Closer the Distance preview: Slice-of-life storytelling goes a long way

Closer the Distance preview: Slice-of-life storytelling goes a long way
Images via Osmotic Studios

Written by 

Ben Williams


3rd Jun 2024 14:00

Coping with loss in any form is always a tough theme to explore in games, but when seeing who’s behind Closer the Distance, it’s easy to think the topic’s in safe hands even before diving in. 

Developed by Osmotic Studios (the Orwell series) and published by Skybound Games (Before Your Eyes, The Walking Dead), Closer the Distance based on first impressions looks like the result of a pairing that’s more than the sum of its parts. 

Blending emotional storytelling backed by pleasnt slice-of-life sim gameplay, even Closer the Distance’s preview demo build will have something stick with you.  

What is Closer the Distance about? 

Enter, Yesterby, a village of just over a dozen inhabitants who’re put directly in the face of tragedy when Angela, the protagonist, loses her life in an unfortunate car accident. 

From her family and boyfriend to dear friends and acquaintances, there’s no shortage of sorrow even in this small town. However, using an ethereal ability gained through death, “Angie” is now capable of watching over and influencing those grieving for her. 

Conny talking to Zek in Closer the Distance
Click to enlarge

Through slice-of-life simulator gameplay, starting with Angie’s sister, Conny, Closer the Distance tasks you with managing an increasing selection of controllable characters to make choices in helping others through their grief, navigating their interpersonal relationships, and enforcing self-care.

Ultimately, it's up to you to give the townspeople closure through this heartbreaking time and make choices to decide the fate of Yesterby. 

A powerful first impression

Within the opening moments of Act 1 - the demo's first 90-minute section of the game - Closer the Distance hits you on two fronts: one being the cosy, atmospheric small-town vibes illustrated in simplistically beautiful polygonal design, and the latter being the heartbreaking news of Angie’s passing which shatters to former. 

Due to Osmotic’s aforementioned style and the game’s top-down display, a strong voice cast is needed to properly convey each character’s array of complex emotions and drama despite their blank faces in line with the story. 

Galya and Paige in the greenhouse
Click to enlarge

Thankfully, Closer the Distance’s voice talent does so in spades. Whether listening to the falsely blissful denial of the mother initially refusing to believe her daughter isn’t coming home, the clouded guilty father trying to keep himself busy, or the boyfriend furious that his love is suddenly gone, the narrative immediately sets a tone for a personal, sorrowful story that’s all the more gripping through the immersive aspects of the gaming medium.

The majority of the audience likely to play Closer the Distance will be old enough to have already gone through a form of grief themselves, or at least know someone who has. With that, placing an emphasis on performances being as faithful to the trauma they're portraying is all the more important.

Such great delivery not only makes you feel more like a citizen of Yesterby; witnessing the tale unfolding through big scenes and small interactions, clicking and dragging across the village through Angie’s perspective; but how you manage them makes the social sim aspects additionally rewarding as well. 

Cosy emotional simulation

Whilst slice-of-life sims can be fun to play in their own right, Closer the Distance’s story actually makes the gameplay all the more satisfying with the extra fulfilment brought by taking care of its characters and their important decisions. 

With up to a total of 14 controllable characters who are each interesting in their own way, you’ll be guiding the people of Yesterby by commanding them to perform actions which fulfil wishes as part of the story, or needs; like sleep, hunger, health, and resilience; to improve their well-being.

Zek playing guitar in front of a campfire in Closer the Distance
Click to enlarge

The demo played for this preview only unlocks the first three; Conny, Angie’s boyfriend Zek, and Yesterby’s physician Galya; but it gives a good sense of how your decisions affect themselves and the rest of the citizens they interact with. 

For instance, Zek, the son of a wood carver (the dad played wonderfully by Geralt of Rivia's Dough Cockle in The Witcher games), wants to make a sculpture in Angela's honour ahead of her funeral. However, you have to pick between two conflicting ideas - one which would make her mother Ipa happier and another which is more faithful to the type of person his sweetheart was. 

Because the stakes behind the decision are so personal on each side, there doesn't seem to be a right answer which will have you questioning the implications in the rest of the game. Is it the first time in-game decisions have carried such weight? No, but it's the first time in a long while I felt I was one step of reality away from affecting a real person deep in grief, and we're only in the opening act.

A wholehearted balance

Although it takes a short while for managing the empathetically-heavy to-dos to fall into place, everything soon clicks with each task from the player’s perspective - also being Angie’s - as you strive to help controlled characters and those they talk to start their journey towards healing.

Even in this short taster of what Closer the Distance entails, the meticulous detail in various relationships can take you by surprise. Alongside each individual character having fully-simulated relationships, and stories of their own, there's fully voiced and well-performed dialogue for differing choices too - making every scene feel all the more important.

Remembering a memory with Angie in Closer the Distance
Click to enlarge

On paper, balancing the arcs of even a few characters simultaneously should feel a little crowded. That’s especially true since each day even ends with throwing in past memories of Angie to close the gaps up to her death. 

In execution though, the perspective of playing through Angela’s point of view takes over and everything falls into place. Key moments for each character so far are spread out and meaningful enough to keep you enticed for what happens next, without leaving you too overwhelmed as Yesterby’s guardian angel.

Final thoughts

As far as preview demo builds go, Closer the Distance has so far served an appetiser that should have you hungry for more. Cosy, story-rich, and a delight to play as you get invested in its well-casted characters, Osmotic Studios’ latest game looks to up the ante amongst those tackling grief and other tough subjects. 

Portraying so many perspectives in the eyes of tragedy is no easy task when it’s through the interactive form of video games. Nevertheless, if the rest of Closer the Distance is just as a potent mixture of hard-hitting and heartwarming, this definitely needs to be on your radar for the remainder of 2024.

Previewed on PC. Preview code provided by the publisher.

Ben Williams
About the author
Ben Williams
Ben is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon. Alongside his BA (Hons) in Business Management is a wealth of gaming and entertainment writing experience, having previously occupied roles as a Copywriter in e-commerce at Overclockers and Guides & SEO Writer at GameByte and FragHero. When not whipping up guides and reviews, Ben’ll be off playing the latest Pokemon games, Overwatch 2, Spider-Man, The Witcher, and Final Fantasy - all before reading manga and listening to Ice Nine Kills.
Monster Hunter Stories 1 & 2 preview: A comfortable fit on PlayStation
ALZARA Radiant Echoes is Golden Sun meets Avatar, bringing JRPGs to the Mediterranean
5 games we need to see on Nintendo Switch 2, from Zelda to Mario
After studio closures, Xbox may have finally run out of goodwill
Rumoured Game of Thrones MMORPG is 10 years too late