Children of the Sun review -time and puzzle games

Children of the Sun review -time and puzzle games

A dazzlingly bright illustrative, almost scribbled, crayon image of a feminine-looking character tossing a bullet into the air with their hand, while in the background, a line darts between dying silhouettes, depicting a bullet's journey. The main character is framed by a glowing sun.

Image credit: Devolver / Rene Rother

Gory and exacting, Children of the Sun mixes the highs of tactical precision and cracking a killer puzzle.

Much like there are thought to be just seven main story plots, it might be easy to say there are few video game genres left to be discovered. After forty years of gaming, I know my preferred ones, and they’re typically shadowy and unsettling worlds that ooze blood and bullets. How strange it is, then, to have gone this long without a game that not only blends several of these together, but does it in such a stylish and provocative way, too.

If the name Children of the Sun summons immediate thoughts of Joseph Seed and dodgy cults… well, congrats. You’ve guessed correctly, my friend. Whilst little is revealed explicitly – some of what we learn about Children of the Sun’s story is via its animated shorts; some comes via subtle in-game clues – here’s what I can tell you: you’re The Girl, and The Girl is apoplectic. Armed with a sniper rifle, a single bullet and enough pent-up rage to power a small city, she’s on a mission to raze the titular cult to the ground, along with every single soul ever connected to it.

While that setup alone was enough to pique my interest, Children of the Sun’s magic is that even though it’s been tagged as a shooter on Steam… well, it’s not. Yes, you wield a weapon, and yes, you decimate body parts in a crimson puff gory enough to make Sniper Elite blush, but Children of the Sun is a puzzle game first. For as well as that single bullet, The Girl – much like Firestarter’s Charlie McGee or Carrie’s, uh, Carrie – is imbued with a telekinetic power that enables her to control where the bullet goes once it’s fired. This means that regardless of how many cultists are milling about, The Girl can take control of the bullet and ensure she can rip through the skulls of every last man standing with a single shot… and therein lies the puzzle.

Here’s a Children of the Sun trailer to show it in (slow) motion.

Quite why The Girl’s so furious isn’t clear at first, and – if you’re not paying enough attention to the cinematics – it may not be clear at the end, either. Children of the Sun features no dialogue, and its story is told through brief and highly stylised cinematics as you progress through each level, so how much you take away will depend upon how much attention you pay. A cursory glance at The Girl in action, however, is enough to instil the unshakeable conviction that even combined, Charlie and Carrie don’t collectively hold enough rage to fill The Girl’s pinkie, let alone her entire body.

And it’s a bloody good time. Scoping the map, tagging the enemies, locating hidden targets, identifying environmental traps that can do the dirty work for you; Children of the Sun is not fun to play, not least because the neon-soaked graphics and bloody explosions and tense soundscape seem to go out of their way to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible. But when you get it right? When your bullet rips through the final mark on the map and the word “Dead” – stylised and canary-yellow – flashes triumphantly across the screen? I can’t remember the last time a game made me feel this good about being this bad.

At the end of each level, you get to see the track your bullet took between victims.

A neon-coloured cartoon shows the girl standing in a wooden-panelled room. The man in the chair in front of her has a shotgun in his mouth. A fine spray of blood surrounds his head.

A cult leader - complete with sunglasses - holds his arms aloft as his disciples sit cross-legged around him.

Children of the Sun's satisfying

Image credit: Devolver Digital

That’s because it’s not easy. Not only are you fighting the jarring colour palette and a shockingly restrictive starting point (oh, the hours I can waste on a hillside, miles outside a Far Cry camp, silently tagging and taking out enemies, one by one, until there’s no one left alive to raise the alarm; there’s no such luxury here, though), but you also have to locate victims who are secreted inside buildings and protected by special armour or even their own psychic powers at times, too.

Sometimes you have to let enemies wander around, to open up better lines of sight to daisy-chain your shots and reach all areas. Other times you can use vehicles or barrels or other environmental props – getting a bird’s eye view, for example, is rarely a bad idea – to help you survey the scene. Plus, every level can be completed in a variety of ways, via a variety of means, and there’s a lot of meaningful replayability here, especially as there’s a (non-opt-out-able) leaderboard that scores each round according to the distance travelled, time taken, the body parts you perforated, the explosions you caused, and the multi-kills you racked up. Even the enemy types you take down and your aiming time can affect your final score, especially if you’re quicker than me – which wouldn’t be hard (I did tell you I’ve been playing for the best part of forty years) – and can make the most of those score multipliers as well as complete each level’s bonus objective.

The Girl sits in front of an open fire. A sniper laser is trained on her hand, but she seems unfazed.

Use your sniper to tag enemies. Here, we can see enemies' weakpoints, as well as some handy explosive barrels, an explosive car, and one enemy donned in heavy-duty armour.

A brief - and frustrating - mini-game pops up partway through.

Image credit: Devolver Digital

Children of the Sun doesn’t penalise you for failure, either. If anything it expects it. There’s sometimes no way to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do without firing a random shot into the map, slowing it down, and taking a good look around, especially if you have buildings or vehicles hidden out of sight. But while there are no mid-level saves – something that grates a little, especially when you mess up after half an hour of painstaking surveillance and have killed 14 of the 15 enemies you’re supposed to take out – the game kindly preserves your tags for you even from the afterlife.

If that sounds like it may eventually get repetitive, worry not. Levels don’t outstay their welcome, and after every couple you’ll be introduced to a new kind of enemy, or you’ll unlock a different telekinetic power, adding a new layer of complexity. These are typically introduced via a brief tutorial, which is greatly appreciated, although even then it took me a shamefully long time to acclimate to the re-aim mechanic. You’re required to tap the same command (left trigger on the controller, in my case) you’re already using to slow a bullet down, which led to some frustrating misfires – especially towards the end of the game when you’re required to slow, speed up, and re-aim shots with a swiftness and precision that doesn’t come naturally to me. (And whilst we’re on the topic of controllers, don’t believe Steam when it says the Children of the Sun is fully controller supported: I was unable to interact with its minigames without a mouse, so bear that in mind.)

The heavily stylised text introduces the level

Tutorials help you get to grip with new mechanics. Here, we're learning about enemy weakpoints.

Getting a birds-eye view helps you survey an entire map, finding helpful explosive barrels, hidden enemies, and possible entry points.

Image credit: Devolver Digital

It’s not exactly the kind of game you can settle back and immerse yourself in for hours on end, either. The clashing colour palette and grating sound effects make it difficult to play for long bursts, even if the gameplay itself is curiously magnetic. I also suspect that some of the game’s trickier levels – I’m looking at you, “Open Mic Night in Hell” – may see some players crash out early in frustration. At times, the complexity can be pretty punishing.

That said, with a modest run time of four to six hours, depending on the quickness of both your fingers and your brain, Children of the Sun wants you for a good time, not a long time, which means players looking for a single player puzzler should come out the other side just as satisfied as those hungry for the challenge of topping the leaderboard. By magpie-ing staples from a range of different genres – horror, shooters, and cerebral puzzlers – Children of the Sun is a deliciously dark slab of all my favourite things served up in an astonishingly novel way. Don’t miss it.

A copy of Children of the Sun was provided for review by Devolver Digital.

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