Close To The Sun Review: Horror, Mad Science, and Exploration On The Sea
We're still more than a month away from Stranger Things Season 3, so if you need a good tale of science run amok while things from other dimensions wreak a little havoc, you're in luck with the release of Close To The Sun.
Set on an isolated ship-city under quarantine, Close To The Sun puts you in the role of Rose Archer, who will have to unravel layers of mystery while searching for her sister.
If you don't mind a lack of guns or magic powers and just want to experience a sci-fi horror tale, you should make a point of picking up Close To The Sun... so long as you can overlook one (perhaps not so) little detail.
Bioshock Goes Epic
Here's the thing we need to get out of the way immediately: yes, this is currently an Epic Store exclusive. I won't bother rehashing that whole debate. You already know how you feel about that, and I don't suspect I'll be changing your mind. Obviously, for some gamers that means they'll never play Close To The Sun (at least until it hits other storefronts).
With that out of the way, everything from the location to the level aesthetic will immediately make you think of Bioshock. As someone who desperately loved Bioshock Infinite and hopes we'll get more someday, I'm perfectly fine with that very obvious inspiration.
Overall, Bioshock isn't a bad place to start with comparisons if you want to know what kind of game you are in for. However, it's important to note this is more of a walking sim horror game than anything involving gunplay. There is no combat at all, so your only option when the dimension-hopping, time-traveling beastie shows up is to run and avoid evisceration.
With the alternate history revolving around technological marvels, there's a tinge of the Prey reboot in here as well, although this game takes place on a massive ship at sea rather than out in space.
Mad Science, Alternate History, and Unrelenting Horror
For this take on the alternate history mad science horror genre, we focus on Tesla vs. Edison, a scientific rivalry that has fascinated history buffs and conspiracy theorists for most of America's history.
In this version, Tesla comes out (more) on top, and takes to the sea on a stunningly massive ship (that's basically its own state). He does to freely invent and develop new tech without government interference.
Of course, those researchers delve into things they didn't quite comprehend, resulting in odd, quasi-supernatural and mythological things going on, but with a weird science backing at all times. From unsettling jump scares to mutilated bodies to a straight up monster, there's plenty of horror to be found.
The most effective part of the scares is easily how the sound and music work to establish the mood, so make sure to play this one with your headphones rather than speakers.
Aside from sound, the visuals during both the investigative puzzle segments and the running horror segments are worth mentioning. For a game from a new-ish (and smaller) development team, this is a shockingly beautiful title.
While it's missing things like the run and gunning that you'd typically see in a big budget game, you could easily mistake Close To The Sun for a AAA title that just happens to be focused more on story and exploration than any sort of combat.
Keeping Players Engaged
Between free-roam exploration and escaping unkillable enemies, Close To The Sun keeps you engaged without combat through a cast of fabulous characters, like Aubrey, a disembodied voice on the radio who is clearly unhinged but managing to keep his cool.
There's some humor in there to break it all up as well, from jokes about a young Einstein being on board to notes left between employees to remind you all those torn apart bodies were real people.
On the exploration side, the puzzles aren't particularly hard, and are fairly standard concepts: flipping switches, finding access codes and keycards, turning electric on and off, twisting locks to the right combo, and so on.
The only real frustration will come from the chase sequences that are sadly marred by that one recurring issue of defenseless horror games... having to replay the sequence over and over because you missed where they wanted you to go during the frenzy of running and hiding.
The Bottom Line
- Great visuals and excellent sound/voice work
- Fun mashup of sci-fi exploration and defenseless horror
- Interesting characters
- Very little in terms of replay, especially if you fully explore the first time
- Fairly short overall experience
- No combat or gameplay outside of puzzles and exploration
Depending on how often you need to repeat chases or how long it takes you to figure out the puzzles, the full experience here is somewhere between 3 1/2-5 hours.
Replayability essentially comes through picking up any collectibles you missed, as well as finding one hidden area with a secret backstory segment. If you found all that on the first playthrough, then you're pretty well done with Close To The Sun.
The lack of replayability is the one major downside here that might keep the game off your must-play list. It's a well-crafted title, but short and lacking in anything beyond exploration, light puzzle solving, and fleeing enemies.
That being said, if you want to play more games like SOMA or Layers Of Fear but prefer more of a sci-fi Bioshock style aesthetic and story, nothing right now is going to top Close To The Sun.