Imagine a world where the great Nikola Tesla was able to fulfil his potential and change the world forever. This quote sums up Close to the Sun, one of my most anticipated games for 2019. Nikola Tesla was a genius. Even Tesla himself admitted that “I have always been ahead of my time”. His work changed the world with such inventions as the AC motor and the Tesla Coil. But what if Tesla had the resources available to him for some of his more obscure inventions? Earthquake Machines, Death Rays or Wireless Energy? Our world as we know it would be entirely different. Close to the Sun is set in this alternate reality, and it’s amazing to the impact one-man can have on the world. But, is it for better or worse?
Close to the Sun is a first-person, story driven horror game that draws inspiration from other horror classics such as Outlast, Layer of Fear and SOMA. Players will get familiar with Rose, a young journalist who first steps aboard the Helios after receiving a mysterious letter from her sister- Ada, a Lead Researcher aboard the Helios. The Helios was a glamorous ship, full of stunning art, creative geniuses and a safe-haven for scientists free to practice any scientific experiment they can envision, despite how unethical or dangerous it may be. Tesla once admired Thomas Edison, but now they’re in competition and Tesla’s convinced Edison is sending spies to steal his work. This is why the Helios only sails in international waters. It’s safe and secure, surely none of Edison’s spies can get aboard, can they? But most of all, there’s no danger to the public, no matter how dangerous their experiments are. It’s fair to say that when Rose first boards the Helios, she quickly realizes that this isn’t a family holiday. There are dark, mysterious clouds that almost haunt the Helios, the smell of death lingers in the air and you swear you’re hallucinating as you see mysterious yellow remnants of people, but then they’re suddenly gone. But all this pale in comparison to the loud, cracking and buzzing sound of high voltage electricity, instilling fear via every sense available. You finally walk through the doors of the Helios, only to be welcomed by the sight of death. You ignore the lifeless corpses and blood everywhere, only to look back at the closed doors and read ‘QUARANTINE’ written in blood. If matters couldn’t get any worst… you have no weapon, no way to defend yourself. All you have is a receiver used to communicate with your sister and hope, but is this enough?
Developer Storm in a Teacup have done an exceptional job incorporating many of Tesla’s inventions, ideas and even myths into this game. We’ve all played games based around an evil genius taking over the world, but a horror game based around one the greatest minds we’ve ever seen taking over the world? Genius! So, it’s no surprise then that the man behind Close to the Sun is the same man who has worked on many Triple A titles such as Hitman: Absolution, Crysis 3 and Batman: Arkham Origins. Not the mention the occasional movie and commercial. I’m of course talking about Storm in a Tea Cup CEO and Creative Director Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi. Carlo has assembled an impressive team behind him since founding the company in 2013. They’re a dedicated team devoted to creating games that tell stories.
Being a review, I should actually talk about the game, right? Gameplay. Close to the Sun doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not, and it’s definitely not Bioshock. Close to the Sun is much in the vein of Outlast, Layers of Fear and even Firewatch. Focusing on a much slower, story driven tempo, rather than cheap thrills. The world is filled with notes, letters, blueprints and other misplaced paperwork of importance that are all somewhat relevant and add depth to the story. As you begin exploring the Helios for clues about what has happened, you’ll unexpectedly jump out of your seat and start abusing the game for giving you a scare. The jump scares are brilliantly done. Most are unexpected and are enhanced by the beautiful visuals (Well, as beautiful as rotting corpses and blood can be) and exceptional sound effects. As with the game I mentioned previously, Close to the Sun incorporates puzzles. They aren’t the most complex puzzles you’ll ever encounter, but they will encourage you to explore the room for clues. You’ll read reports, personal letters, even suicide notes looking for clues to help solve puzzles. There isn’t an abundance of enemies you’ll encounter, but when you do… RUN! There’s no fighting, no combat, no way to defend yourself. In fact, you want to avoid enemies at all cost otherwise, you’ll get stabbed. Not once, not twice, but many, many times. There are other enemies who prefer not to stab you, but I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but you’ll want to run as fast as you can from these enemies too.
I immediately fell in love with the visuals of close to the Sun. I constantly found myself in awe of the amount of detail in the world. Every time I entered a big room such as the theatre, it felt like Christmas. I couldn’t help myself but explore every inch of the room. I was fascinated with even the minor details in the world and found myself admiring all the small things that are commonly overlooked. I found myself staring at portraits of Tesla and other famous scientists on board the Helios like it was an art gallery, appreciating huge statues build in Tesla’s honour and observing the “loose lips sink our ship” signs warning employees about giving away secrets.
The stunning Art Deco visuals are elegantly highlighted thanks to the dark lighting nature of horror games. The character of Tesla and electricity only add to the color palatte, the arcing of rogue electrical cables or big powerful Tesla Coils in the dark surroundings keep producing stunning visuals that are a real highlight of this game. I can guarantee that you’ll forget that this game is based on a ship in the 19th century, such is the quality of the world created. The only negative I could draw from a visual perspective was the character models. Tesla himself, looked fantastic. As did Rose. But I felt a little disappointed with the models of other characters. They weren’t bad by any means, but when compared to the stunning environment they were set within, they did feel out of place.
For the first time ever in a game, I found myself actually reading the credits to look for a specific person. I simply had to find out who was responsible for the music and sound effects. Andrea Remini, thank you. You did an amazing job on Close to the Sun. The music tracking is exceptional and was a major factor in immersing myself within the game and complimented the Art Deco visuals perfectly. At times you forgot the music was playing, it seemed more like ambient noise that reflected where you are and your mindset. The slow, dark sound of a piano playing a few basic keys that echoes as you’re trying to discover a hidden path. Then suddenly, an increase of tempo as the cello and trumpets roar into tune as you find yourself in danger, running away from certain death. The sound effects were just as good. Hearing footsteps or someone talking in an opposite direction, forcing you to turn around to inspect, only to turn back with a loud scream or screech that caused me to check my underwear.
Is it obvious that I love this game? It should be. I didn’t play Close to the Sun, I got to experience Close to the Sun and it was amazing. Not often do I sit down to play a game and find myself so deeply immersed and invested in the game’s universe, that I suddenly find myself reading the post-game credits all in one sitting. Sure, the game only took me 7 hours to complete, But Close to the Sun doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a story driven horror game that captures your undivided attention and delivers one hell of an experience. Is it a game of the year contender? Yes, I think so. You may spend 70 hours on an epic RPG, but would you enjoy it any more than the 7 hours you spent with Close to the Sun? No, definitely not!
For more on Close to the Sun, check out our previous coverage.