Close to the Sun was one of my most anticipated games of the year, I’ve been following it for a while and jumped at the chance to review it on my recently upgraded PC. The first thing you’ll most likely associate with the game is Bioshock, a similarity the developers have denied many times – even the PR information we got specifically states what the game is and isn’t, with Bioshock standing proud in the ‘Isn’t’ column. You’ll be forgiven if you get a nostalgic vibe though, the font choice, the visuals, some elements of the plot, and even some of the scenes you’ll come across will instantly scream the ‘B’ word right into your ears.
However, after completing the game and spending around eight hours deeply immersed within the chilling and rather horrific hallways of the Helios, I can 100% confirm that this game isn’t anything like the game we shall not mention (again). If anything, the game appears to have taken inspiration from narrative interactive thriller/horrors such as SOMA and Layers of Fear, more than anything else. So, let’s jump aboard and take a look at why you need to disregard the fact the game is on the Epic Games Store and buy this game today…
I found the story within Close to the Sun to be short, linear, and predictable at times. Don’t take that the wrong way though, it’s nice to have an eight to ten-hour narrative horror game to play through rather than a 50+ hour open world game with a million and one collectables. A word of warning though, if you’re a bit of a scaredy cat, like me, there are a number of cheap jump scares present within the game, so try not to jump and knock your drink all over the floor when one appears in front of you – I need to take my own advice!
The story itself revolves around our protagonist, Rose, who received a letter one day from her sister who is aboard the Helios working as a scientist. The letter asks you to visit her aboard the ship at your earliest convenience, a rather strange message but best not to leave your sister hanging. The Helios is a ginormous sea vessel which has been created by the incredible Nikola Tesla. I don’t even know if I can refer to it as a boat or a ship because of the sheer size of it, once you’re aboard, is beyond anything you’ve ever seen. Not only that, the craftsmanship which has gone into it is unlike anything you can imagine – from steampunk-like machinery to early electrical contraptions, it’s all very groundbreaking and futuristic for the time.
Speaking of the ‘time’, the game is set in an alternative 19th Century, the alternative is that Tesla and the scientists he has picked up, as he moves the Helios around, have combined to push the birth of new technological advances the world has never seen. However, shortly after you dock you begin to realise that something isn’t right. Dead bodies lie all around you, their blood staining the wooden floors and once pristine decks. Not only that, your sister is alive yet being rather secretive about what’s going on, as well as another mysterious character who has intercepted your radio begging for your help.
You must explore the Helios, discover what’s going on, what’s happened to all the people aboard the ship, reunite yourself with your sister, help out this helpless stranger, and above all, try to stay alive.
The first thing that you’ll notice whilst playing Close to the Sun is that the game encourages you to run whenever you see anything hostile. This is why I likened it to games such as SOMA, Rose has no combat skills, but she can run at a decent pace. It’s all about exploration, some education, and investigation, not beating people up and casting magical spells out of your hands. So, you’ll be wandering around each area, which is broken up by the chapters, as you solve simple puzzles, look for keycards, work out a way into certain locations. and run away from the dangers.
Speaking of puzzles, this is one element I really wished the developers would have spent a bit longer trying to implement. For example, almost every door which had a numeric lock on it, which you have to find a code for, has the code either in the same room or literally around the corner in the next room. The game also likes to tell you what to do next, as we saw in Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. This isn’t a big issue, but it removes a lot of the exploration when the game practically tells you where to go or you’re locked in a small room with only a few things you can interact with – thus making the solution very easy to work out.
The ‘combat’ segments, which basically consists of you running away, were a little tedious but none of them caused me any bother. Most of them are like a memory game, you run, die, then it reloads and you try again only this time you know which way you’re meant to go. I did have an issue in terms of the technical side with a few of these segments, as my framerate tanked to single digits, but that was a technical issue on my side which I resolved last night and the game has run at a smooth 60fps ever since.
Even though puzzles aren’t a strong point in the game, the narrative was a joy to listen to and follow through – even though there are no choices or input from yourself. My problem was that the narrative got a little muddy towards the end of the game. I understood what was going on at that particular moment, but there are things which happen that aren’t answered. I don’t want to ruin the game or talk about things you may not know, but if you’ve played The Invisible Hours then you’ll know that Tesla was a big fan of practical sciences which involves electricity, such as time travel.
Whilst wandering the silent hallways, you’ll encounter visions of people as they live out their lives and perform various tasks. However, are these visions of the past, present or future? Nobody knows. There were a few of these ‘visions’ which left me with more questions than answers and I was almost expecting there to be an eleventh chapter to clear up some of the loose ends the game leaves open. Hopefully, we’ll get some sort of DLC or maybe even a sequel to the game at some point, as I feel there’s still a story to be told once the credits roll.
Don’t take what I’ve said the wrong way though, Close to the Sun is very much a self-contained story with a full narrative that follows through to an ending. I was just expecting more based on things I’ve seen and answers I wanted to find. However, It could be that I missed something, as there are a decent amount of notes and documents to collect, which may explain things. I’ll certainly be going back to see if I can find them all in the near future.
How scary is it?
I’m a massive wuss when it comes to horror games, especially ones which have jump scares, horrific imagery, and chase scenes. Close to the Sun had all three! However, I didn’t find it that bad, after the first few jumps. The gore is cranked right up as you’ll see people ripped in two, a leg torn from a body which is matched with the rest of the person via a long trail of blood, a guy crucified with a pole through his mouth and out his butt, and even dissected rats (for some reason). However, these horrific events occurred before you boarded the Helios, so you won’t see the actions taking place, which is probably why I was okay with playing the game.
With regards to the intensity of the chase sequences, sure, they can be intense and you can get worked up if you aren’t sure which way you need to go. However, it’s not like Alien Isolation or Outlast, where you have to constantly be on the lookout for places to hide if you bump into an evil being, these segments are their own thing which doesn’t impact your general exploration of the Helios.
The limitations of the Epic Games Launcher
I’m not someone who is opposed to the Epic Store, I feel more competition for Steam is great as it means they’ll start to try and compete instead of sitting atop their throne of PC Gaming sales monopoly. However, there are a few things the service is lacking which actually impacted my initial playthrough of Close to the Sun.
First of all, there is no screenshot button. I know, the majority of people won’t care, but for making a review, I love including my own images, so realising there was no option was a bit of a shock. Secondly, Close to the Sun only supports Mouse and Keyboard or an Xbox Controller – there is no support for the DS4 natively. Again, this may not matter to a lot of people, but I know a bunch of people who only use their DS4 with the PC, so I wished the game had supported it natively. Finally, there are collectables within the game, with a counter on how many you found, but I can’t see any rewards in getting them all. There’s no achievements and nothing unlocks in-game (I think). When it hits consoles, they’ll be a reason to find everything, but at the moment, games on the Epic Store have no motivation to play beyond completing the game.
However, I resolved the first two issues by simply adding Close to the Sun to Steam as a ‘non-Steam game’. I know, it seems counter-intuitive – adding an Epic Store Exclusive to Steam so I have to have both running. Although, in doing this I was able to take advantage of Steam’s built-in DS4 support, which worked perfectly with Close to the Sun, and I could even map F12 to the Share button on the controller so I could take screenshots just like I can on a PS4.
This part of the review is purely for your own information, in case you weren’t aware you could do this. It won’t be used against the game, other than the lack of DS4 support, as it’s the launcher at fault and not the game. Although, it would have been nice if the game had an in-game achievement tracker like how games on the Switch have started to do.
Technical [bad things]
Before I talk about the good, let’s talk about the bad. As I mentioned previously, I initially had a lot of trouble with the game as the framerate was dropping to silly numbers during a specific chase sequence. It turns out my PC was forcing the CPU to only run at a maximum of 50% (so around 1.7GHz instead of 3.4GHz). That was an issue on my side and the game ran at a flawless 60fps with all settings on High at 1080p on my 780Ti and i7 processor, once fixed.
However, I did still encounter two errors – both of which have been reported to the developer. First up is an issue which may still be something on my end, as I’ve not heard anyone else mention it, and that’s non-loading level segments. It only happened towards the end of the game, but some areas would appear as pitch black unless I sat there and waited a few minutes for them to load in. If I walked into them whilst they were black, I fell through the world. Again, this may be an issue with my HDD (as it was a mechanical and not SSD), or possibly my RAM (as it’s quite old and not the fastest).
The final issue is if you have multiple monitors. I have two, a 4:3 monitor to my left, which is secondary, and a 32 inch TV (I use as a monitor) in front of me which is set to primary. Whenever I loaded up Close to the Sun, it would load on the Left-Hand monitor, my 4:3 secondary. Even if I resized, dragged to the correct monitor, made it full screen, played, then quit; it would still load up on the Left monitor the next time I loaded it up. It’s an inconvenience and something the developers must have overlooked, but once it’s set, it won’t change during gameplay.
Technical [good things]
Close to the Sun is a stunning game at times. I adore the Art Deco style the developers have opted for which instantly brings to mind locations such as Rapture from ‘that’ game, yet it’s intertwined with a lot of machinery and contraptions which are based around actual designs and creations from Tesla. It means the game has a very ‘futuristic’ look to it, based on the period the game is set within, as well as allowing some rather creepy imagery with the style of posters and paintings you would expect to see aboard a ship of the time.
Even though the gore and brutal deaths were done before your time on the Helios, it was great seeing random body parts scattered around as you mentally pictured which one belonged to the deceased bodies lay upon the ground. Some of the models were a little ‘plasticy’ to me, as in they were a little too shiny and looked like a kid had gone crazy with his sisters Barbie dolls as he ripped off their arms and legs then threw them into a dollhouse depicting the Helios. But, the majority of the characters, whilst combined with the lighting and atmosphere, looked rather gruesome and disturbing.
I thought the voice acting was really well done, with distinct voices for each of the characters you’ll interact with. The developers have cast the perfect team of Voice Actors who deliver their lines with pure emotion and realism. The whole game was oozing with atmosphere and dread as the music became more intense with action and calm with a hint of suspense and terror whilst you’re investigating. If you want to play something that will give you the willies for around eight hours, this game will not disappoint.
If you like story-driven suspenseful horror games which aren’t too scary, Close to the Sun is perfect for you. With it’s beautiful Art Deco design, horrific scenes of gore and brutality, incredible inventions from Nikola Tesla, and an engaging storyline, you’ll be hooked from the moment you step aboard the Helios. I found some of the narrative predictable and muddy towards the final chapters, but the overall experience was very enjoyable and entertaining. If you go into the game thinking it’s going to be like Bioshock, you’ll be disappointed, be open-minded and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
Out now on the Epic Games Store and coming later this year to Consoles, Close to the Sun is sure to leave you feeling uneasy and disturbed as you explore the haunting decks of the Helios in search of answers.
Close to the Sun£24.99
- - Very creepy atmosphere with suitable music
- - The Art Deco style looks glorious, apart from all the blood and guts!
- - The voice acting was well casted
- - Interesting story with lots of informative collectables to find
- - Not too long, not too short
- - The narrative gets a little muddy later on in the game, I had a lot of questions but no answers
- - The chase scenes aren't scary, they are a little frustrating as you have to perform trial and error so you know which way to run
- - The puzzles are far too easy, with the answer in front of you, in most cases
- - I had a few issues both technically and with missing options (as stated above)