Adventure Corner: Close to the Sun
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column we weigh anchor and set sail with Nikola Tesla in Storm in a Teacup’s atmospheric first-person adventure, Close to the Sun.
Close to the Sun
Any discussion of the free-roaming, first-person horror adventure Close to the Sun probably needs to start by addressing the elephant in the room and admitting this game is directed primarily at a certain crowd. It’s already part of a sub-genre that focuses on the narrative experience, but Close to the Sun places such a heavy emphasis on story and atmosphere that it’s almost to the exclusion of gameplay. It’s quite similar to games like Soma and Tacoma, both of which I also absolutely loved.
The year is 1897. Nikola Tesla has built a city-sized floating research vessel and christened it the Helios. Together with hundreds of the world’s brightest minds, he has taken up residence in international waters, away from greedy and controlling governments, and is working on a way to create limitless sustainable energy. Interestingly, some of this is actually grounded in reality, and is based on Tesla’s real-life unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower experiment. One of Tesla’s recruits is Ada Archer, who has written a letter begging her sister Rose to come aboard the Helios. As Rose steps off the fully-automated transport boat and into the Helios’ interior docking bay, it becomes clear that not all is as it should be: not a soul is in sight, suitcases and cargo containers lie scattered and unattended, and the word QUARANTINE is written in tall letters across the door leading into the ship proper.
These early moments set up a location that is at once tense and foreboding as well as fascinating to explore. The idea of a floating utopia, resplendent in its opulence and filled with unheard-of inventions, is one that begs the player to take their time and take in the sights to their heart’s content. But it isn’t long before bodies begin turning up. The atmosphere is, at times, dark and tense enough to resemble a horror game, particularly during the handful of times players have to either sneak to avoid detection or make a mad blind dash for their lives. However, these elements are only part of the experience, which veers away from the horrific just as often as it embraces it. Early areas set up a tangled web of espionage between Tesla and his real-world contemporary and rival genius, Thomas Edison, and Rose’s search for Ada acts as the backbone that the remaining narrative is built around.
Close to the Sun mixes the fantastic with the factual, as quite a bit of the inventor’s work and designs are showcased in the game, at one point even leading to the discovery of a fully interactive “Tesla Museum” on board the Helios. Using the Wardenclyffe Tower as a springboard, the developers examine a “What if…?” scenario with a tale that crosses the boundaries of our dimension and reaches into the beyond. Though much of the game is spent traversing the beautiful locations, there are collectibles to find and even the occasional puzzle that must be solved to progress. Though there are adversaries, combat is non-existent, and action is restricted to a pair of chase sequences. It’s a relatively stress-free handful of hours that can be spent instead in a state of wonderment.
Close to the Sun joins a group of games that I continue to find greater appreciation for: adventures that are brimming with atmosphere and built to allow players to soak that atmosphere up rather than asking them to overcome roadblocks along the way. Such was my interest that I contacted the developers to discuss some theories about the strange glowing symbol that can be found in hidden locations all throughout the game. They were suspiciously tight-lipped, allowing me to conjecture that there may be further plans for the setting. In the meantime, the Helios beckons adventurers to come and discover what happened to those brave souls who weren’t afraid to fly a little too close to the sun.