Review: Puzzling sniper odyssey Children of the Sun promises long-range revenge

children of the sun

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. Developer René Rother and publisher Devolver Digital have concluded that nothing could be colder than a sniper’s bullet, especially one touched by the chilly strangeness of the arcane. Children of the Sun puts players in the shoes of “The Girl”. Armed with a rifle and a growing range of paranormal shooting skills, she is out to destroy a sinister cult, and ultimately to eliminate its master, “The Leader”. The game mixes trick shooting puzzles with a glitchy occult atmosphere for a unique effect.

At first glance, Children of the Sun might appear to be a stealth-action game. Controlled from a third-person perspective, The Girl stalks around various middle America locales, marking yellow-clad cultists for death. However, this first impression is misleading. The Girl’s movement is strictly limited to a fixed arc or circle around her targets. It is not possible to close the distance. Instead, in each level it is a single bullet which must get the job done. 

The Girl’s bullets, it quickly becomes clear, have magic properties that would give the Warren Commission much to think about. When a shot is fired, the camera locks into position behind the bullet as it travels – a perspective immediately familiar to any fan of Sniper Elite. When it strikes a valid target (be that a cultist, a car’s fuel tank, a bird, or a fish), it essentially stops mid-flight and enables The Girl to select a new direction for it. Should it hit an inert surface before all of the cultists are eliminated, the level is failed.

children of the sun
Selecting a good firing position is essential, as The Girl can only move before firing.

Each level, then, becomes a puzzle of ballistic trajectories. Rother finds numerous ways to complicate and develop this simple idea, and this is what sustains interest in Children of the Sun. The game increases the number of enemies, and introduces new types such as cultists with bullet proof riot shields and thugs with body armour. To keep up, The Girl is given new abilities of her own – including a means of curving a bullet’s trajectory in the air, and a power shot which enhances killing force over long distances. 

Like many good puzzle games, Children of the Sun often presents players with challenges which can look nearly impossible at first glance. Finding novel solutions to these impasses is always satisfying. For example, one level features a large group of cultists partying in a yard between two tall, concrete structures. Success means finding a way to shoot through the first building, and then elegantly weave the vengeful bullet from foe to foe, before navigating back out again. Other levels make use of speeding trains, moving trucks, and elaborate multi-level structures to present distinct, surprising challenges. There is a scoring system for those who want to try to climb the leaderboards.

One unusual aspect of Children of the Sun – one which separates it definitively from action games – is that enemies have no means of fighting back. The game’s aggressively pared-back story is carried by very brief, frenetic, and dialogue-free cutscenes which come across like fractured panels from an unhinged comic book. One purpose of these is to underscore the violent evil of the cult (from which the game takes its name), suggesting a justification for The Girl’s personal crusade.

children of the sun
A counter in the top right indicates how many cultists must be eliminated in each level.

The cutscenes are also in keeping with the game’s aesthetic. Like Dusk and Cultic before it, Rother’s game situates its murderous cult within a woodsy, Anytown USA setting. Cults have been a recurring element in games over the last few years, and Children of the Sun fuses this with a glitchy, neon-soaked look which is perhaps equally over-familiar. However, the game does develop visually over time, and eagle-eyed players will notice strange physical phenomena in the levels, symptoms of a world (or a mind) increasingly warped by dark forces.

Children of the Sun is both less and more than it first appears to be. It is much simpler than the stealth and action games it superficially resembles, but it is also a more complex and sustained puzzle game than its early levels imply. The distorted soundtrack, stylishly glitchy visuals, and lack of substantive story may prove to be turn-offs for some players, but Children of the Sun is an engaging set of thoughtful ballistic challenges, and well worth a look even for those who would not normally seek out a puzzle game.

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