Close to the Sun

FBT in Close to the Copyright Infringement.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Howard Hughes-style billionaire, who feels hindered by governments and society, builds the Helios, a gigantic ship he sails into international waters where the greatest minds of industry and science can innovate without constraint. Then the ship goes silent, until Rose Archer boards it after receiving a strange message from her scientist sister. With nothing but dead bodies and abominations for company, Rose must navigate the collapsing ship and uncover her part in all of this.

Yep, it’s Bioshock. Besides the plotting, it’s set in a steampunk art deco environment, Nickola Tesla stands in for Ryan, harassing us over the radio believing we’re a spy for Edison/Atlas, we see ‘ghosts’ of the previous occupants and we even have flashbacks to the passengers in masks. The only thing that’s missing is Plasmids and Big Daddies.

But, once you’re over the Deja-vu, CttS works hard to separate itself from Ryan’s Rapture. It’s not a shooter, it’s a narrative like Soma; there are serious threats, but you’re evading not confronting them. Rose doesn’t even have a wrench.

Mostly through, Rose is just navigating through the ship, solving puzzles that block her way and learning that her sister, Ada, discovered the One Electron theory is not a theory. That breakthrough led to other experiments including using time as an energy source; that went as well as you'd expect. In a panic, Tesla locked the ship down, leaving everyone trapped with their lethal experiments or to die at the hands of each other.

The Helios is beautifully detailed and lavish even under the rot. It is … titanic in size, to the point that Rapture seems more plausible than accepting this thing actually floats (It’s still more believable than a city that flies thanks to Quantum whatever).

Rose makes contact with her super-smart sis who has no memory of summoning her to the ship, so naturally assumes she did it in the future, and needs Rose to track down her time-travel notes to use … in the future? We also pick up a second disembodied stray, Aubrey, a scientist who has been trapped but can control doors and other handy plot-drivers, who strikes a deal - he’ll help us get to Ada if we also get him out. He’s been locked up with the body of his best mate for a while and is a little addled. His amusingly peppy egghead take on things helps keep it light.

Most of the puzzles we come up against are simple enough, but when we do meet a threat it’s a case of learning by dying. It’s always the same thing – either a demented passenger or ‘time antibodies’, a manifestation of time trying to correct itself, or something. It’s a completely hooky excuse to have Rose chased by a monster that has kills reminiscent of Alien Isolation – we even get the hand through the stomach death. And those scenes quickly lose all threat. You see one, run, die, sit through a five second death scene, reload and run, taking a different route and repeat until you reach safety. It’s more of an annoying diversion than some terrifying or exciting ever-present threat. We never sneak past or manage them, it’s just run and reload and their attacks are clearly signposted.

Rose is nicely inept at surviving this world and gives the two boffins short thrift when they get too techy, and as the plot gets darker and more threatening, Rose realises scientists really need those limitations to stop them destroying the universe.

Rose is a great character you want to see escape all this demented mayhem. She has a full-on breakdown the first time she sees a dead body, and while she gets over it and takes to walking over them straight after – there are a lot of maimed bodies lying about - it’s a nice touch and she makes a lot of great comments that just tip her into real – she even makes a Die Hard joke while navigating a vent... She’s the antithesis of the typical game character who just accepts their situation. She is not happy to be here.

Sadly, CttS really loses it in the final act, where a twist feels tacked on to keep it going, and too many chases show it’s run out of steam. Most frustratingly, practically every question, clue and hint you picked up is left unresolved – it ends with a huge cliffhanger that completely undercuts the tension and wonder about where it was going. It’s disappointing given how invested you get; it’s like a shooter missing its final boss. And I’m not holding my breath for a sequel. Which is a shame; steampunk alternative reality is a fairly standard game world but this has enough style and solid characters to keep you pushing through.

I almost didn’t push at all though – originally a console release, this is a masterclass in bad ports. It doesn’t even have a menu describing what keys do what, let alone allow you to reassign. If it wasn’t for a Steam post detailing the assignments and an AutoHotKey script, I’d have rage quit this at the menu.

I preferred A Plague Tale for a helpless but indomitable heroine lead stuck in a scary, rotting world, but I did like CttS - partly because I can pretend it’s Bioshock 3. You could almost see it as a Telltale Games adaption of Bioshock following someone escaping Rapture during the New Year’s Eve war (which is what Infinite should have been), but the BioShock comparisons are unfair by the end. CttS has its own voice, and aside from the unresolved ending, I’d give Tesla’s Helios cruise a positive review on TripAdvisor.