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Review

Review: Actual Sunlight – an adventure about depression

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Actu­al Sun­light is a video­ga­me about depres­si­on. The­re are not a lot like it. It pro­vo­kes thought but lap­ses too often into ste­reo­ty­pes.

Actu­al Sun­light is a 2D adven­ture for PC and Play­Sta­ti­on Vita. It’s the noto­rious 1 man pro­ject by Will O’Neill with attri­bu­ti­ons by addi­tio­nal artists. The topic oppo­ses tho­se of most games. There’s no knight in shi­ning armor, there’s just Evan Win­ter.

Actual Sunlight

Evan Win­ter is a mid-30-year old who is working in a mar­ke­ting advi­sing com­pa­ny for poli­ti­ci­ons and other top exe­cu­ti­ves. Sounds alrea­dy inte­res­ting. From the first moment one beco­mes clear: This is not a hap­py game. Text boxes give glim­p­ses into Evan’s inner mono­lo­gue. Some­ti­mes he ima­gi­nes him­s­elf in a psych­ia­trist ses­si­on or he sup­po­sed­ly gets inter­view­ed in a late night TV show or he wri­tes his expe­ri­en­ces down in thoughts in a sort of dia­ry. The world revol­ves around him.

You visit dif­fe­rent loca­ti­ons such as his appar­te­ment that is made up by two screens, the bus on the way to work and his work place inclu­ding the res­ting area. There’s not a lot more to explo­re in Actu­al Sun­light apart from the street area at your home or the local super­mar­ket. Actu­al Sun­light is a nar­ra­ti­ve expe­ri­ence and pret­ty line­ar. There’s just one choice in the game and it’s loca­ted insi­de the ele­va­tor in your home: In the mornings, do you head to work or do you get to the roof and jump off.

Evan suf­fers from depres­si­on. The text of Evan’s inner mono­lo­gue are always in nega­ti­ve ang­le. Only in very few cases there’s a glim­mer of light and hope. This down­wards spi­ral just tigh­tens and – wit­hout reve­aling too much – ends in a way you don’t have much of a choice. Some­ti­mes Evans talks to others such as his col­league Tori for whom Evan secret­ly has a thing for or ano­t­her work col­league who suf­fers also of an ill­ness. But there’s no real mea­ning to eit­her of tho­se “rela­ti­ons”, Evan is just too much of a ste­reo­ty­pe. He’s cor­pu­lent, doesn’t talk much, plays a lot of video games at home and is com­ple­te­ly shutt off from his fami­ly.

Actual Sunlight

Of cour­se, some of the sym­ptoms he shows clear­ly resem­ble tho­se of this ill­ness, just the cha­rac­ters of Actu­al Sun­light seem too often like cari­ca­tures. Evan’s bud­dy col­league soon beco­mes his boss. Of cour­se he turns to a real jerk and drops Evan. He talks brief­ly about his bro­ther but in such ill way, the­re doesn’t seem much of a bond, evern in the past. Evan tells tho­se things that a per­son suf­fe­ring on depres­si­on would say. His thoughts revol­ve about the same things, ever­ything is dark, the­re is bare­ly light. Even the soda sales­per­son at his home gets a very nega­ti­ve mono­lo­gue insi­de Evan’s mind. Tho­se stan­ding across from him usual­ly just wait it out and won­der whe­re he went – a bit of a Wal­ter Mit­ty syn­drom.

A few light hear­ted moments would have been very healt­hy to cover this very serious topic. Even though this is about depres­si­on, the­re are the­se glim­mers of light some­ti­mes. There’s no sign of help that Evan ever wan­ted to get or got in the past. There’s an sto­ry bet­ween him and Tory play­ing out for a moment with an inte­res­ting turn but he just acts in a way not com­pre­hen­si­ble by the play­er, even con­si­de­ring his ill­ness natu­ral­ly. He’s got every elec­tro­nic device you can cur­r­ent­ly get but plays all his time on game con­so­les. His job isn’t pro­per­ly exp­lai­ned.

There’s an extra­or­di­na­ry strong sequence in which the game world turns red. Evan com­ple­te­ly freaks out and wrecks his appar­te­ment. Also the ending is fit­ting to this 1 hour sto­ry. The sto­ry didn’t lea­ve out its many cari­ca­tu­ral moments and such this serious attempt to show a glim­p­se into this ill­ness can’t get that well trans­por­ted as it could be.

We got to give credit to the gre­at pre­sen­ta­ti­on of Actu­al Sun­light. Loca­ti­ons are dis­play­ed in the typi­cal but detail­ed RPG Maker look. Also every cha­rac­ter has a beau­ti­ful­ly drawn por­trait card and the music aids every situa­ti­on. It just loops a bit too much and the typewri­ter sound that plays for each let­ter that gets dis­play­ed in this text-hea­vy game is extre­me­ly obnoxious. The deve­lo­per might view it as means to por­trait the game in a more depres­sing mood but we think the game does a gre­at job on his own get­ting you in that mood. This dis­gus­ting sound can ruin the expe­ri­ence at times.

Actual Sunlight

Conclusion

Actu­al Sun­light is a very short line­ar 2D adven­ture that shows from the out­set that it’s not a light hear­ted game and is also very limi­ted in its view. Of cour­se we don’t expect much comic reli­ef but at many times the game is just too cari­ca­tu­ral to take serious. And that’s fatal con­si­de­ring the topic. Actu­al Sun­light is an inte­res­ting sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence you have to deal with in your own way. It’s important this topic gets a voice in this sort of media. It’s tech­ni­cal­ly flaw­less, only the jour­ney of the not very like­ab­le main cha­ra­ter – which is sound con­si­de­ring his con­di­ti­on – is at times inco­he­rent. An oppo­sing examp­le of a game that is simi­lar and gets that right would be The Beginner’s Gui­de (XTga­mer play­th­rough). We hope Will’s next pro­ject will be a bit more fle­shed out, so it gets across the mea­ning bet­ter.

Actu­al Sun­light
Gen­re: Adven­ture
Sys­tem: PS Vita (review­ed), PC
Pri­ce: €4.99, GBP, $ (PSN & Steam)
Deve­lo­per: Will O’Neill (first com­mer­ci­al pro­ject)
Publisher: Will O’Neill

This game was pro­vi­ded by the publisher for review pur­po­ses, check our review poli­cy for details.

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