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This Twisted Sniper Sim Is One Of The Most Disturbing Games You’ll (Love To) Play

Children of the Sun is one of the most disturbing games I’ve ever played. Admittedly, this sounds like a superbly tabloid opening line to an article, one that’s about to harrumph on about the terrible state of things, but worry not. I mean it as a good thing. God, this game is dark, creepy, violent, awful, upsetting, and oppressive, like a nightmare that creeps into your waking life. In a good way!

Rather fittingly, Children of the Sun also nutshells like something that would set a Fox News presenter’s socks on fire. You play as a crazed lone gunwoman, a sniper known only as The Girl, intent on taking out every member of an ambiguous cult, firing impossibly controlled bullets that steer, slow down, and redirect toward the soon-to-be exploding heads of all in your sights. Imagine taking the camp assaults from Far Cry or Sniper Elite, titrating them down to their purest form, and then viewing them through the lens of a colossal nervous breakdown.

The Girl has, I infer from the ambiguous opening cutscenes, escaped a cult that caused the death of someone important to her. As a result, she’s on a mission to kill absolutely everyone involved, and she’s doing this with magic bullets. Each of the game’s levels begins with The Girl scouting an area from the perimeter, where you can run in an arc around the edge by moving your mouse left or right. Click the left mouse button and you’ll look down your scope, where you can zoom in and mark any visible enemies with a middle click, Far Cry-style. Once you’ve found everyone and picked a perfect angle, you then line up and fire.

Except, you only fire once, no matter how many enemies you need to take out. Because in Children of the Sun, your bullet can redirect itself after a successful hit. Splatter a head, and you can now pick a new direction to head off in, a new skull to crack open, chaining all the slo-mo kills in one level with a single zig-zagging bullet. If you miss anyone, it’s a failure, and you start the level over (although, mercifully, with all marked enemies still highlighted).

As things progress, your preternatural gun skills develop further, first allowing you to further slow down time and mildly realign your bullet’s trajectory. This allows you to adjust for moving targets, or even steer around a corner, or through a window, to reach a blocked enemy. However, if you want to completely redirect your bullet mid-flight, you’ll need to get deeper in, and gain the more powerful skill via hitting enough highlighted areas on cult members’ bodies.

A thumping good time

Aesthetically, the game I was reminded of the most was 2016’s Thumper. The self-described “rhythm violence” game may have almost nothing mechanically in common with Children of the Sun, but both games possess the same oppressing dreadfulness, through their combination of muddy blues and purples, and brown-note-adjacent sound effects and scores. Both make me feel as if I’m playing 30 feet underwater with a migraine. Both are completely brilliant.

Children of the Sun’s art does a lot of hard work here, too. A sort of PS1 vibe lends the game itself an atmospheric horror, which is contrasted by the over-saturated Saturday morning cartoons gone bad that make up the cutscenes, always scored by an ear-upsetting scream-roar of feedback-laden guitar. It’s a game that takes every opportunity to feel uncomfortable, which I think is perhaps vital given the terrible nature of what you’re doing. (Are the people she’s killing other victims of the cult? Do they deserve her wrath? Should she maybe be saving them?) When bullets hit, bodies ragdoll in super-slo-mo, streaks of pixelated blood stream out, faces curl in horror, and others nearby scramble—fruitlessly—to escape.

However, it’s aurally where the game most predominantly owns. Moving your character around her arc, she makes these plucked bass sounds, the faster she moves the higher the note, which add a mad rhythm to the distorted Godspeed You! Black Emperor-style wailing guitar strings. Switch to the aiming mode and an ominous crashing pair of drum beats join the score, and once the bullet is fired, it’s a guttural roar, a Lynchian, droning, all-consuming awfulness.

Tidy your bedroom

The game is unquestionably provocative, even puerile on occasion. There’s one level which takes place with our emo-haired protagonist, sitting on a toilet, cleaning her rifle. During this, rather than the usual bullet-directing antics, we instead play an ‘80s-style arcade game entitled “I Just Killed A Man Now I’m Horny,” involving awkwardly steering an avatar’s head around a maze, collecting bullets and dodging enemy heads. Er, OK. I mean, she’s got “NO PEACE” written on the back of her jacket. These are peculiar sophomoric tones to what otherwise feels so sophisticated and sleek.

When you complete a level, you’ll be shown an overhead view of the path your bullet took, and then you’re scored based on time taken, “shots” used (by which it means redirections, given it’s all technically one shot by nature), heads hit, and so on. You also see how that score measures up against everyone else who’s played, so you can grumble about how 691 people could possibly have found a better and more efficient route than you just did. It’s this scoring that’s designed to motivate you to return to earlier levels and improve your shots, but honestly, I’ve never quite gotten my head around what it’s looking for and how I’d up those numbers—the ability to see another player’s overhead path would be a lovely addition, and would certainly give me cause to see if I could learn and improve.

The 26 levels will take you a fair chunk of time to complete. Later on, in the final handful, the complexity increases enough that this becomes less of a case of refining your approach, and much more of an intricate puzzle, trying to fathom possible routes that’ll let you not only take out every guard, but pick up enough specific target hotspots to gain extra bullet redirects, as well as having enough distance to speed up enough for the armored guards… It’s probably fair to say it takes too long to get this difficult, and that it all happens too close to the end. Of course, too soon and I’d have been complaining it was alienating, so they could never win.

Children of the Sun is a striking, upsetting, fantastic creation. It’s everything your mom worried video games were like, in the best possible ways. And it delivers this with an orchestrated aural assault that makes it best in class. It’s had me totally gripped, and absolutely, undeniably disturbed.

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