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Children Of The Sun review: an intense and stylish puzzle of ultraviolence

The only option is shoot to kill

The Girl, the protagonist of Children Of The Sun, standing holding her sniper rifle
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Devolver Digital

In many ways Children Of The Sun is a highly relatable game. I do not have telekinetic powers that allow me to control the path of a bullet from a sniper rifle, and I was not part of a murderous cult that killed my father-figure. But if I did and I were, you can bet that I'd go on a rip-roaring rampage of revenge! Stepping into the be-grimed trainers and unwashed jacket of the protagonist - a misused girl whose vibe is that of a member of Gorillaz - you shoot a single bullet from your gun and control it in first-person as you zip it through the heads, hearts and hands of cultists placed around a level. It's a satisfying Sniper Elite meets Superhot puzzle of ultraviolence, and it's neat.

Devolver tend to pick games that have a certain vibe, and Children Of The Sun (the name of the cult in question as well as the game itself) opens with a guard pissing in front of the camera. There's a lot of crunchy visual noise going on in this game that makes it undeniably stylish. The girl stalks around the edges of a level in darkness, while the cultists patrol or cluster in different spots around the centre, flaring out as gold spots in high contrast orange-and-pink-and-shadow levels. You're committing 'orrible murder in a world made of Blackjacks and Fruit Salads. When your bullet hits someone their faceless, mannequin-esque muppet body explodes, not with confetti, but with wine-dark blood, and people nearby begin to run, looking around for cover - but all in slow motion as you re-aim to send the bullet flying again.

Because you only have one bullet, the actual name of the game is to kill all the lads on the level without hitting anything that is not a lad - if you hit a wall or a tree or a stick or the edge of a windowsill, that's it. There are some additional caveats to this that are added as you go along. You can hold down the right mouse button to steer the bullet in slow mo, though it has the turning circle of a container ship navigating the Suez Canal. Enemies have glowing weak spots, and if you hit those specifically you can bank the ability to completely change the bullet's trajectory. You can also hold down left mouse to speed up the bullet over enough distance, which is the only way to take out an enemy in armour. Also useful: you can shoot a flying bird as a freebie, which allows you to reorient or get a broader view of the level, or a vehicle's fuel cap (or just barrels of fuel) for kill-efficient explosions.

In opposition to your growing skills, the levels become more difficult and more bad cultists show up for a scrap. Some of them have long shields covering them from the front, others have full body armour. Joyriding cultists are moving targets, while psychic cultists can knock your bullet askew. This forces you to adapt your tactics. Where before you could zip around and knock down flesh dominoes one after the other, the increasing complexity forces you to, for example, hit a few normal enemy weak spots first so you can deliberately aim away from an armoured enemy to gain distance, then expend the re-aim ability you just earned to turn and kill the armoured fellow. This is good stuff, and you quickly start trying to outdo yourself - and the players on the leaderboard that's shown after each level - by using fewer hits, or getting extra points by hitting the fuel cap on a moving jeep.

Exploding a cultist by shooting him in the head with your single bullet in Children Of The Sun
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Devolver Digital

More frustrating is the difficulty increase via level architecture. You respect the artistry of it - multiple huts, a cultist unloading something inside a shipping crate, a blazing fire making it harder to spot the golden life-marker of a cultist - but at the same time, the need to play later levels a couple of times, knowing you will fail, is built in to Children Of The Sun. You can mark enemies once you've spotted them, and this mark will persist through restarts of the level, and the fact is that to spot the last one or two guards hiding behind a haystack or in a room somewhere can sometimes take a lot of restarts. It can suck the joy out of wanton murder. I remember one level, a karaoke party in a derelict block of flats, in particular, both because I was able to explode about half a dozen lads at once, but also because it took a really bloody long time to find the final hanger on, and before you know where all the pieces are you can't really plan your perfect shot to take them out. There's a line between 'Fuck yeah!' and 'Fucksake!' that I think Children Of The Sun steps over sometimes.

A 2D cutscene in children of the sun showing the cult leader yelling and looking angry
A level at a karaoke party in Children Of The Sun, with a cultist standing in a truck bed with a microphone
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Devolver Digital

Still, I'm sure others will revel in the repetition, given that this is a game where you can iterate on your magic murder spree over and over again. I think what I disliked more is some of the storytelling. There's not really much in the way of environmental storytelling, because the speed of each level doesn't leave much room for you to take in the details of each scene. Instead, there are 2D cutscenes and some interactive moments that serve to give more emotional context. Children Of The Sun is not, we can agree, an especially subtle game (the girl has NO PEACE written on the back of her jacket), but I'm afraid I found these moments a bit silly, most especially the one where the girl has to walk through calf-high water in a dream void and kneel before successive cultists.

still, I can't properly have a go at Children Of The Sun, because it's original and well crafted, and clocks in at around four hours of bursting blood balloons. It's an intense, bite-sized category-snubber with bags of style. Such originality is to be encouraged.

This review was based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher Devolver Digital.

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