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This week, Yahtzee reviews Close to the Sun.

Transcript Edit

Somehow, I expect more from something that calls itself the "Epic Store"; I picture a place with 10-foot-high golden doors, where all the staff dress in togas, that sells nothing but copies of the Odyssey tattooed onto the side of white stallions, and when you swipe your credit card, it makes a lightsaber noise. At least something more than "dark grey boxes and no user reviews"! But whether you think the Epic Store is an inferior pretender trying to buy its way into the winners' table by holding sought-after games hostage, or a viable means to break Steam's digital distribution monopoly that at least has a slightly higher level of quality control than a starving goat in the alleyway behind a KFC, either way, it's something we're going to have to live with.

For me, I'm happy for any source of indie games that actually curates them a bit; the indie games sphere can be a wonderful thing, but my God, it produces shit like an, uh... extremely well-fed goat in the alleyway behind a KFC. And this week, it was one of the indie games presently exclusive to the Epic Store that caught my eye, mainly because the graphic on the store page made it look like the lady was annoyed that the logo kept electrocuting her shoulder: Close to the Sun. And now, having played it, I find myself wanting to talk about it, because it highlights that sometimes, the difference between "homage" and "ripoff" is a line no thicker than a walrus whisker.

Stop me if this starts to sound familiar: in an alternative late nineteenth/early twentieth century-style setting, a lone adventurer in the middle of the ocean arrives at the doorstep of an isolated, high-tech, electro-punk city founded by a charismatic visionary and populated by the world's best and brightest, promised a place where they could work without fear of regulation and be entitled to the sweat of their brow and all that, but as soon as we get in, we find it seemingly deserted and more littered with bodies than a corridor in a hall of residence at about 2 AM on the first night of spring break. Shortly, the two or three remaining survivors contact us by radio, including the charismatic visionary himself, who initially takes us for a spy, and our goal is to escape, determining on the way what precisely befell this failed utopia.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yes, it's quite hauntingly reminiscent of Jet Set Willy, I mean, BioShock, obviously. Close to the Sun isn't so much wearing its influence on its sleeve as fashioning an entire bathrobe from its influence's box art; I mean, it even uses a similar fucking font. It's so blatant, it makes you wonder how much the game is inviting the comparison, extremely poorly advised as that might be, since BioShock kicks arse and Close to the Sun hasn't an ounce of its clever subtlety. It's called "Close to the Sun", for fuck's sake. "Do you get it?" Yes, Close to the Sun, I get it; it's a reference to the Icarus myth. "Yeah, 'cos, like, they're scientists and they're trying to progress too fast, so they were flying too--" Close to the Sun? Yes, I already said I get it. "...My house-school English teacher liked it." I'm sure he did!

For another example, the Andrew Ryan stand-in who founded the city is Nikola Tesla, as in "actual Nikola Tesla, the person", and I believe I've counseled before that one should be wary of any game in which Nikola Tesla is a character. It happens with slightly alarming frequency, 'cos he's the pinup boy of choice for a certain kind of person frequently found in video game development: the man whose capacity for making things go "whoosh-crackle-kabang" in exciting new ways made him accepted in society despite having the social skills of a leper with no inside voice. So yeah, a lot less subtle, although that might, on reflection, be the wrong word for BioShock, a game that centralized fighting diving-suit cyborgs with giant drills for hands.

There's not much of that in Close to the Sun; there's not much of any kind of gameplay, truth be told. It's of a type not unlike a walking simulator, but a sort of "advanced-level" walking simulator, where you get messily killed if you don't walk in precisely the correct manner at times: there's a lot of waiting for the right moment to walk in between bolts of electricity, and on a few occasions, you have to walk briskly away from hunty-chasey monsters, because this is a first-person horror game with no combat mechanics, so what the fuck else did you think you would be doing if not Outlast-ing this shit? Generally, the grace period you're given to internalize the fact that we have moved from the "introspective exploration" bit to the "fleeing blubbering for our life as fast as our shit-spattered legs can carry us" bit is around four nanoseconds, so you get killed very quickly if you don't follow the precise intended path. Also, all the jumping in this game is contextual, so if you have to jump over an obstacle during the chase sequence, all you can do is hammer on the "Use" button as you approach and hope to God the animation triggers before the chaser covers the eight or nine centimeters of distance you have on them.

Ooh, I was so eager to shit on the chasing sequences, I forgot to summarize the bits of the plot that aren't BioShock! You play as a feisty hotshot reporter lady who comes to Rapture, I mean, Helios in search of her sister, a feisty hotshot scientist lady, neither of whom talk much like they're from 1897; at one point, Hotshot Reporter requests that Hotshot Scientist, quote, "cut out the nerd shit", the lesser-known Emmeline Pankhurst quote. Well, it is an alternative history setting; maybe the advances of Nikola Tesla also advanced human dialect by a century or two.

As for what happened to Helios, it turns out that a time travel experiment ended with the ship getting filled with wibbly-wobbly blue science gas and then growly monsters came out of it and killed everyone. See, this is what I mean by "less subtle". Rapture's downfall came from the inherent flaws of its concept and in human nature; BioShock's setting is making a philosophical point that any dream of utopia is inherently incompatible with the concept of free will. Meanwhile, the point Close to the Sun seems to be making is that if you do too much science, then monsters will come and bite your face off 'cos they're the fucking Interdimensional Science Police or something.

Well, maybe it's a little deeper than that, but the plot leaves so many threads untied, it's hard to say; on multiple occasions, it's hinted that you yourself will at some point travel back in time to the present, and you're dealing with situations that your future self has in some way instigated, but then the game ends and none of that happens. Don't do that, story writers! You're only supposed to leave loose threads to fuel the sequel, not the entire resolution of the fucking plot! It's like bringing someone halfway to orgasm, then going away for six months, coming back, finishing the job, and saying, "Aren't you lucky you had an orgasm that lasted six months?", if you follow me.

So after the plot let me down, I'm not sure there's much to recommend in Close to the Sun; I suppose it looks good and has some very nicely-designed environments - sometimes, you can even see the fucking things through the spotty atmospheric lighting! - so if you think man can live on a nice bit of visual atmosphere alone, go nuts. Frankly, I think Close to the Sun presents a cautionary tale: if you're going to knock something off, maybe pick something that isn't really good and made by more competent people than you. Why not try to make, say, Ride to Hell, but actually functional, and consequently, infinitely less interesting, and then rename it something like "Days Gone"?

Addenda Edit

  • Forgot the factor 50 again: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Why do no steampunk games ever have a fictionalised version of Michael Faraday wielding a lightning gun
  • Next you'll be telling me that nuclear reactors are dangerous
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
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2011
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
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Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw
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