Close to the Sun is an imaginative retailing of Icarus and his father Daedalus, but also, the battle between both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla as a history-horror title. But as they say, you fly too Close to the Sun, the sun will burn you.
+Extremely well-presented narration through both atmospheric and narrated moments
+Puzzles that are almost as challenging as those of MYST
+Characters are well rounded and an alternative history well explored
+Absolutely gorgeous graphics and set designs
-Performance issues are a major issue
-Jump scares eventually lose their usefulness
-Limited video and graphics options
Once upon a time, I’d been told a story about a child named Icarus, the son of Daedalus, the inventory who had designed a maze to keep a Minotaur captive, an experience I’d gotten to see come to life thanks to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. As the tale goes, Icarus was given wings by his father, Daedalus, in order to escape King Minos who kept them as captives to hide the location of the labyrinth.
The wings were made of feathers and wax, but in the tale, Icarus was warned he could not fly too high or his wings would melt. As you might imagine, Icarus flew too high, his wings had melted, and tragically, he would fall to his death. As you might know, the tale is a tragic story about forbidden love, as Icarus loved the sun, and wanted to get as close to it as he could.
In many ways, Close to the Sun from Storm in a Teacup is almost the same idea, one where ambitious scientists had not learned from the mistakes of Icarus, causing them to fly too Close to the Sun, and unfortunately, burning up their wings in a tragic and horrific mess. As you might be wondering, Close to the Sun isn’t just an “exploration” title. Rather, it’s an exploration horror, or what I like to call, a perfect spiritual successor to titles such as Layers of Fear and >observer_.
They flew too close to the sun and now they’re getting burnt alive
Surprisingly enough, fans of BioShock are in for a treat. The game carries on quite a few of the games telltale experiences while also delivering something entirely different. It explores the idea of – well, Bioshock did also – exploring multi-dimensional rifts, ones brought on by the use of science, and how we could alter the world around us. The story itself, however, explores an alternate timeline where Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison had begun racing for scientific advances, pushing one another as far as they could, including the use of spies.
But the story isn’t afraid to display its use of inspirations drawn from Greek myth. Each of the chapters carries on a unique title from Greek Mythology such as “the Border of Hermes,” “The Fire of Prometheus, “The Strife of Eris,” and so on. The entire game is based on the Greek themes from which the chapters derive their story-telling elements. It’s quite creative and to push a story forward with this theme is even more so ingenious.
But the story itself, if you are wondering, will give you an idea who that metaphorical Icarus was, bringing in a satisfying ending once the credits begin to roll within ten hours of when you started playing. Sure, there are secrets here and there, but you’ll want to enjoy the game for its story your first time through.
Now, to avoid spoilers, let’s talk about the design choices made in the game.
Hello… Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me.
When your game begins, Rose is alone, there’s very little context as to what has happened aboard the Helios outside a mysterious letter from her sister Ada, and even less to go on as you approach the massive ship called the Helios, a safe haven, or so you thought, for those brilliant minds who decided to work alongside Nikola Tesla in their endless endeavors of exploring some of the greatest findings in scientific history.
Once there, you’re greeted by some of the most… Well… Somewhat familiar settings and openings to the very date. Much akin to that of BioShock, your approach is quite simple: You ride a boat, not an underwater vessel, and on your trip, you’re introduced to the main hall of the massive ship. Well, not-identical to Bioshock, but close enough, I suppose.
However, within minutes, you find a mysterious, albeit blood-like scribblings on the wall saying one word: Quarantine. From here, the story isn’t just told through narrative voice-acted moments, but the environment itself. It’s quite clear that the ship was in distress. There’s paperwork sprawled about, heavy amounts of damage to the ship, and bodies scattered all about.
The ship itself is far from functional, and what’s going on, is even creepier than what I had been prepared for during my time aboard the massive vessel. Throughout your adventures, you’ll notice the atmospheric storytelling that unfolds before you, sometimes in the form of anomalies that appear in an area, telling their own visual story, but without words.
It’s quite nice, really, as atmospheric story-telling is important whether we know it or not. Audibly, this is much the same, and the jump scares are a bundled package. Whether or not, even I will admit, I was surprised by a few of them, which led my heart to racing and my eyes going wide, a welcomed change as few horror games have managed to do that to me rather than fluster me altogether.
Unlike games such as Alien: Isolation, Slender: The Eight Pages, or even SOMA; Close to the Sun carefully draws its punches. You won’t find subtle hints that something horrific is about to happen or that if you turn around that someone will be watching you from the shadows or that a killer will begin to hunt you after appearing out of thin air. Rather, it’s these subtleties that put Close to the Sun in a league of its own.
Unfortunately, that tension doesn’t remain in the last few chapters. You know what to expect, you know that the body count has more than doubled, and you’re now on the list that needs crossed off for the finale to truly begin. Sadly, it’s frustrating at that point, but it doesn’t take away from the fact the game is purely atmospheric outside of the few spoken lines and few NPCs you’ll never truly get to know face-to-face.
Just don’t expect to fight back. Storm in a Teacup didn’t draw back there punches nor did they shy away from the idea that Close to the Sun could have played a lot like BioShock, but only drew a few small inspirations from it. You may be wondering, will I stop drawing similarities to the two? Well, not really, there’s a lot of reasons why. Namely the fact they are the only couple of games that have actually done this right and they’re two of the only games that didn’t shy away from making well-rounded cast members for us to enjoy.
But let me be clear. Just like BioShock, this one is in a league of its own. Both do their very own things rather well, they both tell their stories rather well through atmospheric and audible designs. Their visual details are spot on and their use of lighting, particle effects, shadow-based details, and even reflective metals is amazing, and the detail is astounding.
Even if you don’t notice it, there are quite a few references to Tesla and his dislike of pigeons. You’ll just have to keep an eye out for them. But now, let’s talk my biggest problem with the game: Performance.
Burning up the performance in all the wrong ways
Before we get too far, I have to make this clear. I exceed the system specifications for Close to the Sun. to be quite honest, I’m well past them with the capability of running games such as DOOM (2016), Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2016), and The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt on the highest settings without as much as a hiccup.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for Close to the Sun. I’ve found myself hitting rock bottom performances on both a streaming powerhouse service such as Shadow by Blade Group and our review and streaming PC Scarlet. At times, I’ve found the game bottoming out, hitting a minimum framerate of 15-20fps at times while capping out at anywhere between 70 and 75 before bottoming out once again.
During intense moments of exploration, finding secrets, and trying to find some immersion in the story, I’d often be drawn back to the reality from whence I came, one where my experience has been troubled, even on the lowest of settings for the game to see if something would balance out.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be fixing the problem, and because of it, I’ve had trouble actually enjoying the game on the performance side of things. Truth-be-told, it’ll need the performance updates, ones that fix a few bugs, and help the experience run quite a bit smoother. What makes it worse? I had to do a bit of digging to find out what our problems actually were, and the picture painted was rather ugly: The game doesn’t fully utilize but a single core of your CPU, causing the game to run rather… Rough.
Don’t believe me? You can check out dsogaming’s report on the issues regarding a single-core/thread being accessed by the game rather than multi-core processing techniques many games of today actually use. If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if the game gets some massive updates to address this problem and hopefully give us a smoother experience moving forward, especially with a console version in the works.
We often found the game struggling to run between 50-60fps even on our build and knowing what’s going on, we don’t expect even more powerful hardware to get past our performance issues.
Sound and graphics, let’s talk art!
Putting the performance issues aside, a big complaint of mine, Close to the Sun is both audibly and visual treat. It’s absolutely beautiful on both sides of that exact same coin. Whether it’s the reflective metals, the dark, but somehow subtle lighting choices used, Close to the Sun stays true to the design Storm in a Teacup had in mind.
It’s a dark, grim, and haunting experience ultimately brought to life by the atmospheric design choices made. While the team could have opted for a more-than-realistic look, the idea of using a stylized form of design elements truly brings the game to life, makes it stand out, and gives us something to truly enjoy once you begin to take it in.
However, that does bring a few questionable design choices to be called out. Why not stick through with this otherworldly idea through and through? Why not take it one step further and really push the envelope by going with an ultra-realistic appeal to the game rather than something closer to that of BioShock or We Happy Few?
Regardless, it doesn’t take away from the overall attention to detail, which I will say, is a step ahead of many of today’s newer games. It still begs the question of why the game is so dark, why can’t we use a slider to brighten things up, and why so few graphics options? I’d love to be able to tweak the settings to how I’d love to experience the game, to how I’d like to perceive the world that the created, something I can do with almost any game on the market for PC.
Regardless, it doesn’t take away from the beauty of this game and how detail oriented the developers actually are, I just wish on the performance side, the 1930’s art deco appeal didn’t just stand out as a set piece, but even more as a story of its very own. A story that could tell us more than just a few things that actually stand out from the rest.
And my friend, that’s the end of this review. It’s time to dim the lights and close the curtain.
At the end of the day, Close to the Sun brings to life the rivalry between two of the greatest minds in all of history, bringing forth the insanity and deranged mind that is Nikola Tesla with the brilliance and classiness that is Thomas Edison in a horrific tale of both espionage and science went wrong.
Close to the Sun
Platform Reviewed: PC
Developer: Storm in a Teacup
Publisher: Wired Productions
Release Date: Available Now
The only problem with the experience, is the performance, a problem I can’t look past, and a problem I hope the developers do acknowledge through an upcoming update, or at least give an explanation as to why their game was limited to a single core on a CPU. If they can fix that, then this game has it all, and it’s 10-hour adventure is – regardless – a quite remarkable one that uses Greek mythos as its foundation.
After all, it’s an exhilarating experience that is ultimately brought to life through questioning the “what if” and exploring the worst-possible scenario of that very question.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.