Through dense digital underbrush and up sloping inclines, each quick-fire level within Children of the Sun begins on foot, as The Girl, its unnamed protagonist, runs in a distant arc around her cultist prey. Long hair covering her face, gun slung across her back, head turned down to the dirt – the sense is less of someone scoping their targets, and more that they’re simply sensing the right place to finally take their shot.
Of course, it’s you in control – sending The Girl left or right along a preset path as you scan the bright shapes in the distance: glowing golden figures amidst dark surroundings, highlighted as if by some sort of sixth sense. Does The Girl have some kind of special powers? Were the cult in question, the Children of the Sun, anything to do with that? The only information you’re given on her backstory is that she was once one of their number – willing or not is unclear – before becoming hellbent on their destruction.
Once you have picked The Girl’s position, each level then transitions to its main event: trigger pulled, the bullet fires via Sniper Elite-style slow-motion tracking shot through the air – barrelling towards its first target. Cue blood spurts, and then – on you go, again as if by magic, with a chance now to suddenly change the bullet’s angle to take down a second cultist, and then a third, and a fourth… But where are they all? Regardless of where you take that original shot, each level in Children of the Sun is a miniature maze for you to navigate in bullet time. Around corners, through windows into buildings, hiding in the trees. Get your path right, and no one is safe.
Viewed from above, perhaps, the angles and hiding places may be more easy to discern. Quickly, you’re shown that by zooming your shot up to targets in the sky – apologies, birds – you can then whip straight back down again to other parts of the puzzle box you’ve yet to see. Or, perhaps, to navigate through the cracked roof of a building. Or, because video games, to just sink your slug into a waiting car’s petrol tank, and watch the fireworks blow.
Crucially, The Girl must get every cult member in one shot. Miss just one and it’s Game Over, or rather, you have to restart that level from the off – picking your shot once again, aiming at the first target, and going from there. Later levels promise more new mechanics, such as the ability to actually curve your bullets during flight like that film starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy. Careful study of your targets will also give clues as to the cult’s activities – and reveal the next step on the path to The Girl’s ultimate target, the cult’s leader.
Complete each level and you’ll be shown a rating of your efforts, and then it’s onto the next puzzle box, or – just as likely, I’ve found – back to the start of that one to try again. Paths learned, cultist movements committed to memory, there’s grim delight in ensuring The Girl hones her skills to speedrun levels of efficiency, which Children of the Sun will encourage via leaderboards for each level.
Launching this year, Children of the Sun is the work of solo Berlin developer René Rothe, an experimental indie designer now scooped up and served to a wider audience courtesy of Devolver Digital. It’s part Killer7, part Hitman’s Elusive Contracts, via a dark yet enticing lens. There’s a Steam demo now if you want to give it a try.