Children of the Sun review: A violent, disturbing, angry gem

Children of the Sun review: A violent, disturbing, angry gem
Images via René Rother | Devolver Digital

Written by 

Dave McAdam


9th Apr 2024 16:00

Have you ever watched one of those documentaries about cults, the kind of cults that irreparably destroy people's lives, and wished that something very bad would happen to the people responsible?

We love a bit of revenge fantasy, the career of Quentin Tarantino is a testament to that, and that is exactly what Children of the Sun does. It puts the gun in our hands and says have at it.

GGRecon Verdict

If a dark revenge fantasy tale of destroying an evil cult sounds like your kind of thing, then Children of the Sun is everything you could want.

Burn it down

The Girl cleaning her gun in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

This is no simple run-and-gun affair, you don't get to riddle everyone full of bullets and call it a job well done. No, Children of the Sun is a puzzle game, and the puzzle remains the same for each level. How do you make everyone dead, when you only have one bullet?

You play as The Girl, raised within the cult known as the Children of the Sun. This cult draws people in with the promise of a simpler life, but the truth is something much worse. Exactly how much worse is never made fully clear, but considering the cult appears to be little more than a disjointed militia in a near-dystopian rurality, it isn't an idyllic picture.

Throughout the story, we learn through flashbacks that the Girl has some kind of psychic power and that the cult views her as a powerful resource to be exploited.

The details are vague, but after the Girl was imprisoned and likely tested on, she eventually escaped and fled with her father. Sometime later, she returns home to find him dead by his own gun.

The Girl snaps, takes up her father's rifle, dons an eery mask, and sets out to bring down the cult and kill its Leader.

Be the bullet

Cultists at the Girl's house at the beginning of Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

When members of the cult come to her home, the Girl ambushes them. With only one bullet in hand, she uses her psychic power to redirect the bullet after firing it, killing the four men with a single shot. This is the main focus of the gameplay, you only ever have one shot with which to clear each stage.

You begin each level by scoping the area. You can move freely to the left and right, giving you various vantages on your shooting gallery. In the top right you can see how many cultists are present, but finding them can be tricky.

The first order of business is tagging the enemies you can spot, and planning your route. Once you land your first shot on a target, the game will slow to an almost pause while you freely look around and aim your next shot. Hit another cultist, then another, until all are dead.

The tutorial at the beginning of the game, explaining the controls for aiming and shooting
Click to enlarge

This is just the first layer of the puzzle in Children of the Sun, psychically ricocheting your bullet from target to target. It isn't long before things start to become more complex.

Enemies will be hidden from your view or on the move, then you'll encounter new types of targets that require different strategies. Some cultists have riot shields that you'll need to get around, others will be completely kitted out in body armour that requires a stronger shot to penetrate.

The Girl's psychic powers expand as the game progresses to deal with these new threats. You gain the ability to alter the trajectory of your bullet mid-flight, allowing you to course-correct a shot, or bend it around a shield. The range is limited, but this ability becomes vital for hitting awkward shots.

The body armour cultists are dealt with by speeding up the bullet, which you can do by holding the fire button. This takes time and a sufficient distance, adding another layer to each puzzle. Later, you gain the ability to re-aim your shot as it flies, provided you hit at least two enemy weakpoints first.

The Girl marking targets, before taking aim at one in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

As you progress, these new abilities blend together and give you so much more control over your shots. The early game is essentially a sniper simulator, but by the end you will become a bullet wizard, landing shots around corners and from impossible angles.

CotS evolves its mechanics perfectly in step with the progression of the game. You always get a couple of interesting levels with each new idea before moving on to the next. The game is beautifully paced; at roughly three hours long it does not overstay its welcome.

In this way, the game does a lot to prevent the frustration that often comes with puzzle games. It's snappy and fairly lenient; many times I took a shot not knowing exactly how to beat the level, only to find the solution on the fly.

It doesn't feel like a short game, with over 20 levels to investigate, plan, and execute. Nor does it feel too long, it lands precisely where it needs to be.

An assault on the senses

A large group of cultists guarding a checkpoint tower in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

The presentation is pretty on-point for what you'd expect from a game about slaughtering a cult in a revenge fantasy fever dream.

The art has a sketchy, hand-drawn look, while the in-game graphics have that early 3D, PS1-era vibe that horror games love so much these days. The visual style is violent and aggressive, dirty and grimy, something very wrong is happening here and the images on screen reflect that.

The audio effects sound like they have been passed through a $50 guitar amp with the distortion turned all the way up, and that is as sincere a compliment as I can give.

It isn't a non-stop onslaught on the ears, there is a wonderfully interactive bassline for your movements that gets louder as you move faster. Strong Scooby-Doo tip-toeing vibes, except I don't think Mystery Inc. ever dealt with murderous psychic cults.

The low moments are an ambient mix of jazz percussion and folky guitar strings. These moments are rent asunder by someone turning all their effects pedals on and smashing their guitar into the wall.

These cacophonous moments of scratching and tearing sounds accompany the game's darker and more violent moments, reinforcing the dichotomy between the quiet old world this cult has overtaken and the violence done by their presence - and the actions of the Girl.

There are no more heroes

The Girl fantasising about an old video game where she kills cultists as she cleans her gun
Click to enlarge

The Girl is an interesting character, for what little we understand of her. She isn't the perfect avenging angel you might expect. Contrary to her actions: some stories might depict her as right and just in her crusade against these evildoers. Children of the Sun goes out of its way to remind you that this is not a healthy person.

From licking the barrel of her gun to playing aggressive and violent games in her head, the Girl is perhaps not the most sensitive depiction of psychosis. I'm not the person to make that call, but this is a story about a lady who shoots people with psychically-controlled bullets, nothing is quite right about her brain, speculatively or otherwise.

I do think these choices make her a much more intriguing character than she could have been in a more black-and-white story. Many games and stories depict people committing massive amounts of murder but all for a "greater cause", and never question the morality of their actions.

The Girl has arguably one of the better excuses for mass murder one could have, and still, she is not depicted as a thoroughly righteous actor.

This seems like a much better choice than the alternative, as ultimately the message here is that none of this violence will solve anything. The violence committed by the cult certainly does not turn the Girl into a better person, her violence against them does not make the world much of a better place either.

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The Girl having a dream about the Leader of the Cult in a strange purple lake
Click to enlarge

Children of the Sun might be the angriest game I have ever played. It is teeming with vitriol for its subject matter, it hates the cult at its centre. There was another game once that was similarly filled with hatred, but where that game was only concerned with violence for the sake of it, CotS directs that violence at a truly detestable villain.

The cultists you encounter are not portrayed as brainwashed victims, but abusive and awful people. They revel in their heinous acts, throwing parties in the desiccated remains of the communities they have destroyed. In this way, the Girl could be seen as the hero, liberating the region from this invader.

Without giving everything away, the game does go to great lengths to make sure you know that our "hero" is nothing of the sort, just another angry person using violence to get what she wants, and little regard for anyone or anything else.

Children of the Sun kind of lets you have your cake and eat it. It tells you that violence and revenge are immoral while letting you safely immerse yourself in the catharsis of both.

The Verdict

The Girl watching cultists from afar in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

I love almost everything about Children of the Sun. The gameplay is neat and well designed, it never frustrates and that is rare for a puzzle game - especially one that requires dextrous skill to solve the puzzles.

The plot relies a lot on implication, there isn't a spoken word in the whole game, which is great for something so succinct. I would love to learn more and perhaps get a little bit more clarity, but there is a delicate balance here that is probably better as it is.

Children of the Sun is a violent, disturbing, angry gem of a game. Everything it does, it does really well. The visuals, the sound, and the gameplay all feed into the themes of the game. It's refreshing to play a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and see it achieve that goal on every front.

If a dark revenge fantasy tale of destroying an evil cult sounds like your kind of thing, then Children of the Sun is everything you could want.


Reviewed on PC via Steam. Review code provided by the publisher.

Dave McAdam
About the author
Dave McAdam
Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.
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