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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.
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.
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 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.
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.