Even set during an alternate reality of 1897, the war of the currents between American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison and Serbian-American inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla was as ruthless and cutthroat as real life. In Close to the Sun, Tesla's ambition expands beyond the construction of an experimental wireless transmission station on Long Island. The Helios, named after the Hellenistic Sun God, is the largest ship in history, rivaling a small city, housing the brightest and smartest scientific minds in history. As Rose Archer, you receive a bizarre letter and a strange communication device from your baby sister, Ada, begging you to visit her on the boat.
As your fully autonomous little craft approaches the Helios, you are left in awe at the sheer size of the structure, and yet a puzzling sensation overwhelms you as not a single living soul can be seen inside the docking area. Beginning your search for the reason that your sister summoned you, you swiftly make your way to the entrance, only to discover the ominous word "quarantine" sprawled across the doors in red paint before they shut behind you, preventing your escape. As a narrative-focused title, you'll explore the stylish and breathtakingly art deco-inspired interiors, reminiscent of the BioShock series. The game lacks consistent pacing, especially during the first couple of hours, but it does take this time to create a haunting atmosphere surrounding the overall mystery of the vessel.
There isn't any traditional combat in Close to the Sun; instead, you'll navigate hallways, explore laboratories, riffle through apartments, read newspapers/handwritten notes, learning more about the lives of those onboard. The great scientific minds onboard the vessel stumble upon something they shouldn't have, although the exact nature of the incident, whether an accident or deliberate, is unknown. I don't want to dig too deep into the narrative, but it does involve supernatural forces and the one-electron universe theory. Because of this, Rose begins to see ghostly imagery set in the past as she continues to explore the now abandoned vessel.
It isn't long before the chilling atmosphere turns into a gory nightmarish bloodbath, complete with a knife-wielding lunatic slicing bodies to bits. The repetitive chase sequences bog down the experience, especially with the trial-and-error approach of navigating through maze-like corridors. Even so, they got my heart racing, especially once I realized you could look behind you, seeing just how close you are to becoming chopped meat. You need to be quite precise with your movements, and even then, the chases tend to feature deliberate branching paths, with most leading to dead ends. Occasionally you'll notice indicators leading you towards the correct way, but not always. Outside of this, you'll spend most of your time solving environmental puzzles, memorizing images, and passcodes to keep pushing you forward through the various ship locations. The visual style and the sound design genuinely shine, especially the voice acting for Rose, Ada, and other characters you'll interact across the five to six hours it takes to complete the game (as long as you aren't rushing). Even if you miss crucial hints and elements used to solve these puzzles, I found it didn't take too much additional time to brute force your way through most.
As a monument to Tesla's great intellect, The ship is full of references to his grand ideas. There is even a museum with prototypes of his designs, complete with audio narration done by the man himself (well, the game version of Tesla). A theme throughout the narrative involves possible Edison spies, and Tesla's paranoia and obsession by the belief that the Helios has been infiltrated. You see, Tesla has great plans for his accomplishments, using the threat of his "death ray" as a deterrent to keep the peace amongst the nations. My understanding of Tesla changed throughout, as you uncover the enigma surrounding the onboard lockdown.
Close to the Sun successfully crafts a tense narrative and world through visual storytelling. Nikola Tesla's technological intellect and fear of Edison led to a crisis that could expose all of humanity to unimaginable terrors. The art deco-inspired designs inside the ship are spectacular, but character designs and animations are sorely lacking. The game moves at a snail's pace (especially Rose's movement speed), outside of the trial-and-error chase sequences, and I could have done without the frequent jump-scares.Note: Close to the Sun was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.