Close to the Sun is a visual feast for players that brings a new standard of polish to the indie scene. The small team at Storm in a Teacup team has created a compelling and suspenseful experience that features a graphical quality that many AAA studios would envy. Close to the Sun is suspenseful, fun, and showcases a stunningly detailed environment of a standard which more developers should strive for.
Close to the Sun is set in an alternative 19th century driven by the scientific discoveries of Nikola Tesla. The game takes place aboard a ship named the Helios, born of Tesla’s vision to create a space that would allow fellow scientists the freedom to experiment without limitation. One of the Helios’s residents, Ada Archer, sends a letter asking her sister, protagonist Rose Archer, to board the ship, inciting the events that follow. The plot follows Rose as she travels throughout the ship in search of her sister and uncover the events that led to the ship’s quarantine.
Much of the suspense is created by the humorous dialogue. The characters aboard the Helios communicate with Rose through radio transmissions that are full of character and immensely charming. As players explore and laugh along to the dialogue, they are lulled into a false sense of security which then triggers a constant feeling of fear wondering what moment will break their whimsy.
The moments of horror seen within Close to the Sun are cleverly crafted. Much of the terror within the game stems from the player’s own paranoia as to what may be waiting for them at the top of the stairs or behind the next door. This feeling is created by some incredibly atmospheric audio design that immerses the player within the remarkable art deco world.
Close to the Sun does not feature combat, which is a great choice for the game, as it encourages exploration of the detailed world without fear of retribution from enemies. Enemy encounters instead take the form of chase scenes where the player must run away from the incoming threats to progress the narrative. Aside from these scenes, the players can interact with unique collectibles found in each level that provide further information about the inhabitants of Helios and what life was like aboard the ship. The game features minimal puzzles that the player must solve in order to progress the narrative, all of which feel achievable and encourage further exploration of the vast world. These mechanics are all simple, intuitive, and highly polished, and combine to create a smooth gameplay experience.
Running away from psychopaths and twisted time monsters genuinely leave the player in suspense. However, these moments only create an impact when they are fully realised without interruption. If the player is caught, the capture cinematics that trigger create an initial scare at the expense of losing that feeling of suspense when the gameplay resumes.
Close to the Sun features some of the most detailed environmental design seen in recent memory. The realistic steampunk art style is simply gorgeous. All assets and environments tell their own stories through the sheer amount of detail present in their design. Every level is filled with a unique personality that showcase the era in all its shiny glory. In many ways, the entire Helios is an easter egg for players to explore featuring recreations of Tesla’s lesser known ideas.
Whilst all of the environmental design is exquisite, Storm in a Teacup deserves particular praise for the magnificent design seen in Chapter 6: The Drama of Dionysus. The player ascends the level in an elevator and as the doors open, a lavish theatre foyer is revealed. To describe this moment as breathtaking is an understatement. As the player explores the grandiose theatre, an overwhelming feeling of awe is inescapable. The Drama of Dionysus is a masterclass in good environmental design and well worth players attention.
Frustratingly, the game’s ending leaves the player with more questions than answers. The narrative presents so many mind-boggling questions that never get resolved which leaves the ending open to interpretation. Such a vague ending is disappointing for what is such an engaging narrative filled with robust characters, but is simultaneously exciting as it opens the opportunity for the development of a sequel. The fact that major plot points are left unanswered makes much of the wonder they create feel pointless which is the only aspect that brings down the high standard of the game.
Close to the Sun is a spectacle piece for the explorative player that is well worth sinking time and money into. Despite the horror label, the game is not so scary that it cannot be enjoyed by everyone. The game may be short with a frustrating conclusion but this should not deter players from picking up this title. From highly detailed environments to smooth gameplay, Close to the Sun is a short, but unique experience that deserves players attention.
Reviewed on PC.