The Italian studio Storm in a Teacup has already offered up proof of its talent when delivering both Nero and Lantern, two very different experiences in terms of both atmosphere and emotional storytelling. As much as they were different, they were two games full of evocative metaphor, a style that in some sense has become the trademark of the Rome-based studio. So when it comes to Close to the Sun, Storm in a Teacup is intent on reversing this trend and is attempting something new - first-person horror - and during a recent ID@Xbox event at Microsoft House in Milan, we were able to get our hands on this rather intriguing title, one that plays with history no less.
In an alternative version of the 19th century, Nikola Tesla is still a legendary inventor, but here he has a more rebellious and bizarre streak similar to Tony Stark (as phrased by PR manager Eleonora Lucheroni), and what's more is that he has dedicated his life to a floating scientific complex which sails in international waters. Well, you don't want politicians and morals snooping around and stopping your work, right? It's there that a young journalist called Rose - our protagonist - arrives after receiving a mysterious letter from her sister Ada. Incidentally, this is also the point at which our demo begins.
From the first moment when we set foot on Tesla's opulent ship, it's almost impossible not to sense a level of disquiet. Characterised by labyrinthine corridors and gigantic halls overflowing with art deco style, the gigantic boat is completely deserted and, together with Rose, we start to explore the different rooms to try and understand what's happened on board.
If, from an aesthetic point of view, Close to the Sun's claustrophobic world seems to be inspired by BioShock's Rapture, Storm in a Teacup's first-person horror adventure is a fully original experience where exploration is one of the foundations of the experience. Rummaging in drawers and reading newspaper clippings becomes a real treasure hunt, and allows the plot to grow nicely. This - in addition to enriching the game in terms of content, offering a solid and intriguing background story - demonstrates the care taken by the studio in every little detail, in addition to the historical research done in order to make the experience feel more plausible.
However, exploration isn't only useful for narrative purposes, it also becomes an essential gameplay mechanic if you wish to solve the different puzzles that the player will find in the final game. In our hands-on session, we could investigate this part of the game only briefly since the demo was focused exclusively on the introduction of the game, but it seems like an interesting approach to take. Another element that we found fascinating, as was explained during our hands-on, is the total lack of weapons. Rose can't fight or defend herself against the different enemies that will hinder her investigations. Moving silently through the ship while looking for clues becomes the only route to salvation and escape from this place full of mystery.
While we didn't see too much horror, we came away intrigued by Close to the Sun, and despite our time with the game being brief, we saw some potential in this new first-person adventure, especially since it revolves around such a tantalising character as Nikola Tesla. At the moment we don't know when the Italian studio's new game will be released, but we've been told that its launch window is scheduled for Q1 2019, so there's not too long to wait until we can explore these mysteries more deeply.