Review: Close to the Sun (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HD TV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Close to the Sun
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (11.71 GB)
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: Storm in a Teacup
Original MSRP: $29.99 (US)
ESRB Rating: M
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Close To The Sun is an adventure game with light puzzle mechanics. The player controls Rose, who, at her sister’s request, is about to join Ada on board the Helios. A giant ship, the Helios is Tesla’s attempt to create a utopia for scientific research. He gathered the world’s most brilliant scientists and engineers and has created a space for them to openly pursue their ambitions free from government regulations and oversight. A second age of enlightenment.

There is a lot of tension and mystery surrounding the Helios. From the outside world there is all sorts of wild speculation about the experiments being performed aboard the ship. World powers grow anxious as many of their brightest minds leave to join. The British Navy has sent a warship after the Helios because the government believes one of their scientists was kidnapped and didn’t leave to join voluntarily.

Right away, I am getting BioShock vibes. Rose is alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean, it’s almost pitch black, and slowly headed for the Helios. Tesla may not be trying to build the perfect society, but a society that will invent and discover breakthroughs that will change the world. Now, it has been a long time since I played BioShock, but the art style, color tones, music, and the mood of the game made me feel at home.

It doesn’t take long before you know something has gone horribly wrong. No one is there to greet you when you first arrive. A little ways further in the ship, still no one and there are signs of damage. At the security desks, Rose finds fliers with photos of suspected spies and messages about dealing with them. And so the adventure begins.

There are a handful of creative one-off puzzles, really half of what the developers needed. Instead they rely too heavily on electricity/power puzzles. There is some variation among these puzzles, but it doesn’t take long for them to feel repetitive. There are locked doors that can’t be opened until a generator is turned on, or electricity arcing across a path making it inaccessible until the power to the line is turned off. Damaged electric coils flare up as electricity bounces between posts, forcing the player to wait and time their runs between the bouncing from one post to the next.

A ship this size would have maps, it’s just too big. At least there could have been some big maps on the walls so that I could have found them in each new area. Close To The Sun is a fairly linear game, but is does have some open areas to explore. The first open area I came across had multiple groups of apartments on two levels. There were plenty of obstacles in my area that meant I could not simply walk a lap of the open area to find the group of apartments I was looking for. I quickly got turned around and had no idea which area I had searched and which I hadn’t. The use of an in-game map or map with the travel dots showing the path taken through the level would have helped.

Although the mood is always tense, there are not too many opportunities to die besides electrocution. Still, the checkpoints are too far apart, primarily because the game does not auto-save often enough, and the player can’t manually save. Worst of all is the fact that it doesn’t tell you how long it has been since the last save.

I lost half an hour of progress because I had completed multiple steps of my objective and stopped for the night. I just figured that it had been a while since the last save and I had completed multiple steps, surely it had saved at some point recently.

The damage to the Helios and lost crew is not the result of a perfect society that imploded but a science experiment gone horribly wrong. Storm In A Teacup dips their toe in the horror pool but never dives in. The tense atmosphere provides mood and made me feel the need to be cautious when exploring. However, the few attempts at jump scares felt out of place. I died a few times, not by electrocution, and the deaths were needlessly gruesome. It feels like they were going for shock value, but it falls flat. I won’t go into details because of spoilers, but they could have really gone deep and interwoven the horror aspects into the story better.

There are collectibles scattered throughout the game, mostly news headlines from the outside world that I touched on earlier in the review. The suspected spies change from various governments to spies for Thomas Edison, but these seeds of interesting ideas and story are starved and wither before they can ever blossom.

Visuals:
The game runs smoothly for the most part. The biggest problem was late in the game. The developer relied heavily on blue particle effects. Even my PS4 Pro struggled to render all of the effects and the frame rate dropped to low double or single digit FPS a few times.

Audio:
The rain beating against a large window and crackle of exposed electricity and all the other sound effects give life to the mostly lifeless ship. The thud of the large doors opening reminds the player of the overall massive scope and size of the Helios.

The soundtrack largely stays in the background. However, the transitions between calm exploration and tense moments of horror would not have been as successful without the music.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
It’s clear Storm In A Teacup put a lot of time and love into Close To The Sun. The unique puzzles managed to be challenging enough without being frustrating and story carried me until the end.

Minor gripes aside, the game’s two biggest strengths are also its biggest weaknesses. There are not nearly enough unique puzzles or variations of the puzzles. Turning generators off and on or dodging electricity arching from a coil quickly becomes repetitive. The mysteries surrounding the Helios bring up so many questions along the way and most of those questions are never answered. The story told is just a small part of the larger story. The damage to the ship and the experiments behind that damage allow for many interesting but wasted opportunities. The collectibles about a British Navy ship chasing the Helios and spies from Thomas Edison add flavor to the story and my mind ran wild with all the possibilities of where they might take the story. All of the enticing tidbits sprinkled around the game are never followed up on.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook