Close to the Sun wears its influences on its sleeve. You can see the recipe play out in the opening hour. Set in an alternate history, you play as Rose, a woman looking for her sister Ada aboard Nikola Tesla’s version of Bioshock’s Rapture—a giant sea ship known as the Helios. Before long the linear exploration leads to sudden jump scares, as the game leans into a vibe more reminiscent of Frictional Games’ horror titles Amnesia and Soma. And finally, when the life or death consequences are introduced, they come in the form of trial-and-error sequences straight out of Outlast, Slender, or Five Nights at Freddy’s.
The cocktail doesn’t work. The unmistakable Art Deco vibe, journal entries, and radio-play NPCs only serve as a reminder to the many immersive sims that came before. It’s not exactly a fair comparison, but ambitious games like Bioshock, Prey (2017), and Dishonored have a big advantage over the smaller scope of Close to the Sun—primarily, more time to build a fully realized, believable world and story.
Close to the Sun’s plot is both intimate and all-encompassing. The small cast of five characters are also the only important players in this story’s entire universe. Outside of the piles of dead bodies all over the ship—the result of a monstrous time anomaly—there’s little sense that a living, breathing world ever existed here. The Helios feels like a series of pretty environments designed to facilitate set-piece moments.
And when the game rolls into those set-piece moments, venturing beyond simple walking for something more action-oriented, the controls and design can’t keep up. Close to the Sun features multiple chase sequences where you must run through fire and dust, guessing at which corridor is the path forward, and which is a dead end. Every single one of these sequences had me reloading my checkpoint over and over until I sussed out the correct path.
Occasionally Close to the Sun breaks up the linear navigation with some light puzzle solving, and while those sequences fare much better, they have their own issues. None of the sequences are particularly thought-provoking, and the one time I was actually stumped for a few minutes, it was due to a glitch that required a chapter restart to fix.
Other glitches, like an audio mix that refused to stay consistent from line to line, made me hate a character like Aubrey, who shouted his lines throughout the entire game as my character whispered inaudibly.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Close to the Sun will depend largely on your exposure to the many better games that it blends together. I could see someone enjoying the simple pleasure of the 4-5 hour story, pushing through the trial and error moments, and coming away relatively satisfied.
But for me, with every game it reminded me of, Close to the Sun felt less and less like the sum of its parts. Each time the game stepped away from quiet exploration to introduce a punitive chase scene, I was reminded of how many times I’ve seen these ideas done better. And with so many big inspirations stripped down to half-baked results, the end product left me empty.