Devolver Digital are auteurs of style. It’s a reputation the publisher has cultivated over the course of 15 years—from the gloriously bloodsoaked Hotline Miami to the ridiculously macabre Carrion—and if you, too, feel like life is better with a rhapsodically gory indie project on hand, then you’ll be pleased to know that Children of the Sun is the ideal harbinger of Devolver’s legacy. Limbs will fly, brain matter will splatter, the squeamish will be appalled, but like so many of the company’s hits, a rock-solid design foundation ties everything together.
Consider Children of the Sun to be something like Rebellion’s Sniper Elite. You take control of a woman who has escaped the clutches of a sinister cult. To get her revenge, she has brandished a long-range rifle, with the intention of murdering the principal members of the order, one by one. Each level begins with you positioning our protagonist at the preferred vantage to prey upon a mingling sect of goons. Pull the trigger, and the camera jumps to the crown of the bullet zooming through the environment, until it meets its fleshy destination.
Children of the Sun – First Screenshots
But here’s the catch. Children of the Sun gives you exactly one bullet to fire. After discharging it, you’ll then take control of the same shell, which must be redirected into the other targets. The bullet pinballs around a cult encampment, powered by fate or telekinesis. In practice, that makes Children of the Sun much more of a puzzle game than a shooter. To succeed, you must map out the geometry to ensure that everyone you want dead is in clear line of sight.
When Children of the Sun all comes together, it brings to mind some of the most devious contraptions in the 2016 cult-classic Superhot—an FPS structured around the idea that the enemies in your wake only move when you do. Sure enough, as you continue to conquer levels, your one-woman-army will slowly unlock new tricks. (Eventually you’ll be able to redirect your single bullet in the middle of its flight, akin to the stupendously dumb handgun acrobatics in Wanted.) So Children of the Sun is a much more introspective game than it might seem on first blush. Cracking it is like cracking a particularly satisfying Bejeweled chain, or the spatial riddles in Cocoon. Yes, when you make contact, blood and guts will slather the screen. But only thinking gamers will achieve that reward.
And yet, Children of the Sun is still wreathed with an incredible aesthetic. The game’s sole designer, René Rother, has come up with a truly brutal world. Our cultists are hiding out in dark forests and dilapidated farmhouses, rendered with the greasy, jagged filth of 1990s comic books—where the supersaturated colors seem to bleed into one another. The classic Sniper Elite bullet-time, where players are served the precise anatomic damage they have dealt to an unsuspecting baddie, has also been replicated. If you are here to see heads explode and arms be severed, Children of the Sun has your back. Puzzle games can occasionally become staid and samey in repeat doses, but Devolver’s latest is so eye-catching that I doubt it will suffer from that problem.
There is a story here as well, albeit one that seems to be deliberately minimalist and mostly told through wordless, hyperspeed cutscenes. (I didn’t glean much, but it goes without saying that the people who make up this cult are nasty characters.) However, the zones in Children of the Sun are finely detailed, and I got the sense that as players go digging, they might find themselves digging up a meaty narrative throughline hiding in plain sight. Children of the Sun appears to be a very rich text. Let’s hope Devolver can follow through.