Children of the Sun is a grimy puzzle shooter about a psychic sniper and one magic bullet

Children of the Sun
(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

A point-thirty eight caliber round leaves the barrel with a sound like a thunderbolt being torn in half, and stings the air with a monetary curl of chemical flame. An inch of lead whistles through the open sky and through the open door of an old barn, clearing a thousand feet in half an instant. Inside, there is a wet, crunching sound, something heavy hitting wooden boards - and the bullet continues, now at a completely different angle but with no loss of momentum, flying out of a side entrance. It curls unnaturally between two hay bales, twists of dead straw sent spiraling in its wake like maple seeds, singing a single, humming note into the night air before it flits over a dirt road and slams into the chassis of an old truck, rumbling in the opposite direction. In less than a millisecond it has burrowed into the gas tank, trailing sparks along the way.

The explosion will be heard for nearly four miles, and pieces of both truck and driver will be found for nearly half that. On a hilltop overlooking the destruction, a stringy-haired figure smiles tersely beneath her white mask, slings a smoking rifle over her back, and trudges into the undergrowth, the bushes parting ahead of her before she even reaches them, pushed aside by invisible hands.

Believe it or not, you're not missing much context for all that. Devolver's most recent slaughter-fest, Children of the Sun, has the same lean, threadbare storytelling a lot of their fanbase might've come to expect - static-riddled images and coarse, neon visuals give it a rough framing and most of the narrative is little more than raw snippets of context-light info: a superficially friendly religious movement with dark intentions, a loved one mysteriously driven to suicide… and an abused victim of the cult's machinations gifted with psychic powers and an old bolt action rifle.

Psychic killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?

Children of the Sun

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

The light story and murky context are clearly an intentional choice that speak to a very damaged perspective. Like the protagonists of Hotline Miami and Katana Zero, the main character of Children of the Sun (known only as THE GIRL) has the kind of brain that could be charitably described as "an A for effort". I guess if half your consciousness is riding the astral plane while the other half is experiencing Rambo: First Blood, coherence was always going to be an ambitious goal. Still, the immortal line "I just killed a man, now I'm horny" is some of the best character work you'll get in gaming right now.

But while we're referencing movies, the flick that's more illustrative for gameplay purposes is the timeless MacAvoy classic Wanted. The goal for each mission is to snipe every cultist in an area, but this is a revenge story on a serious budget, and you're only given a single bullet for each level. THE GIRL therefore has to use her telekinetic abilities to control said bullet after it leaves the barrel, bouncing it off enemies' cerebellums and threading the needle between obstacles to rack up a massive killstreak.

Cult following 

Children of the Sun

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

What results is a surreal and splattery puzzle game that feels a little like Hitman: Sniper Challenge via Superhot. You start with the ability to pause time and redirect the bullet after it hits a target, causing a chain reaction of skull-splattering ricochets, and before long you're firing a round that realigns its trajectory within an enemy's neck, zooms off into an explosive barrel, bounces off an unsuspecting bird before gleefully soars away to cause more chaos. Later on you get even more control over the bullet, curving it around barriers and accelerating it to break through armor, and the result is pure geometry. It's not uncommon to spend your time squatting on a hilltop with chin on fist, considering distant targets and trying to calculate angles like the most morbid game of snooker imaginable.

Children of the Sun isn't perfect - it's very short and almost certainly could've gone further in exploring its core gameplay concept - but I had a good time with it, especially when it stretches itself and thinks outside the box. A mission where you fire your gun out the window of a moving car to wipe out an entire motorcade is probably the highlight, and I like that you can use wildlife as optional ricochet points, bouncing a bullet off an oblivious wood pigeon mid-flight so you can angle it down through a skylight to cause further havoc.

And on a broader level, when taking a step back, I love that Devolver are still completely happy to bankroll whatever the exact opposite of a "cozy game" is. After years doing this, they're still taking risks on weird, creative and important projects like Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, Inscryption, Card Shark - and now Children of the Sun. If that's not worth celebrating, I don't know what is.

Children of the Sun is out now on PC. To see what else we've been enjoying check out our Indie Spotlight series. 

Joel Franey
Guides Writer

Joel Franey is a writer, journalist, podcaster and raconteur with a Masters from Sussex University, none of which has actually equipped him for anything in real life. As a result he chooses to spend most of his time playing video games, reading old books and ingesting chemically-risky levels of caffeine. He is a firm believer that the vast majority of games would be improved by adding a grappling hook, and if they already have one, they should probably add another just to be safe. You can find old work of his at USgamer, Gfinity, Eurogamer and more besides.