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Close to the Sun Review — A Force to be Reckoned With

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Close to the Sun is a visual feast for players that brings a new standard of polish to the indie scene. The small team at Storm in a Teacup team has created a compelling and suspenseful experience that features a graphical quality that many AAA studios would envy. Close to the Sun is suspenseful, fun, and showcases a stunningly detailed environment of a standard which more developers should strive for.

Close to the Sun is set in an alternative 19th century driven by the scientific discoveries of Nikola Tesla. The game takes place aboard a ship named the Helios, born of Tesla’s vision to create a space that would allow fellow scientists the freedom to experiment without limitation. One of the Helios’s residents, Ada Archer, sends a letter asking her sister, protagonist Rose Archer, to board the ship, inciting the events that follow. The plot follows Rose as she travels throughout the ship in search of her sister and uncover the events that led to the ship’s quarantine.

Close to the Sun gameplay screenshot 1

Much of the suspense is created by the humorous dialogue. The characters aboard the Helios communicate with Rose through radio transmissions that are full of character and immensely charming. As players explore and laugh along to the dialogue, they are lulled into a false sense of security which then triggers a constant feeling of fear wondering what moment will break their whimsy.

The moments of horror seen within Close to the Sun are cleverly crafted. Much of the terror within the game stems from the player’s own paranoia as to what may be waiting for them at the top of the stairs or behind the next door. This feeling is created by some incredibly atmospheric audio design that immerses the player within the remarkable art deco world.

Close to the Sun does not feature combat, which is a great choice for the game, as it encourages exploration of the detailed world without fear of retribution from enemies. Enemy encounters instead take the form of chase scenes where the player must run away from the incoming threats to progress the narrative. Aside from these scenes, the players can interact with unique collectibles found in each level that provide further information about the inhabitants of Helios and what life was like aboard the ship. The game features minimal puzzles that the player must solve in order to progress the narrative, all of which feel achievable and encourage further exploration of the vast world. These mechanics are all simple, intuitive, and highly polished, and combine to create a smooth gameplay experience.

Close to the Sun gameplay screenshot 3

Running away from psychopaths and twisted time monsters genuinely leave the player in suspense. However, these moments only create an impact when they are fully realised without interruption. If the player is caught, the capture cinematics that trigger create an initial scare at the expense of losing that feeling of suspense when the gameplay resumes.

Close to the Sun features some of the most detailed environmental design seen in recent memory. The realistic steampunk art style is simply gorgeous. All assets and environments tell their own stories through the sheer amount of detail present in their design. Every level is filled with a unique personality that showcase the era in all its shiny glory. In many ways, the entire Helios is an easter egg for players to explore featuring recreations of Tesla’s lesser known ideas.

Close to the Sun gameplay screenshot 4

Whilst all of the environmental design is exquisite, Storm in a Teacup deserves particular praise for the magnificent design seen in Chapter 6: The Drama of Dionysus. The player ascends the level in an elevator and as the doors open, a lavish theatre foyer is revealed. To describe this moment as breathtaking is an understatement. As the player explores the grandiose theatre, an overwhelming feeling of awe is inescapable. The Drama of Dionysus is a masterclass in good environmental design and well worth players attention.

Frustratingly, the game’s ending leaves the player with more questions than answers. The narrative presents so many mind-boggling questions that never get resolved which leaves the ending open to interpretation. Such a vague ending is disappointing for what is such an engaging narrative filled with robust characters, but is simultaneously exciting as it opens the opportunity for the development of a sequel. The fact that major plot points are left unanswered makes much of the wonder they create feel pointless which is the only aspect that brings down the high standard of the game.

Close to the Sun gameplay screenshot 5

Close to the Sun is a spectacle piece for the explorative player that is well worth sinking time and money into. Despite the horror label, the game is not so scary that it cannot be enjoyed by everyone. The game may be short with a frustrating conclusion but this should not deter players from picking up this title. From highly detailed environments to smooth gameplay, Close to the Sun is a short, but unique experience that deserves players attention.

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PC.

What does a fitness instructor like to do with their spare time? Write about video games obviously. Amy has been obsessed with video games ever since watching her parents play Crash Bandicoot on PS1. All these years later, she is thrilled to get to share her thoughts on the games she loves so much.

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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