Close to the Sun

In line with the experiences of N.E.R.O. and in continuity with Lantern regarding the use of the Unreal Engine, with Close to the Sun we can say that we have reached the maturity test for Storm in a Teacup and its Creative Director Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi. Icaro’s theme that points too high until it reaches the sun and fails is preponderant in the work of Storm in a Teacup and, at the end of the day, is configured as prophetic even in relation to the title, as the ambition to move away from a classic adventure story-driven for PC – trying to include elements more action or survival-horror – has definitely penalized the work.

Science has failed

To understand what works and what doesn’t work in Close to the Sun we must necessarily start from the plot, which has always been the strong point of Storm in a Teacup’s work. The opening part, not very original, includes several interesting ideas: we are in a dystopian 1897 with decidedly steampunk colours, in which we impersonate the journalist Rose Archer on her way to join her sister Ada on the Helios, an imposing laboratory ship whose existence is due to the genius of Nikola Tesla. Our trip is justified by a letter sent by Rose’s sister with a request as mysterious as it is peremptory. Our short crossing, useful to familiarize ourselves with the simple commands of the game but not corroborated by a tutorial phase, leads us to a Helios turned off and apparently abandoned.

Soon we will understand that inside the Helios what seems (initially, according to the first clues and documents recovered) an act of paranoia and madness of Nikola Tesla, in competition with the other great energy scientist Edison, soon turns out to be something different. In fact, a quarantine is underway following various attempts at sabotage but the truth is that the blood and corpses on the Helios suggest very different scenarios. In direct communication with Ada, through a futuristic transmitter provided as an attachment to the letter received, we will try to make our way through the vast halls of the colossal ship. Our aim will be to reunite with our beloved sister but, in the meantime, we will interact with some, and very few, characters who will help us or try to stop our search.

The well-researched story supports a classic adventure with the first-person view and characterized by puzzles, documents and dialogues that enrich the plot and subplots that unfold over the short experience developed by Close to the Sun. In the space of 4-5 hours of the game, we’ll discover, however, that the interesting script, characterized by some important twists and turns, proves to be too predictable and anticipated both by certain dialogues and, above all, by the various documents retrieved. The final surprise, therefore, could be clear from the start. Beyond the aforementioned problems and in addition to the absence of a cast with charisma and adequate characterizations, except perhaps exclusively for Tesla, Close to the Sun lacks the suspense and restless expectation of discovery that should characterize a declared horror experience.

Run for your life

As a result of this, our great expectations are all placed on the cover: in fact, the Unreal Engine has been exploited properly, with great technical attention to detail, thanks to the large and varied game environments that give an excellent visual impact.  In this case too, however, we register ups and downs due to the models of characters and enemies, definitely, undertone compared to the rest of the sector: a shame because lights and shadows, special effects and textures are really high level.

However, this great work has not been properly exploited for what, in addition to the plot, should characterize a work of this type: the gameplay. We are facing a classic adventure story-driven, as already mentioned, but from the early stages of the game, you can see that something at the level of the system of control and interaction has not gone well. At first glance you notice sensitivity, playing with the controller, definitely excessive, combined with an inaccuracy especially with regard to the pointer when we go to try to activate levers, open doors and analyze documents.

This, however, is the lesser of two evils, as Storm in a Teacup’s choice to insert elements markedly action has triggered a self-harm process. In truth, the action phases are very small, five or six at most, and are all aimed at escaping from unbeatable enemies, trying to guess in the frenzy of the race the fastest route. Antagonists are incredibly quick and ridiculed by an unbelievable chase system in which our character is mechanically followed without freedom of escape or being able to fool the antagonist. The fear or rather the panic that is generated by these chases represent the culmination of the horror imprint given to the title, but soon they become purely elements of frustration due to, and here we arrive at the confirmation of the problems mentioned above, commands not suited to the purpose. The addition of the button to look back would seem a compelling stunt to increase the pathos of the chases, but unfortunately, it is a superfluous and harmful action during our escapes. Another regret if we dwell on the fact that the disturbing scenarios shown in the halls of Helios, along with some jump scare decidedly guessed, the soundtrack, the effects and the well-maintained dubbing could be more than enough to justify the key horror behind Close to the Sun.

We could easily pass over this problem in the presence of gripping and difficult puzzles, but it is not so. All the puzzles present and in which we will come across are easily solved since the solutions are in most cases under our eyes, and only on rare occasions you will need backtracking to continue our journey to the many environments within the Helios. We can certainly not say that the previous titles of Storm in a Teacup had accustomed us to different puzzles, especially thinking of what we indicate in the recession of N.E.R.O., but in that case, the strong plot had swept away any doubt about the complexity of the work. Showing his muscles with the Unreal Engine and showing great confidence of his technical means, Close to the Sun is really the Icarus who aimed too high but fell because blinded by the Sun, and without considering that his heat would melt the wax that supported the appearance of his wings.

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