PAX East 2019: Close to the Sun’s Creepiness Shines Bright

Alright, let’s just get this right out of the way: Close to the Sun is wearing an obvious BioShock influence on its sleeve. You can even say the entire sleeve is made entirely out of odes to BioShock. After playing it for a while, you begin to notice a blend of elements from both BioShock and BioShock Infinite: Art Deco style, alternate history, sea-based city, steampunk architecture, eccentric personality builds private city where scientists will have freedom and no boundaries, said personality becomes paranoid over spies, utopia is now wrecked, crazy time-bending stuff going on with quantum mechanics, the list goes on. Developers Storm in a Teacup have listed other influences, such as Firewatch and Outlast, but BioShock arguably jumps out the most.

But as we’ve also seen at PAX East with Crash Team Racing, there’s no shame in taking influences from the best, as long as you still try your hardest and strive to make a quality product. And with Close to the Sun, we appear to have something that the folks behind BioShock would be proud of.

Actually, I should clarify that the BioShock influence only really extends to the setting and style. Instead of an FPS, Close to the Sun is a first-person adventure game, with an emphasis on horror. And wandering through the Helios, the massive ship designed to house several scientific minds, it emphasizes how the inclusion of Nikola Tesla was a perfect choice for ramping up the creep factor. Genius as he may have been, a lot of Tesla’s ideas and experiments give off mad scientist vibes, right down to the death ray he proudly has on display (and which was a real-life design of his). So entering a world where these ideas are a reality and have run amok in mysterious ways is naturally going to create a few shivers. It’s all intriguing stuff that deals more with Twilight Zone or Outer Limits-style horror, built around paranoia, unknown scientific dangers and the like.

Gameplay-wise, Close to the Sun mainly focuses of exploration and narrative, taking more of a graphic adventure approach. Puzzles seem to be easy for the most part, consisting of the likes of finding switches to override security controls or notes that contain safe combinations. Of course, these bits only happened at what was the very beginning of the game, so it’s quite likely things will get at least slightly complex later on. Not that there’s much to complain about, as getting around is easy, along with finding collectibles and documents highlight certain aspects of this world.

Indeed, as mentioned, the emphasis is mainly on discovering more about this insane world, and it’s an impressive world at that. Players step into the role of Rose Archer, a journalist in search of their sister Ada, who wrote a letter telling Rose to come find them on the Helios. A few red flags immediately appear, though. For one, there’s the giant “QUARANTINE” marking on the main doors inside Helios. Not too mention the fact that the place seems abandoned and wrecked. Oh, and the fact that when Ada does contact them, they say the note actually came from a future version of her. Plus the potentially hallucinatory visions of Helios’ past that Rose continues to have.

So there’s a lot potential for a captivating mystery here, and it helps that it ties into Rose being a journalist, allowing her curiosity to come through as you play. Her sister is priority one, but Rose still can’t resist looking for that scoop. Especially when it means wandering around gorgeous areas. The art style and graphics here are terrific, nicely capturing the industrial era and art deco style, while having fun with this alternate world and the new additions to it, like Tesla’s massively successful power company, Wardenclyffe.

The only real complaint I have right now with Close to the Sun are the more action-oriented elements. Bits like having to cross beam between platforms are fine, but in a later chapter, after finally making our way to a secret area where our sister was hiding their research, a knife-wielding maniac appeared, and suddenly the gameplay started to resemble the likes of Outlast. Unfortunately, like any action sequence in an adventure game based more around narratives and puzzles, it was a bit of an “oil and water” scenario.

Well, that might be a bit too harsh of a comparison. But there isn’t exactly a big enough window to put proper distance between you and the maniac. It really feels like you need to be as precise as possible in order to climb over a piece of scenery in time. And after that, it became a bit tricky to tell where you needed to go next. Although to be fair, it could just have been the lighting on the monitor that I was using. Though again, the developers have said that exploration will still be the main focus, I do fear that we may run into a situation similar to that of SOMA where, good as it is, the more action-oriented or survival horror elements can actually hinder things by getting in the way of the more engaging narrative.

While it’s easy to make direct comparison to the likes of BioShock and similar games given how everything looks, Storm in a Teacup really seem to be doing their best to craft a captivating sci-fi horror adventure of their own with Close to the Sun and it looks like they may succeed. The story and setup is captivating, the Helios is a feast for the eyes and exploration is handled incredibly well. We can’t wait to dive into it even further when Close to the Sun comes out later this year for XB1, PS4 and PC as an Epic Games Store exclusive.