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Close to the Sun Review - Just Because You Can, It Doesn't Mean You Should

Close to the Sun is the latest and possibly most ambitious title from Rome-based developer Storm in a Teacup. It's a first person exploration experience and one that focuses entirely on the technological achievements of Nikola Tesla, but is it worth the price tag or is this one title that got a little too close to the Sun?

As you begin your adventure in Close to the Sun, you're placed into the shoes of a Journalist named Rose Archer. Contacted by your sister, Ada, you must journey on an unmanned boat to the Helios - the largest Tesla-powered Sea Vessel in the world. Upon arrival however, not all is as it seems. There's nobody to welcome you, the jetty is barely lit and there's no sign of your sister. What happened to everyone? Will this be Rose' greatest scoop yet? Will she even live to tell the tale? This is for you to find out, should you choose to enter the Helios and immerse yourself within Storm in a Teacups latest title.

Entering the Helios, you turn around only to see the word "Quarantine" painted in what I hope to be red paint on the door behind you. You're likely thinking "What happened here?", and in time you'll probably wonder why you even stepped on this ship in the first place. Thankfully, you have your trusty sister to guide you through most of the game via a Tesla-esque communicative ear piece.

The Main Deck - If only the situation were as pleasant as the night sky,

After a small amount of time investigating, it doesn't take long to realise something terrible went on here. Where is everybody? Why is there blood everywhere? You investigate further, moving further and further into the ship interior until the air grows stale, ripe with the stench of rotting flesh. It's obvious there was some kind of massacre, but what caused it? Tesla's experiments were always ambitious and often incredibly dangerous, so could this have been a by-product of one of his inventions, or was there something more sinister at play here?

In case it wasn't obvious, Close to the Sun does an excellent job in creating mystery, and it reels you in with this, fully aware of its greatest strength. The only problem is Close to the Sun relies on this a little too much, so when you've played through and experienced enough of the twists and turns the plot has to offer, you'll realise that not all of these revelations have resolutions.

Without spoiling too much, while this story revolves around Nikola Tesla and the many inventions he had created, the plot isn't exactly focused on him and brings to light the repercussions of creative freedom. You also can't have Tesla without Edison and there are enough newspapers scattered across the Helios to gauge Tesla's Spy paranoia and Edison's intent, but this isn't ever realised, only touched upon, largely due to the fact this wasn't the purpose of Close to the Sun.

This statue is eerily illuminating.

Imagine if history had gone differently for Nikola Tesla. Let's assume for a moment he received the credit he deserved and Edison didn't profit from his creations. That would have been the ideal world, at least for Tesla, but perhaps not for the rest of the population. Scattered throughout the Helios you'll find a number of Tesla blueprints, some of which are based on his real world inventions while others are more fictional in design, though never truly outside the confines of being believable.

Tesla's blueprints are just one of the many collectables you'll be able to obtain within Close to the Sun. Whether you're searching for blueprints, documented evidence of what took place on the Helios or hidden photos and passports of some of the most famous Scientists known to man during this period, it's worth searching for these collectables as they add a lot to the story.

One of the most interesting invention plans I found within the game was an idea to augment human lungs for greater stamina. Tesla technology may be more Steampunk than Cyberpunk, but self-improvement can come in many forms and this was something I believe the fictional copy of Nikola Tesla was wanting to build upon.

One of the many blueprints you'll find scattered across the Helios.

The Helios is also, in short, a work of art. Statues serve as shrines to Tesla himself, gaudy architecture is everywhere and you'll find all kinds of quirky inventions. The Helios was clearly intended to be a sanctuary to some of the worlds greatest minds, but also serves as a place for these historical figures to collaborate and create. The Helios is impressive in design and could belong to no other man or woman but Tesla himself. Tesla coils also power pretty much everything, made possible due to an unlimited supply of energy - another achievement of perhaps the greatest man to ever exist. The question is, how did he achieve this and where did the energy even come from?

Close to the Sun isn't a combat game. It may have a similar aesthetic to the hugely popular Bioshock series, but it's a very different game. At its core, it's a Survival Horror Walking Simulator. The controls are a little janky, jumping is incredibly awkward/rigid and though there are secrets to uncover, Close to the Sun is very much a game about discovering the lore this alternate history provides. There are no weapons to wield or protect yourself here, only puzzles to solve and routes to discover as you desperately try to navigate your way around this colossal ship. That is, when you're not running for your life.

In reality, Tesla was an incredible man, and in this fictional setting he's an undeniably powerful man, perhaps even omnipotent in the way he is at times portrayed, but is he the main antagonist in Close to the Sun, or merely a smokescreen to a greater threat?

Sometimes you just have to stop and take a look at your surroundings.

While relations between characters are made pretty clear, I should make it known that by the end of your adventure, very little plot comes to a close and whether intentional or not, the climax felt anything but climactic, unfortunately ending on a cliffhanger that I can only presume was to pave way for DLC or a sequel. This felt a little cheap and though it didn't entirely sour the experience, all it needed was an extra chapter or two to complete what could have been a much more enjoyable game. This is a shame because it's clear a lot of love went into the creation of this title and I did enjoy what I played, but I just wish it had a more compelling end. Instead, we're rewarded with an empty and ultimately pointless experience, with many questions left unanswered.

Overall, Close to the Sun had some nice ideas, but fell short of reaching any kind of greatness, which is somewhat of a contradiction, all things considered. There's fun to be had and the voice acting is great, but with fairly bad framerate issues in one of the later levels and a plot that doesn't really go anywhere, we're left with a disappointing and forgettable journey.

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