I’ve previously played and reviewed the Epic Games Store version of Close to the Sun upon launch, a review you can find HERE. However, due to my PC not being the greatest, resulting in a few technical issues on my side, I managed to get a PS4 review code so that I could finally experience the game as the developers intended. Although the game is identical, with no new additions or major differences, I had much more fun playing it on my PS4 Pro at a higher resolution with better visuals and a steadier framerate.
As mentioned previously, after taking one look at the visuals, most of you will instantly be whisked away to Columbia or Rapture, thinking you’ve stepped into a new Bioshock game. However, you’ll want to leave those thoughts and initial impressions at the door as Close to the Sun is more akin to narrative horror and thriller games, such as Layers of Fear 2 and Observer,rather than the action-based gameplay of Bioshock. Also, last time I played around eight hours, completing the game once; this time I’ve played the game in its entirety a total of four times – around twenty hours – thanks to some annoying trophies which I’ll come to later.
Alas, the game isn’t perfect as there are things which bother me and affected my enjoyment more than the trophy-less version on the Epic Games Store – however, not everything revolves around trophies so let’s give the game an unbiased and fair look over first, then talk about the things which have been a bit of a drag.
Close to the Sun is the story of Rose, our brave and worried protagonist. She’s received a letter from her sister who is aboard the Helios, a magnificent ship created by the infamous Nikola Tesla which houses a number of brilliant scientists in the middle of the ocean, asking her to come and see her as soon as possible. Upon arriving at the mysterious ship, you’re instantly left in awe and amazement at the ingenious craftsmanship which has gone into creating such a vessel – the steampunk and futuristic design (for 1897) are far beyond anything you could have ever imagined.
However, things aren’t what they seem – you’re not welcomed on the dock, a place which should be busy yet it’s like a ghost town, there’s no living soul wandering around in the living quarters, there’s an ominous “Quarantine” message scribbled on the wall in a familiar red substance, and the once clinical and spotless hallways and rooms are now painted with a nice new coat of thick, red, shiny blood… It doesn’t take long to realise that something horrific has happened here, yet the only thought in your head is, “is my sister Ada okay?” Thankfully, she hasn’t succumbed to the horrors and is willing to explain everything, as long as you can find her research and bring it to her.
Soon enough you’ll realise that Rose and Ada aren’t the only living beings aboard the Helios. Aside from a mysterious character who begs for your help through the radio your sister sent you, there’s also the constant fear of being watched from the shadows and hunted down like a dog by persons unknown. So, find your sister’s research, reunite with her, help this poor soul, and try to stay alive in the process – sounds like a typical day to me…
As I previously mentioned, Close to the Sun isn’t an action game, it’s more akin to a narrative exploration game with a strong emphasis on running away from danger, rather than engaging it face-on. As such, the game actually has a varying playtime (which is also a trophy requirement). If you’re playing the game for the first time, I’d highly recommend you explore the Helios, read all the newspapers, go out of your way to explore and look in every room and pick up every item, and generally take your time and enjoy the creepy jump scares and disturbing atmosphere. This should take you around eight to twelve hours, depending on how thorough you are.
There is a trophy for speedrunning the game in under three hours (I’ve done it in just under two), but in doing so you’ll miss out on all the well-timed scares and interesting dialogue. So this is recommended after your initial playthrough.
The game is broken down into chapters, some of which are criminally short – even when you’re fully exploring them – taking only ten to fifteen minutes to clear. Each one has its share of collectables to find and simple puzzles to solve. In terms of the puzzles, they aren’t hard, cryptic or really the definition of a puzzle, they’re more like ‘obstacles’ you need to find a workaround for. For example, if you see a panel with three buttons, look for a note with the sequence you have to punch in, the answer is always near the puzzle and not that hard to find. The most ‘puzzle’ puzzles are in the Alpha Quarters, requiring you to look for symbols and match them to shapes on the wall, as well as an optional secret puzzle of a similar nature.
However, the lack of deep and cryptic puzzles means you can look around and take in the beauty of the Helios at your own pace, even if there are disembodied human remains scattered across the floor and creepy messages painted in blood upon the walls…
If you love games in which you fight giant unearthly creatures with futuristic weapons and well-placed traps which you activate with the power of your mind – Close to the Sun isn’t the game for you. Just like games such as Layers of Fear 2 and Outlast, our protagonist isn’t the type of person who likes to get into fights, she’d rather run away and live for another day. As such, the ‘combat’ and the more intense action scenes simply require you to push down on the L2 trigger as hard as you can and run for your life.
In theory, this doesn’t sound too bad – I never had an issue with Layers of Fear 2 or Observer, so Close to the Sun should be the same, right?! Unfortunately not. Here lies my first major complaint, one which I also had with the PC version of the game upon its launch as well. These chase sequences, which become quite common the further into the game you get, almost always have a part where you must jump over a box or fallen object. As you run up to the obstacle, an icon will appear, indicating you’re close enough to initiate the jump. However, the game doesn’t always register that you’ve pushed the button – leading to unfair and cheap deaths.
This is a major problem if you’re going for all trophies as one requires you to not die once, so having this ‘issue’ makes the trophy almost impossible to obtain.
My biggest issue, despite it sometimes not registering the button, is the fact the game displays a small image instead of the standard button prompt. Why is this an issue? Basically, most of them require you to push Square to leap over, yet some of them require you to push Cross – yet the logo looks identical. There’s no way to tell them apart. I would love the developers to replace the symbols with generic DS4 button indicators – or at least let us pick that in the options – as well as tighten the responsiveness of initiating it whilst in the chase sequences.
Although I was initially confused at the overall story, when I played it back on the PC, after multiple playthroughs and going back and collecting all the documents and newspapers, I fully understand the events and what happened in more detail now. As such, I really enjoyed the story which Storm in a Teacup have told here, even if the ending still has me begging for more as I really hope we can return to the Helios in the future to resolve some unfinished business.
As the game is a narrative-heavy experience, there’s no going off track and diverting down alternate pathways to uncover new stories and branching outcomes – it’s all very linear. However, that’s not a bad thing. It’s a well-crafted and perfectly planned narrative which presents you with unexpected jump scares, the feeling of terror and dread, suspense which will have you on the edge of your seat, and you’ll be paranoid about people lurking in the shadows.
Although a game like this usually wouldn’t warrant a second playthrough, as you now know where all the jumps are and the answer to all the puzzles along the way, I’d still recommend it. As I said, I’ve played the game about six times now, simply walking around the beautiful world the developers have created whilst taking in the interesting narrative. Also, the ‘no death’ and ‘complete in under three hours’ trophies artificially give you two more reasons to replay the game.
Spooky or not?
I’ve started advising people how scary these games are in my reviews, as I’m not the biggest fan of horror titles if I’m being honest. So, the below is what I wrote on my PC review (as it’s still relevant here):
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.
Okay, I feel I have to tell you about the things I didn’t like in Close to the Sun, things which I deem as bugs or issues more than personal opinions. Some of which will be repeated from my above text.
1. The icons in the chase sequences don’t always register in the heat of the chase and it’s not clear which button you have to press. I feel these should be replaced with the DS4 button prompts and tweaked so that it’s more forgiving and responsive in order to help with the ‘no death’ trophy. Similarly, there’s a sequence later on in the game where you have to open a door and get through before being caught – I feel you need more distance to pull that off the first time.
2. There are a few frame drops here and there. It’s not major as I only spotted it in a real-time cutscene with a tram, but I’m on the Pro, so the base PS4 and Xbox One may be different.
3. Crouching icons. As of today (launch day), there are two ventilation shafts you can crawl through within the game – neither have the icon telling you to push Square in order to do so. As such, if you don’t know you can do that, you’ll be unable to proceed. This is an issue I reported which should be fixed in a patch.
4. Audio levels. Now, this is a rather big issue in my opinion – one which I have been meaning to send through proof of but time got the better of me. Basically, there are a lot of audio inconsistencies throughout the game with voices being much louder or quieter than others and the noise of electricity being almost deafening (especially if you’re wearing headphones). I did a speedrun last night so I’m going to compile a video of these for the developer tonight – I’m hoping they can be addressed in a future patch. I also recall the sound being an issue on the PC as well, but some of the worst ones have been ‘corrected’.
The speedrun trophy isn’t popping. I don’t know if this is me, or if it’s being really strict, but I completed the game last night (I put the console in rest mode for a few hours in the middle, whilst I got food) in under two hours ‘gameplay’ time. I never got the trophy. I just achieved the Speedrun trophy. I completed the game in 1hr 40mins – I played it continuously from beginning to end without closing the game or putting it in rest mode. So, this isn’t an issue – it must have been because I stopped halfway last time and then continued later that evening.
As you can see, there are a number of ‘issues’ I spotted whilst playing on the PS4 Pro, none of these will be reflected within my final opinion and score of the game though as I feel they can be fixed post-launch and it’ll be unfair to set a score in stone based on minor inconveniences. As such, I’ll come in and cross out the issues as and when they’re fixed.
Again, the below is from my PC review as I have the same opinions upon playing the game on the PS4 Pro, albeit at a higher resolution:
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 ‘plastic-like’ 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 ten hours, this game will not disappoint.
If you’re looking for a narrative-focused horror game which isn’t ‘too’ scary, Close to the Sun is for you. Visually the game looks beautiful, despite the piles of body parts and blood-soaked walls, with the Helios’ decorations being a brilliant replication of Art Deco interior design with a hint of Steampunk engineering. The story will have you hooked, as you go out of your way to fill in the blanks and find all of the hidden collectables, bringing you to a conclusion which I hope spawns a sequel at some point in the future. Despite the issues, which I mentioned in my review, the overall experience is one which shouldn’t be missed regardless of whatever platform you prefer to play on.
Whether you’re picking this up to play on Halloween, or you just want to pick it up for a creepy night in, Close to the Sun is sure to leave you feeling a bit paranoid and slightly disturbed by the haunting events which you’ll experience.
Close to the Sun£24.99
- - Gorgeous visuals
- - Creepy and interesting story
- - Runs well with only a single minor performance issue spotted
- - The voice acting is great
- - The whole atmosphere is very unsettling
- - Vocal and sound effect levels are a bit inconsistent
- - Whilst in chase sequences, performing the actions to jump over things isn't as responsive as it should be
- - There are a few 'issues' which I've talked about in the review