As I write this during a snowy day, I can’t stop thinking about Devolver Digital’s latest title, Children of the Sun. Developed by Rene Rother, Children of the Sun promises a tactical, third-person shooter-puzzle experience with a twist: you only have one bullet. And boy, does it deliver.
The best way to think of Children of the Sun is if the Sniper Elite series had a baby with Superhot, and was trained in the ways of the Yaka Arrow. There might even be a bit of a John Wick-esque complex going on, depending on how the narrative unfolds in the full game. Needless to say, the game relies heavily on the “one bullet” mechanic, and it’s a gamble that pays off marvelously. There’s nothing more satisfying than downing nine unsuspecting enemies with one single shot.
One bullet to take them all
Here’s how that works: our lonesome bullet gets shot from the main character’s sniper rifle as normal. Assuming you place your shot well, you should hit your target just fine, headshot or otherwise. But here’s where things get interesting: after your target goes down from your shot, you now have the opportunity to pick the next target. Time slows down considerably as you pick your next trajectory, though be careful: your targets can still move (albeit slowly) and potentially ruin your chance.
And that’s where the puzzle aspect comes into play. You can’t just take a shot willy-nilly and figure out its trajectory later on (well, you can, but you’d have to be really lucky). You must consider all the things a good sniper needs to keep in mind: obstacles, movement, and any additional hazards you could potentially use to enhance your shot. You might even have to mark your next target while your bullet is in mid-flight. Proper scouting and preparation are key, and your rewards will be sweet if you pull off this feat.
As you go further into the game, you learn more mechanics that allow you to manipulate your bullet’s flight path even further. One stage had me shoot way off into the distance before slightly altering its trajectory halfway through, just so I could have a better vantage point of my targets. Another had me shooting weak points to accumulate enough skill to completely pause the bullet in mid-air and dictate where it goes next.
Balance is key
If those sound rather overpowered to you, don’t worry: the game has a way of balancing things out to keep things fair and fun. Altering your bullet’s flight path only works if you do it (1) quickly enough to catch it at the right time before it hits, and (2) only in the same field of view as its direction of travel. Depending on your shot, those limitations could be quite challenging to handle, which only adds to the fun.
The other way of manipulating your bullet is by shooting targets at their designated weak spots and gathering enough “points” to gain the privilege of changing where it needs to go. Unlike the previous mechanic, this “perk” gives you the freedom to send the bullet flying in any direction you wish. When paired with the ability to fine-tune your bullet’s flight path, you can hit targets that were previously out of reach.
It’s not quite clear how our unnamed heroine can perform such a feat, though the quick and manic cutscenes suggest that this might be due to a previous experimentation or an innate ability. Through these cutscenes, we also get a glimpse as to why our heroine is the way she is, and why she’s driven to murder every single member of the Children of the Sun cult. Of course, since we only have the demo for now, we’re left with more unanswered questions.
At the end of each chapter, you find out the path your bullet has taken, and you get scored on your performance. Just like Sniper Elite, you get points depending on how you did your kill – did you blast their head off or did you disintegrate their intestines? Any bonus feats you pull, such as shooting a bullet through a fire to make it more effective, add to your score.
However, you get docked points for spending too much time during the planning stage. And this is where I think the game is the weakest. With a leaderboard system in place, Children of the Sun’s scoring system rewards those who replay a level repeatedly. This rote memorization removes the novelty and surprise of performing a fast and efficient hit the first time. There’s nothing more disappointing than finishing what you thought was a good level, only to find out you were nowhere near the top 100 because someone figured out how to finish the level quicker than you could sneeze.
One good way to mitigate this reaction is by implementing two separate leaderboards: a lifetime leaderboard that tracks your best attempts so far, and a first-timer leaderboard that only remembers your first run. Giving each level multiple playthroughs to figure out the best path possible is a great way to increase a game’s replay value, but players who take their time to analyze an unfamiliar area for the first time shouldn’t be penalized for it. Heck, the first-timer leaderboard doesn’t even have to be a leaderboard; it could also be implemented at the player level by showing them their best attempt so far. Then, the lifetime leaderboard can be something of an aspiration for them – something to beat and work towards.
Despite such a small yet detailed complaint, Children of the Sun is shaping up to be another Devolver Digital gem. It’s presented in a dark, gritty aesthetic that stays fluid yet remains somber. Shots are satisfyingly gorey – enough to make you feel proud that you successfully made the shot, but without going into too much anatomical detail.
The controls are also crisp, and I was never left wondering if the game had misinterpreted my inputs or if it was just me messing up. Mistakes during each chapter can and do happen, but you’ll never feel as if it was the game’s fault for being cheap. It’s always going to be a combination of a slight miscalculation and unexpected target reactions.
Children of the Sun’s demo gave us a generous seven playable chapters, and I was sad when it ended. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and it’s exciting to see what else is in store for us in the game’s full release. I, for one, cannot wait to experience Children of the Sun in its full glory. I think it will be an amazing ride.