Preview: Close to the Sun is an impressive narrative horror game from an ambitious Italian developer

There’s a look of BioShock in narrative horror game Close to the Sun, but that is far from what the game actually is. During my lengthy hour-long preview with the game, every player that surrounded me praised it in comparison to the last-generation classic. It’s a thin comparison; while the games do share a steampunk art deco aesthetic in an environment driven mad with science, they couldn’t be further away in terms of actual gameplay.

Of course, the comparison between the two is an impressive compliment towards the small Rome-based developer Storm in a Teacup. “Any time we get compared to a AAA game, we’re incredibly thankful,” Game Designer Joel Hakalax told me. “We’re a small team, it means a lot.” A game development studio in Rome is a rare occurrence, especially one that can put out such a fantastic looking product. Much like most European countries outside of the UK, game development as a professional field is an area that’s still suffering some growing pains.

Environments are grand and offer an intense sense of scale.

It’s impressive then that the game built here doesn’t feel like it was made by a small team at all. It is far from BioShock. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the 2007 immersive sim lite is much more ambitious in terms of its gameplay. Close to the Sun is clearly inspired by the narrative adventures from Polish developer Bloober Team, although I’d say this adventure is shaping up to a grander and more exciting tale.

Set aboard a humongous Nikola Tesla invented ship that puts Godzilla to shame by the name of Helios, you play as journalist Rose Archer. Much like a lot of games, you’re tasked with finding a missing relative. In this game it’s your sister Ada.

The Helios is a gorgeous structure, one that truly feels as grand as Storm in a Teacup wants us to believe it is. Rooms like the theatre and main hall feel colossal and not one corner skimps in detail. Of course, that meant that during our preview we did run into a large amount of performance issues but that should be improved upon by launch.

Close to the Sun knows just when to add in some horrendous, shocking and disgusting violence. I like it.

Close to the Sun is first and foremost a narrative game, a type of game that is rather difficult to demo in preview form. We played through a handful of chapters that showed a wide range of what we can expect in the final game. It’s certainly varied, although play is very similar to its inspirations. You’ll follow a story throughout beautiful environments, solve puzzles and listen to people talk. Much like Layers of Fear, it feels distanced, but it is an experience that I’m confident will be a memorable game in the end.

Unlike other indie horror games, this is a game that knows how and when to actually provide the spooks. Most of what we played was subdued but near the end of our demo we were treated to a grisly chase sequence. Close to the Sun knows what horror is and, most importantly, is aware of the pacing issues other games in its genre often face.

Close to the Sun is looking very promising. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of games like Layers of Fear, Storm in a Teacup has utterly gripped my attention with this interesting and beautiful narrative adventure. Beauty and unique ideas are culminating together to create something that feels great. It may not be BioShock, but I hope it becomes as memorable as it.

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Close to the Sun launches May 2nd on Epic Games Store

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