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This visceral puzzle-shooter has one of the best levels of 2024

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In a year already stuffed with terrific games, Children of the Sun stands out as something truly special. Developed by René Rother, the psychedelic puzzle-shooter plays like a spiritual mashup of Sniper Elite and Superhot by way of the anarchic noise rock sensibilities of Suda51, dropping players in the role of a vengeful masked assassin on a one-woman warpath across a surreal version of the American South to kill the leader of an army of cultists.

The game’s core concept is relatively simple: You have exactly one bullet that you must use to take down every enemy per level. Fortunately, your character is a powerful telekinetic, allowing the player to guide the bullet mid-shot to ricochet between your targets like Yondu’s whistle-controlled arrow from Guardians of the Galaxy, carving a path of death and destruction across each of its 26 levels as you hunt down your final target.

The result is a chaotic, viscerally engaging experience that incrementally grows more challenging as it introduces new and more inventive techniques for your psychic arsenal. You can slow the speed of the bullet to bend the trajectory of your shots in real time or speed them up, allowing you to pierce through heavily armored foes at the expense of accuracy. You can target specific weak points on your enemies’ bodies to unlock the ability to re-aim your bullet mid-shot. You can even shoot pigeons in midair to gain a more advantageous, bird’s-eye view of the battlefield.

You’ll have to rely on all of these maneuvers, as well as improvise a few others on the fly, in order to take down the cultists. While each level offers up its own unique set of surprising challenges, Children of the Sun’s 18th level, “Open Mic Night in Hell,” stands out as one of the most satisfying levels I’ve played in any game this year so far.

Image: René Rother/Devolver Digital

The level places the player on the outskirts of an office building complex that’s been taken over by the cultists. In order to complete your mission, you’ll have to devise a way to take out every member on the upper exterior floors of the building, as well as a group of cultists hosting an impromptu concert in the courtyard between two buildings. After managing to take out the cultists in the courtyard, I found myself at a loss as to how I was going to make it back to the exterior of the complex to wipe out my remaining targets.

I tried to aim the bullet over the building itself and then re-aim it to take out one of the exterior guards. I attempted to wipe out the cultists on the outside of the building before working my way inside, along with several other approaches from different vantage points; each attempt was more frustrating than effective.

After racking my brain, I finally came up with a solution. I would need to redirect the bullet through an open corridor to the outside of the building, activate my ability to re-aim my shot in midair, make a full 180-degree turn to line the bullet up with one of the cultists, and accelerate my shot to pierce through an armored cultist’s body before doing it all over again.

A woman wearing a hoodie with the words “No Peace” embroidered on the back aiming a rifle at a cluster of burning houses in a forest.

Image: René Rother/Devolver Digital

Stumbling across this technique was nothing short of a eureka moment, eventually becoming a regular trick in my personal arsenal of moves that helped me out in a pinch during the game’s latter half of challenges. Children of the Sun is full of these moments, but this one in particular felt like a breakthrough in how I approached the game by forcing me to take stock of the powers at my disposal as well as the layout of the terrain.

The beauty of Children of the Sun is that this solution is totally optional. There are virtually dozens of different possibilities the player can take in approaching this very same problem. The only commonality, however, is that, whichever way you go about accomplishing your mission, the end result is going to be sick as hell.

Children of the Sun was released April 9 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Devolver Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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