They say ammo scarcity is an artform in FPS games, but I’d argue no game makes a single sniper bullet work harder than the freshly announced Children Of The Sun. I mean, why waste them when you’re a young telekinetic hellbent on getting your revenge on the cult that raised you and held you hostage for your entire life? One bullet goes a long way when you can alter the path of its trajectory with each fresh kill you land – as long as they’re visible in your immediate eyeline, that is. There are no swoopy swerves going on here, and the thrill of each level is working out the best (and quite literal) angle of attack to take down every last target. I’ve been playing the first handful of levels of Children Of The Sun over the last week or so, and no word of a lie, this murderous mix of Hitman, Holedown and Sniper Elite has shot straight into my gooey, beating heart.
Made by solo developer René Rother and published by Devolver Digital, this first-person puzzle shooter sucks you in immediately with its brash, percussive soundtrack, bright purple sunsets, and dark killing arenas that are punctuated by the shining gold uniforms of your cult oppressors. As a sniper, there’s no question of getting up close with these goons. All you can do is skulk in the shadows from afar side to side, circling your prey like a wild animal with just a tilt of your mouse. That’s right, no keyboard required for Children Of The Sun. The entire game can be played with just a mouse. I particularly like how, when you run, a trill of electronic quavers thrum out from underfoot. It gives our nameless protagonist a menacing, but ethereal kind of presence as she scampers round the outskirts of wooden hovels and burning junk yards, building tension as you scope out the arena.
Since you only have a single bullet per encounter, knowing where your targets are is important. But while their glowing eyes and golden jackets make them easy enough to pick out in the gloom from afar, taking a beat to zoom in through your sights and mark them up on your HUD will serve you well for later. Because once that bullet’s let loose from its chamber, you’ll be following the almost aircraft carrier-like roar of its trajectory in first person – and things get mighty messy pretty fast when you’re trying to see through the haze of splattered viscera you’ve just exploded out of someone’s temple.
It starts simply enough with just a handful of guards to take out. Time stops once a target is down down, giving you ample space to re-angle the bullet into your next victim. Biff them all in a single ‘shot’ without flying off past the hairs on their earlobes, and you’ll be met with a giant, all-caps DEAD dancing about maliciously on the victory screen. It’s very Suda51, come to think of it, and if this ends up being the closest thing we’ll ever get to a spiritual successor to Killer7, so be it. I will absolutely take it.
To keep track of your kills, there’s a handy counter in the top right corner of the screen that tells you how many targets are hidden within each level. Early on, you’ll be able to spot them all from your vantage point in the shadows, but in later levels, some guards won’t be visible until you’re right in the thick of things, adding an extra frisson of tension to proceedings as you mentally adjust your plans on the fly and try and think on your feet. I should note, those hidden chumps will then get marked up on your map if you find them but fail a level and have to restart, and sometimes it’s that accumulation of knowledge and shuffling the pieces around in your head that makes Children Of The Sun really sing. Besides, when there’s a point score counter running in the top left of the screen as well, with extra points awarded to headshots, car fuel tank explosions and completing the challenges hinted at in every level’s title card, there’s plenty to go back for and try again if you’re a fiend for the leaderboards.
Simply ping-ponging from one target to the next isn’t the only trick Children Of The Sun has up its bloodstained sleeve, though. As we get further, short, sharp glimpses into our sniper’s past in striking, comic book panel-style cutscenes, her abilities start to develop over time. For example, first she’s able to bend the trajectory her bullet in real time. Not wildly, mind, but just enough to nudge it a few degrees left or right to course-correct before it lands inside a golden skull – or a bird, or a fish, I should add, in case you get caught out and need a sneaky peek from a new vantage point.
Later in my preview build, targets started rocking up with luminous, glittering weakspots on their arms, legs, heads and torsos. Shoot two of these weakpoints, and you can re-aim in real-time, while your bullet’s still in midair. This does allow for more dramatic swings and redirects around a level, but even in slow motion, you’ve only got so much time to pick your new direction, and once you let it fly, it still flies out on the straight and narrow again. In other words, precision is still key when using the re-aim, and you’ll need to use it wisely to mop up cheeky stragglers. Indeed, when the final level in my preview build started chucking guards with riot shields at me, the re-aim became an essential part of my puzzle arsenal to bore through their bones from behind.
Well, most of the time. I actually managed to sneak the final kill of that level by aiming at one riot guy’s poor foot, as I’d stupidly just re-aimed at his very non-riot-shield-clad buddy right next to him. There I was, standing face to face with his bulletproof mug, like an angry metal hornet cursing my own trigger finger. But just as I’d almost resigned myself to a restart after glancing around to see if there was anything I possibly could do, there it was. My cursor lit up red on his exposed ankle, and I swooped in for the killing blow. It was a glorious moment, even if I did get some points deducted off my final score for spending that extra thinking time pondering what to do next. It wasn’t much, all told – just a couple of hundred points in the end – but it’s clear that Children Of The Sun’s emphasis is still very much on confident, speedy kills, and I can see it tapping into that same kind of competitive Hitman-style one-upmanship as mates try and out do each other.
It’s certainly made quite an impression on me during this first outing with it, and if Rother can continue building on its clever, telekinetic sniping tricks, Children Of The Sun could be quite the killer game when it comes out later this year. Even better, why not give it a shot yourself right now, thanks to the early Next Fest demo that’s just arrived on Steam?
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