to suddenly pounce on you, there are no enemies to sneak around, and the only real threat are jump scares that ultimately don’t affect your character. While this can make for an eerie experience, there is a relaxation that comes from the obvious security that if I am not being chased then I don’t need to fear death. It is a bit of an immersion killer that could be avoided by having a patrolling enemy or sections that you could accidentally cause the chase sequence to begin early.

Conclusion

Close to the Sun is a fun experience game that took an interesting route to setting up a horror game. It seemed to be more focused on giving you some large room puzzles rather than an actual horror experience. I would say that it is best described as a sci-fi experience game with a horror theme. While I do think the experience was worth going through, there was plenty of room for improvement on the game overall.

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