With a title that which references Icarus’ ill-fated flight, Close to the Sun is yet another warning of humanity’s hubris. Once more, technology is fashioned without consideration of consequence. The results are expectedly harrowing. Amidst the lingering apocalyptic capacities of Oppenheimer’s creations, an impulsive push toward genetic tampering, and the mounting specter of environmental disaster, it’s a caution that remains as relevant today as it was for ancient Greece.
Despite architecture and design that’s decidedly Art Deco, Close to the Sun is set in 1897. Exploration primarily takes place on a colossal ship named the Helios, designed by Nikola Tesla to create a secluded think-space for the world’s top scientists. Using the fourth iteration of the Unreal Engine, developers Storm in a Teacup rekindle many of the same vibes that made a trip through BioShock’s subaquatic city of Rapture so evocative.
With a slow build as you board the vessel, following by the feeling of menacing isolation, aesthetic comparisons to Irrational Games’ first-person shooter are inevitable. But advancements in technology have endows the visuals with an increased amount of realism. Peer out aboard the shuttle that transports you to the Helios, and you’ll observe omnisciently turbulent water striking the craft. Elsewhere, ocean mist convincingly beads up on windows, applying an impressionistic quality.
Once aboard the gigantic ship, bronze and gold trimmings abound, unambiguously signifying gratuitous extravagance. But when the word “quarantine” appears on a door, scrawled in cautionary red paint, you’ll recall that peril can happen in posh places as well. It’s here than Sun intensifies the rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison, with the former growing increasingly paranoid of spies leaking his developments.
You play as a journalist named Rose Archer, brought to the Helios by a distressed letter from her sister Ada. Communicating with Ada and a few others via a wireless earpiece, the bulk of the ship’s passengers are corpses, which can make investigation a bit nerve-wracking. But unlike BioShock, you won’t confront adversary head-on. Instead, Sun tries to quicken pulse rates with a handful of chase scenes. Unfortunately, there require players to navigate networks of hallways and make jumps with a high degree of precision. Miss one cue, and you’ll have to replay the entire scene over, which can be a bit frustrating. But the bigger issue is that how they feel so discordant with the rest of the game.
More often, you’ll be reconnoitering the Helios at your leisure, with progress steadily interrupted by a puzzle. Save for three instances, these boil down to finding a clue in the environment and then using the hint to operate a mechanical object. Had the puzzles been more challenging, the five-hour trek might have been more rewarding. But most of the riddles could probably be solved by an average middle-schooler.
While it’s always invigorating to see a developer challenge the idea of first-person gunplay, Close to the Sun’s journey can feel a bit underwhelming. Sure, exploring the Helios’ interiors are a visual feast, and a cautionary tale of humankind’s ambitions is always welcome. But all too often the game demonstrates a lack of urgency during the proceedings. It’s a feeling that exacerbated by pushover puzzles and underdevelopment action bit. As it stands, you’ll probably want to see the game’s thirty-dollar MSRP to drop before opting for this adventure, unless you’re absolutely enamored by Art Deco.