I’ve tried to estimate it in my head a few times, how many people or enemies of any other description I’ve killed in videogames over the years. If I start at around 1995, when I first got into games in a proper way, that’s 29 years of virtual combat experience. I must be into the high six figures by now, bodycount wise, if not over a million. Given how videogames normalize the act of shooting and killing someone, combined with just how long I’ve been playing these things, it’s not often that I actually stop to think about what I’m doing. But a new shooter, published by Hotline Miami, Cult of the Lamb, and Enter the Gungeon company Devolver, offers me pause for thought. Mixing the sniper challenge minigame of Hitman, the surreal, washed-out style of Hotline Miami, and the time-bending gunplay of Superhot, this is one of the most original new games I’ve played in years.
This is Children of the Sun, by solo developer René Rother. Part FPS game and part puzzler, it’s also unlike anything you might have played before. You can see the influences – as well as the aforementioned Hitman, Hotline Miami, and Superhot, there are also flashes of Capcom’s seminal Killer7 – but Rother has created something with an extremely distinctive identity of its own. Stark, vivid, and occasionally unnerving, Children of the Sun is a lucid dream of a shooter, propelled by a neon-acid aesthetic and a shot of Southern Gothic.
You play an unnamed girl whose family fell victim to the eponymous Children of the Sun cult. Out of your mind with revenge, you don a frightening, hand-painted hockey mask and begin hunting down the cult’s foot soldiers, in an effort to lure out and finally assassinate their leader. Each level drops you on the outer perimeter of one of the cult’s rural establishments, like farms, small collections of shacks, and lakeside camps where they’re performing their sinister rituals. You’re told precisely how many people there are to kill and the objective is to murder them all using your rickety old bolt-action rifle.
But Rother puts a superlatively original spin on the entire shooter formula. Movement is exclusively on-rails – you can jog around the area in a broad loop, but never move any further or nearer to your targets. You also have one bullet and one bullet only. The goal is to bounce your single round from target to target, creating a seamless kill chain that drops them all in an instant.
Scout around the environment, mark each of your targets, then fire your bullet into the first one. Once he’s down, time freezes, and you now have to control the bullet and guide it into your next victim. If you hit anything solid, you fail and need to restart the level. But so long as you hit something destructible, be it the next cult member along, the gas tank of a parked car, or even a bird flying overhead, you’re still in the game.
What results is a kind of lateral, geometric maze puzzle, as you guide your bullet to hit a target standing by a window, then flip it 180 to hit another guy standing outside, before sinking into an unsuspecting bird to get a commanding view of the area, and choose your next victim.
There are no simple kills in Children of the Sun. Every time you murder someone, you have to plan it in detail first. Combined with the game’s searing industrial and noise-rock soundtrack, its psychedelic color palette, and dark narrative undertones, what results is a violent, trippy, hallucination of a shooter, where the only constant is the path of your .308 round.
We’re still waiting on a full release date, but if you want to try Children of the Sun, a new demo containing the first seven stages is available right here. A visionary interpretation of the act of killing, if you’re longing for a shooter with soul and real artistic flair, Children of the Sun is ideal.