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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

Etherborn Review — A Brief, Beautiful Defiance of Gravity

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Etherborn

Indie developers in 2019 truly have the freedom to create the games they want. When Fig-funded game Etherborn reached its funding target, developer Altered Matter set out to craft a gravity-shifting puzzle platformer. Players sold on this concept have a lot to look forward to as Altered Matter has delivered on its promise. The mind-bending mechanics of Etherborn force players to approach the world from a new perspective amidst some stunning visual landscapes. 

In Etherborn, the player takes control of a voiceless, newly-born being who follows a bodiless voice in search of meaning. Such a philosophical premise promises an experience that will answer key questions regarding self-identity and the quest for meaning. The answer plays into the age old cliche that we are born to create our own destiny. The game’s narrative discussions around these topics are disappointing, though they do demonstrate that the narrative is less important than the themes behind them. 

Etherborn

One of the biggest frustrations with the story is that the language used complicated the simple message the developer was trying to tell. The soothing yet commanding tone of the omniscient voice would have been enough to carry along a more refined script that served the themes with clarity. Instead, Altered Matter opted to write something poetic by using lots of really big words that sound like they have lots of meaning, which instead detract from the actual meaning. 

Etherborn has a linear structure that takes place across five distinct levels. The levels are completed by solving gravity-defying puzzles to collect light orbs that open the pathway forward. Once all levels are completed, a new game+ mode is unlocked, creating replayability through the additional challenge of new, well-hidden light orb locations. Including this game mode offers players a chance to enjoy a more difficult experience without an additional learning curve. 

What sets Etherborn apart is the unique mechanic that underpins the gameplay. To traverse the landscape, players must jump and use ramps to change their perspective, turning walls into floors to move through the level. The opening level does an exceptional job of introducing the player to how this concept will be manipulated throughout the game. Controls in Etherborn are simple and intuitive, allowing for an experience that focuses the challenge purely within the design. Despite being able to run, the movement speed of the character seems sluggish for the most part, yet can be too fast for easy maneuverability in levels that require finesse to execute. 

Etherborn is deeply beautiful. The soft hues and subtle colour palette create a truly ethereal experience that carries through until the final level where the tone shifts into something somewhat dark, yet utterly breathtaking. Skeletal bodies, frozen in time, dwarf the character to create a visual masterpiece that captivates the viewer. Accompanying the divine art direction is killer sound design that makes the world feel complete. The ambient music creates an atmosphere that indulges in the landscape it calls home in a way that elevates the experience. 

The short length of Etherborn leaves players wanting more. In OnlySP’s preview of the game in 2018, the Alpha build contained the same five levels that are seen in the final game. Having spent so much time on these levels has meant the final product is highly polished yet disappointingly short. The gravity bending puzzles at play are so clever, well designed, and satisfying to complete that a lack of experimentation through more level designs to satiate the player’s hunger for more is disappointing.  

The challenging gameplay, gorgeous sound design, and stunning aesthetics all make Etherborn a worthwhile experience, even for those not fond of puzzle-platformers. Every level demonstrates a craftsmanship that encourages the curiosity to think and engage with the world. Completing puzzles is satisfying, even if the length of the game is not. Some minor issues may crop up along the way, but Etherborn is still a clever, fun game that challenges players and their perspective of the world. 

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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