The bloody symphony of Children of the Sun

Published by Devolver Digital and created by René Rother ‘(German solo dev), Children of the Sun is a game with a unique style, perfectly complemented by a good story of revenge. The main character, a masked, wordless figure, embarks on a quest to dismantle a twisted cult. This remarkable telekinetic sniper, known as The Girl, has the ability to manipulate every bullet she fires, creating paths of blood through the game’s cutscenes. Children of the Sun has been attracting attention since its demo release. It’s dark. Its unique aesthetic is in line with the Devolver range, which includes Hotline Miami, Heavy Bullets and Mother Russia Bleeds. Violence is represented in an abstract way. The visuals are unconventional, which adds to the pleasure of the experience!

Editor’s note: We have received a key to the game sent by Devolver Digital for Steam. We thank them for their trust!

A cryptic story for effective gameplay

So you play as The Girl, waging a war of vengeance against the eponymous cult that ruined her life. As one cult member after another is blown to bits behind the vindictive sights of your sniper rifle, you gradually work your way up the food chain until you come face to face with your true target: The Leader. Along the way, hand-drawn flashbacks reveal information about the horrific crimes committed by this mysterious cult and the heartbreaking reasons behind the young girl’s desire for revenge.

There’s no dialogue in these cutscenes, but that’s no bad thing! The narration is deliberately minimalist, bombarding you with disturbing memories that are both terse and chaotic. This scattered approach makes it difficult to gather all the available information, which is probably intentional. It can leave you feeling a little lost and slightly detached from the story at times, but that’s all part of the experience! The game’s striking art style is perfectly complemented by a discordant soundscape of ambient white noise. Deep purples and bright yellows create a surreal tone that really makes you feel like you’re in a brutal world of saturated grime. The cultists spread their deceptive disease like plague-infested rats, staining seedy motels, gloomy forests and abandoned apartment blocks.

Children of the sun

It’s easy to see the influences of Killer7, Sniper Elite and the latest Hitman games. But there are also nice echoes of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, where inanimate objects are imbued with a paranormal force that allows them to interact with the environment and people’s bodies, to your advantage. At the start of a level, you have only a narrow view of the entire map, so to speak. Ideally, you want to spot all the cultists before you pull the trigger, so you can plan your action in advance, a bit like when you scan a room in Hotline Miami before you kick down the door. More often than not, you’ll need to kill a few first to spot others or get a better view of the far end of an area. The game encourages you to try and try again until you’ve gathered all the visual information you need.

Time slows down as you move the ball, which is great because it stops completely when you hit a target. This gives you a chance to breathe a little and get a different perspective. You can shoot birds to gain altitude, or petrol tanks to find an angle that will allow you to keep hitting targets. What’s more, you’re rewarded with a scoring system when you execute a kill with style and originality. It’s the perfect way to change things up after the exploration phase. You’ll be wondering whether your plan can be executed quickly or whether you should try something different.

Children of the Sun is a game that will get your heart racing. The story is very evocative, and the images and music are absolutely gorgeous. But it’s the innovative gameplay that really makes this game shine. At the start of each level, you have to move the protagonist left or right along a predetermined path. Sometimes you can navigate around a level in a full 360-degree circle. At other times, you’ll only be able to move a few metres before being impeded by a fallen tree or a steep bank. From there, you can get a feel for the terrain, spot enemies and determine the best position to fire from. Once you’ve taken aim with the scope and pulled the trigger, the camera stops on the crown of the bullet as it hurtles through the air.

Children of the sun

As you progress through the story and new enemy types appear, you gain additional powers to counter the shield- and armour-wielding Cultists and the increasingly elaborate environments they inhabit. The first of these powers allows you to take direct control and gently bend bullets like James McAvoy in the 2008 film Wanted. This is useful for shooting over walls and bending the shot so that it comes down and hits the cultists on the other side, or simply altering the trajectory of the bullet to ensure that it lands on target.

Another ability reveals enemies’ weak points, which, once destroyed in a slow-motion shower of blood, give you the power to redirect the bullet in mid-air. In this way, you can shoot at an enemy protected by a shield, then rotate the bullet to hit him in the back of the head, thereby cancelling out his bulletproof protection. At other times, you can use this technique to escape a building and return elsewhere, or shoot into the sky to get a better view of the area and discover a previously elusive enemy. Armoured cultists, on the other hand, present an entirely different challenge. The only way to penetrate their thick armour is with a powerful shot, obtained by holding down the trigger for the duration of the bullet’s flight. These shots require a sufficiently large distance between the targets to reach the speed needed to explode the armour, making the elimination of these enemies a unique problem. But it’s always a pleasure to see the bullet reach supersonic speeds before shattering the cultist’s now useless defences.

Finding a solution to each level’s macabre puzzle is immensely satisfying, especially when trial and error abounds. Your first attempts may involve timidly exploring to find the location of all the cultists, then figuring out the best way to spear them. You can also use the environment to your advantage, shooting fuel caps and gas cans off vehicles to take out several enemies in one violent blast. You can also blow up a car to get a better view or shoot a pigeon flying overhead to get a bird’s eye view of the area. I wish there were more opportunities to kill in the environment than destroying vehicles and explosive barrels, but restricting how you can interact with the world around you adds to the challenge and sense of achievement when you emerge victorious.

Children of the sun

The macabre tone of Children of the Sun goes well with human gamification. Shooting an arm earns 25 points. Shooting the groin earns 50 points instead. The over-the-top violence becomes gratuitous after seeing the words “I Just Killed a Man, Now I’m Horny” before playing a Pac-Man-style mini-game in a special level. The abrasive tone is never seen as mere window-dressing designed to shock, but rather thrives on its repulsive nature.

Crazy Level Design

Children of the Sun takes an unconventional approach to level design. The developer’s initial vision was very different from the final product. Initially, the idea was to explore a free-roaming environment, spotting targets before firing a single shot with a bullet-time effect. However, the complexities of the enemy AI, character controls and animations quickly became apparent. Balancing these elements as a solo developer would have turned the project into a full-blown infiltration game, moving away from the original concept.

This realisation led to a crucial design decision: eliminate free exploration and adopt a fixed path system. Inspired by titles like Killer7 and Hitman, Children of the Sun swapped the freedom of the open world for more focused mechanics. This simplified approach has resulted in a game that’s easy to pick up and play, even with just one hand on the mouse. The strength of these games lies in their limitations, offering a unique experience thanks to their ‘clumsy’ controls and obscure puzzles. Hitman, on the other hand, excels in its polish and the freedom it allows the player in its meticulously designed world. René Rother’s game seeks to capture the essence of both – demanding patience and experimentation while allowing players to discover multiple solutions within each level.

Children of the sun

Level design in Children of the Sun is an iterative process. The designer begins by creating a basic layout, strategically placing enemies and devising an interesting solution. Through repeated testing, the level evolves – adjustments are made, and alternative solutions are discovered. The complexity of a level can be significantly altered by simply moving elements around, underlining the importance of meticulous refinement. Unlockable abilities that give greater ball control introduce new variables for level designers and players alike. This approach aims to keep the game simple and replayable, giving players the option of throwing themselves into quick sessions or immersing themselves in the complexities for hours on end.

The level design of Children of the Sun is a testament to the power of focused development. By accepting limitations and drawing inspiration from unconventional sources, the developer has created a unique and engaging experience that prioritises core mechanics and player agency within its meticulously crafted stages.

Punk graphics

To immerse yourself in the world of Children of the Sun is to be transported into a unique experience, where every detail matters. Although the story may seem familiar, it actually reveals layers of mystery and intrigue that capture the imagination. As I started the game, I realised how many recent games have revolved around fighting cults. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered and Alone in the Dark top the list. This is familiar territory, and Children of the Sun can’t really do much with it, with its minimalist motion comic cutscenes that look like they’ve stepped out of a Garth Ennis comic. I find myself rolling my eyes at a video game whose edginess has become boring.

Children of the Sun is a delight to sit back and enjoy as a wild and violent romp. It has the same kind of disturbing energy as the films of Jeremy Saulnier, a director known for his visceral meditations on violence such as Blue Ruin and Green Room. Children of the Sun makes similar choices in terms of its oppressive aesthetic, which is excellent because it really works for the film. It’s a claustrophobic game, right down to the fact that I’m always trapped in a small circle in which I can only navigate in two rigid directions.

Children of the sun

The haunting images really bring out the unease. René Rother’s game has a dark, fractured art style that marks the retina. It’s like looking at the world through a thermal telescope, reducing real people to heat balls that are easy to aim at. Levels are bathed in deep greys and purples, while enemies have golden highlights. They look less like humans and more like trophies – a reward to be obtained after killing them. The sound design is so intense that it’s a little sickening, but in a good way! It’s not the crack of a bullet hitting a skull that makes you jump every time, it’s the electronic hum that seeps into your eardrums. There’s not so much music here as a chaotic onslaught of distorted synthesizers. They bury the world under a wall of brutal noise. The sound is as thick as the blood you spill in the game.

Children of the Sun

There are plenty of games out there that explore revenge through violence, and (to avoid the repetition that comes next)Children of the Sun doesn’t really advance the conversation in any meaningful way. But it does have an impact! You’ll be hooked, wondering about the minutiae of your murder spree until you finally hit the Quit button and settle into a kind of unsettling silence.

A Devolver core game

Devolver Digital has established its reputation as a bold and forward-thinking publisher. Children of the Sun perfectly embodies this spirit of uncompromising creativity while paying homage to the brand’s roots.

From the very first minutes of the game, the echoes of Hotline Miami resonate powerfully. The bright neon lights, vivid colours contrasting with dark environments, and energetic electronic soundtrack instantly transport players into a familiar yet unique world. The aesthetic, while reminiscent of its predecessor, stands out in its own right, evoking an oppressive and sinister atmosphere all its own.

However, Children of the Sun is not content to repeat past successes. It pushes the boundaries of the puzzle/shooter genre by introducing innovative gameplay mechanics. The main character’s ability to control the trajectory of bullets using telekinesis adds a new strategic dimension, forcing players to rethink their tactical approach to each confrontation. This innovation, while reminiscent of Devolver’s previous experiences, brings a welcome freshness to the genre.

Children of the sun

Beyond its innovative gameplay, Children of the Sun explores deep and often dark themes. The main character’s story of revenge against a twisted cult provides a backdrop rich in narrative potential. As players progress through the game, hand-drawn flashbacks reveal disturbing details about the protagonist’s motivations and the cult’s crimes, creating an immersive and emotional experience.

Children of the Sun fits perfectly into Devolver’s DNA. Like other iconic Devolver titles such as Hotline Miami and Serious Sam, it combines stylish violence, distinctive aesthetics and innovative gameplay to deliver a memorable and engaging experience. By exploring deep themes while maintaining an irreverent and accessible tone, the game captures the spirit of Devolver and takes it to new horizons.

Fans of Suda51’s games, and in particular the GameCube/PS2 classic Killer7, are likely to be drawn to Children of the Sun in their droves. The game’s movement style and sense of character will be instantly recognisable to many, while still managing to establish its own identity. The feedback received for each successful kill and the satisfaction derived from destroying a level from the outside in never loses its appeal, making it hard to refrain from seeking further challenges after the credits roll. Fans of space puzzles or original action games will find this game particularly captivating, while those who favour high scores will be competing on leaderboards and sharing video clips of their best scores in the days to come.

Sources 

https://www.pastemagazine.com/games/children-of-the-sun/children-of-the-sun-interview-rene-rother-devolver-digital

https://gamerant.com/children-of-the-sun-interview-melancholy-quiet-storytelling-good

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