Review – Close to the Sun

When I first saw the trailer for Close to the Sun, I immediately thought it was a Bioshock ripoff, despite the developer, Storm in a Teacup, claiming otherwise. It looked almost exactly the same and had nearly the same premise, at least from I could tell in the small bit shown in the trailer. But I figured since Bioshock is one of my favorite games of all time, even if Close to the Sun was a blatant knockoff, it would still be an entertaining time. After a short time playing it, I quickly began to realize that the developers were telling the truth: Close to the Sun definitely isn’t another Bioshock.

Close to the Sun takes place in an alternate reality in the late 19th century where Nikola Tesla reigns supreme over the scientific world instead of his adversary, Thomas Edison. He builds a city-sized ship called the “Helios” to house all the world’s top scientific minds so they can practice their experiments without fear of persecution. He dreams of them bringing the world into a new golden age of scientific discovery. If you’re thinking this sounds suspiciously like Bioshock‘s Andrew Ryan’s idea of building an experimental scientific utopia under the sea with his city of Rapture, don’t worry, you’re not the only one to make that comparison.

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Nikola Tesla’s monument to himself.

Your character, Rose Archer, is an investigative journalist whose sister, Ada, is a scientist who has been invited aboard the Helios. After some time on the ship, Ada sends Rose a letter, asking for her to come aboard the Helios immediately to help her. Rose enters the Helios and it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well on board. This supposed beacon of scientific enlightenment has fallen into disarray, with its rooms destroyed and its inhabitants slaughtered. You become aware of another presence around you, but it always seems either one step ahead or behind, as well as some strange glowing figures that flicker in and out of existence. At this point, your sister manages to reach out to you through a radio and it’s up to you to find a way to find her and escape the Helios.

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A grand dream turned into a nightmare.

The gameplay is where Close to the Sun makes its biggest departure from its Bioshock inspiration. Instead of having fantastic combat with unique powers from plasmids that you can play around with, Close to the Sun features no combat whatsoever. It is a first person walking sim/survival horror game. While I wasn’t really expecting it to be this style of game, I must admit that walking the ruined remains of a once grandiose vessel while trying to discover what happened on board, was satisfyingly creepy. It reminded me of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, only actually well-executed.

It’s not solely walking around and bumping into things, however. Being a ship run by Tesla and the brightest scientific minds in the world, in order to access various parts of the ship you’ll have to solve some puzzles. The puzzles are very hit and miss in this game. Some are fun and thought provoking, while others are nothing more than solving through trial and error or searching for a missing piece of something. I felt like there were a few of these latter puzzle types that really broke up the pace and flow of the game. While in the middle of discovering some illuminating secret, being stuck trying to find one tiny missing object in order to further the story really kills the suspense.

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The circle must be broken.

As I mentioned earlier, Close to the Sun is part walking sim, but also part survival horror… sort of. There’s no combat, so you don’t have to worry about constantly searching for health kits or being strategic with ammo. Instead, there are sections when you’ll be chased down by knife wielding maniac. I won’t lie, these sections can be extremely aggravating. He’ll chase you through the maze-like corridors of the Helios and if you make a wrong turn or don’t jump over an obstacle perfectly, then he’ll automatically catch you and you’ll die. Then you’ll have to do the whole sequence again. And again. The whole thing becomes a tedious chore whenever you see the dreaded “Run” command on the screen. At least there aren’t many of these chase sections to worry about.

Visually, Close to the Sun is gorgeous. I’m truly impressed at the quality of graphics that such a small team of developers were able to create. There are so many little details packed in to the environment of the Helios. With its art deco style, there are lots of golden adornments, large statues of Tesla and other famous scientists, and posters modeled after movies and trends of the time period. Yes, it looks very similar to Rapture, but since Rapture also favored an art deco style, I feel that this is more of a coincidence than a direct design theft.

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Welcome to Helios. Rapture’s sister city above the waves.

Close to the Sun uses lighting in some pretty ingenious ways. There are corridors and rooms that are really dark and naturally, you’ll become wary in these areas awaiting the stereotypical jump scare. This is another area I have to give Storm in a Teacup credit. They do a superb job of baiting you into thinking that they’re following the highly overused horror genre tropes, but then they often times withhold the predictable scare and wait until you’ve dropped your guard. They’ll use lights to highlight things they want to look at closer and once again, you’ll be preparing for the inevitable jump scare while you investigate. Then when nothing happens, or nothing major anyway, you go back to your normal routine, then bam! They get you with something completely unexpected. They got me good at a couple different moments throughout the game.

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One of the many examples of strategic lighting.

The voice acting is all around very well done. Nearly all of the dialogue is done through radios or audio logs, so it’s important that the voice acting is so strong. The characters are convincing, giving genuine moments of interaction and only over-the-top when appropriate. Even the borderline maniacal Tesla was believable considering his crazed and enthusiastic manner. The soundtrack is effectively minimal, which is a smart move to give the player a better feeling of immersion. Instead, Closer to the Sun relies on mostly ambient sound effects to sell the feeling of a destroyed paradise.

While Closer to the Sun may have first piqued my interest by looking like a Bioshock clone, it turned out to be vastly different. It builds the world slowly, but if you’ve got the patience to push through some of the more tedious puzzle sections and irksome chase sequences, then you’ll be rewarded with a pretty intriguing (albeit not entirely original) story. The characters are interesting, the environment is stunning, and there are some moments of great scares within an overall unsettling atmosphere. While I would’ve liked to have had some form of combat, I can appreciate what Storm in a Teacup was going for, even if it doesn’t always work. If you enjoy walking sims as well as games like Bioshock and SOMA, then you should definitely play Close to the Sun.


Graphics: 9.0

Gorgeous visuals and a clever use of lighting to enhance the experience.

Gameplay: 6.0

No combat of any kind, mainly a walking sim with some chase sequences to break up the monotony. These parts can be really frustrating though. There are some puzzles throughout that are hit and miss in terms of difficulty.

Sound: 9.0

Wonder voice acting and well done ambient sounds to give you a truer feeling of immersion.

Fun Factor: 7.0

A compelling story that is worth experiencing, even if it’s not entirely original. A rich world with a few genuine scares. The puzzles are sometimes lackluster and the chase sequences are annoying though.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Close to the Sun is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Close to the Sun was provided by the publisher.