In a few weeks Close to the Sun will land on all current gen consoles and we’ve had the chance to experience a few chapters of the first-person story driven horror game. Taking inspiration from the likes of Soma, Firewatch, Outlast and Layers of Fear, it’s the tale of a journalist called Rose who’s been called to visit her sister on the mysterious Helios – a sanctuary for scientific discovery run by the enigmatic Nikola Tesla. You’d be hard pressed not to liken it to Bioshock as well given the art deco stylings and the underlying story of a man wanting to advance discovery through re-housing the cream of the crop… and it’s at sea too. In fairness there’s more than a whiff of Irrational’s masterpiece at play, but then this is a different type of game and it has a few surprises up its sleeves.
This being the latter end of the 19th Century and an alternate history where Tesla has mastered wireless electricity, you’re thrust into an impressive and opulent world that’s rife with mysteries and genius contraptions – some concocted, some real. The Helios is not only home to the best scientists in the world, it’s in effect a large floating city that can only be reached through autonomous ferries. Because it’s so secretive it also means an element of paranoia on behalf of the founder, and with Tesla’s belief that Thomas Edison’s spies are everywhere, it’s something of a totalitarian state too. None of this explains why the ship appears deserted when Rose arrives, and with “Quarantine” daubed over the walls it’s safe to say that something has gone monumentally wrong somewhere.
Walking the decks of the Helios with their recently abandoned feel and pockets of destruction is enough to put you on edge. It’s sinister, creepy, and does manage the occasional jump scare. It’s also fascinating to get into the detail of what the place is and who the inhabitants are. There’s a decent amount of environmental story telling, as well as snippets of info to be absorbed from newspapers and documents dotted around. Within the confines of each section you’re typically free to explore the space and figure out how to progress to the next part of the ship. Puzzles are relatively light from the chapters we’ve played and work well in the world, and it’s possible to approach things in whatever order you want so if you stumble across a required area/encounter, it doesn’t lock it off until you’ve hit the right story beat.
Of course, this is a horror game so there needs to be some peril to drive things forward. For the first part of the game the environment and paths build the atmosphere really nicely, helped along by the Unreal Engine, and there are some really nice tricks with visions to flesh out what exactly has been happening aboard, but it’s not endangering our heroine. This comes in the form of a knife wielding killer who seems to know Rose and blames her for everything that’s happening. Couple that with the strange radio transmissions from Rose’s sister Ada who specialises in physics and there are all the hallmark’s of good science gone wrong. Being hunted offers up a couple of different styles of play with sneaking around building the tension; and running away and dodging obstacles whilst trying not to get stabbed in the back being frantic and menacing.
Close to the Sun has an intriguing start and a bold vision of what could have been if things had gone a little differently at the end of the 1800’s. Despite it’s horror roots there’s a surprisingly light tone to some of the investigation, and snooping through people’s lives aboard the ship gives up numerous Easter eggs and nice little nods and gags – finding a Die Hard one raised a wry smile, as did coming across a young Einstein’s thoughts. We can’t help but feel that even the collector’s edition of the game is a reference back to Bioshock… that would be meta. If the game continues as it’s started then this is going to be an electrifying adventure that sparks the imagination as much as the nerves.
Close to the Sun is out on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on the 29th October just in time for Halloween and we’ll have our review available for then. If you’re of the PC persuasion then you can pick it up on the Epic Store right now.