In most games, sniping enemy targets from long distance feels impersonal. Single-player campaigns that approximate the experience center it around high-value military targets, while multiplayer games make it only as intimate as your rivalry against a particular player. Children of the Sun, an indie game with a dark heart of vengeance at its core, makes it feel extremely personal. And after playing a segment of the game spanning about two hours, I’m curious where it all ends.
In Children of the Sun, your protagonist–simply called The Girl–is on a violent quest to kill her way through legions of cultists in search of their mysterious leader. The story is sparse, delivered through brief and often abstracted motion comics, as you get glimpses of the cult’s abuses. If the point is to show them as both heartless and faceless, these accomplish the goal well and provide ample impetus to hunt them down.
The twist is that in each stage, you only have one bullet, and that has to last you through multiple targets. However, once a bullet has hit a cultist–or sometimes, another object like an explosive–you can redirect it towards another. Each stage, then, becomes a meticulous process of finding where each of the cultists are, including their moving routes, and planning a ping-pong path for your bullet to travel through each of their bodies.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. The puzzling aspect can be tricky, I found, and I would get hung up on a mission just trying to locate each target, even before trying to plan my route. It was satisfying to finally connect them all together and finally complete the missions, but I did sometimes accidentally stumble across them in ways that felt unintentional. When you do complete a mission, you get scored on a leaderboard that counts factors like the distance of your initial approach, headshots, and if you hit any moving targets.
There are also optional objectives in each stage, hidden as a riddle in the stage’s subtitle. The first one, for example, was subtitled “The virus is in their heads,” and appropriately enough, rewards extra points for getting all headshots. Another called “Bullets that burn, are bullets that hurt” grants a bonus for having one of your shots pass through a fire on its way to a target. I usually didn’t set out to do these, but it was a happy accident when I would stumble on them.
About halfway through my demo, the game introduced a new element by allowing me to slightly curve the trajectory of bullets within a narrow radius, letting me strike from behind walls or other obstacles. Shortly after, I gained the ability to hit specific weak points on my targets that would build a meter to change the trajectory entirely in mid-air, but only once–and the bullet would continue to travel in slow-motion while I picked the new path, so I couldn’t just fire blindly. It all felt like an appropriate escalation of complexity. One stage full of moving trains made it difficult to predict when I’d have a clear sightline, which introduced an unwelcome element of unpredictability to planning a complex ricochet path, but otherwise the difficulty ramped up nicely.
All of this is delivered in a dark and moody style. The cutscenes were often grotesque, the visuals were accented by elements that looked roughly scrawled and scratched, and the writing was often grimly poetic, if slightly overwrought. But whatever context the story gave for the cult’s evil, it’s just difficult to feel like anything but a villain when you’re stalking and killing dozens of people at a time who are, in the moment at least, minding their own business. That may be the idea, there may be a turn coming that interrogates cycles of violence, but what was presented so far was straight-faced and gleefully deranged. I’m curious to see what broader statement it may be making.
But whether or not Children of the Sun intends to venture outside of a straightforward revenge fantasy, it is if nothing else a clever puzzle hook. The mechanics felt natural with just the right amount of brain-tickling challenge, and it introduced new elements at a steady pace to maintain the challenge. It will be one to watch, maybe from a half-mile away.
Children of the Sun is coming to PC in 2024. A demo featuring seven of its stages is now available on Steam.