Developer Storm in a Teacup has been relatively quiet after presenting Close to the Sun to the world during Gamescom 2018. However, their dark and atmospheric action-horror-adventure title has been slowly coming together in the months leading up to its release. That work looks poised to deliver something really interesting that, despite the comparisons to older titles like BioShock and SOMA, will give players a new experience.
Close to the Sun takes place in the year 1897. It imagines a world where Nikola Tesla grew in wealth and influence instead of dying in despair and poverty. In this alternate history, Tesla was able to build the Helios, a massive vessel bound in international waters where the brightest minds from around the world could come to conduct experiments unhindered by things like ethics and laws. Of course, things didn't go well for everyone on-board that fateful ship. Players take on the role of Rose Archer, a journalist who arrives at the Helios on a mission to find her sister Ada. However, Archer finds that the Helios lies empty save for the odious stench of death and its entrances plastered with signs of a quarantine.
The aesthetic and setup of Close to the Sun definitely conjure comparisons to BioShock. However, Storm in a Teacup claims that the gameplay and narrative both diverge significantly from what players might expect. Close to the Sun is not "BioShock, but newer," it stands as its own piece of artistic expression. Instead of a straight action game, Close to the Sun focuses more on exploration and horror than the original BioShock. Players will have the option to fight whatever horrors they encounter, but the deck will always be stacked against them, usually leaving running or hiding better options to deal with threats. This goes along with part of Storm in a Teacup's development vision that states, "We don’t kill just for the sake of seeing some blood on the screen, everything must have a reason which represents the character in a specific situation of need/danger/fear. The idea that “violence itself sells” is true on a market level but this doesn’t mean that we have to crucify our vision for that." Rose Archer is a journalist, not a trained fighter, so players should not expect to be decimating whatever awaits them in the Helios.
The de-emphasis on combat makes Close to the Sun more of an adventure game with situations that should be approached like puzzles - albeit puzzles that are very scary and very time sensitive. In a recent interview with Game Reactor, designer Joel Hakalax stated that the gameplay emphasizes scares that put the player in difficult situations. "You either think on your feet, make split-second decisions or you end up dying in horrible or brutal ways," he said.
While there has been no release date given for Close to the Sun, we do know that Storm in a Teacup expects to release their game sometime this year. It was also just announced that Close to the Sun will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store, joining the ranks of other games that have been abandoning Steam for exclusive deals on Epic's platform. As part of the deal with Epic, Storm in a Teacup received more funds to spend some extra time polishing their already gorgeous indie title, likely contributing to the somewhat nebulous release window.
Honestly, Close to the Sun just looks rad. There aren't a ton of games that are able to nail the oppressive and creepy atmosphere of the BioShock titles, but Close to the Sun nails it. The approach to gameplay that casts players in the role of a normal person dealing with life or death struggles always feels like a compelling choice in horror-oriented games. When it's done right, Silent Hill 2 and The Last of Us come to mind, it can really ground a game and elevate the tension in subtly captivating ways. And that's not even touching the mystery of the Helios that strongly hints at some kind of time-travel narrative.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!