Having heard all of the talk on the internet about Actual Sunlight on PC and Linux and seeing it on the Steam Summer Flash Sale for less than £1, I decided I would take the plunge into an interactive story like nothing else I’ve ever played.
Will O’Neill’s Actual Sunlight is more of an interactive story than a game and a rather brutal one to your mental self at that. Putting you in the viewing perspective of Evan Winter’s life and watching as he goes from getting out of bed, showering, getting on the bus, chatting to his colleagues at the workplace and going to the shops before returning home is much more enjoyable than it may initially sound. Not because Actual Sunlight offers any fantastic, ground breaking game play, but because 90% of the objects you see in the world around Evan Winter will provide you with further background into the main characters past or his current state of mind. By hitting ‘Enter’ on one of these items or people around the world, dialogue boxes or a black screen with white text will appear detailing some part of Evan’s life or in some cases his own writing relating to the object and its significance to Evan’s depressed mental state. The game comes with a warning at the start of the game informing the player of the issues it is going to address and the suicidal tones that will run throughout the game right to the bitter end, and all that can be said is, be prepared.
It’s these screens of text which become the crux of the game, and whilst I could appreciate that Will O’Neill was doing his utmost to explain the feeling of depression to those who have never experienced it and how it niggles away at every part of your life, be it at work, on a crowded bus or at home, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable reading some of these transcripts. Whether this was the objective that O’Neill was trying to achieve with Actual Sunlight or not this, particularly towards the end of the game, led to a feeling of desperation to just have the game finished so I could write up this review and move on to something else.
One particular element of the game which particularly complimented what the game was trying to achieve was the art style. The game during the period in which you will move the character around and interact with the numerous objects, wears a retro style look like something from the NES or SNES era. However enter a key dialogue with another character or even just a deep and emotional monologue from Evan himself and the game presents the characters in a cell shaded comic book like art style which really compliments the melancholy story of the game.
The game doesn’t take you on the ride for long, with the game only clocking me around 80 minutes to complete it was over on a short gaming stint in my early evening. The game has the same, unavoidable, bitter end and so there is little else that is different to experience in the game on a second play through unless you have somehow missed one of the transcripts in the game (though the game tells you from the start to interact with every object you see to make sure you get all you can from it.).
This review is not to say that looking back in retrospect just a day after playing it that I disliked the game, it’s definitely something that needs to be experienced by all if only to understand the struggles that those with depression must go through each day. The art style was particularly a hit that complimented the tone of the game perfectly, especially when showing Evan and some of the other characters in the cell shaded art style. The issue I face with this review however is the difficulty in placing a numerical value on a 20 point scale to Actual Sunlight. I appreciate what it is trying to achieve, which it succeeds in doing so, but in terms of game play factors the game isn’t going to be for everyone and its dialogue can become all a bit too much towards the end.
If you’ve got a £2 spare on your steam account at the moment and want to experience something which is going to lead you through a dark story with an inevitable outcome, no matter how hard you go against it, then grab Actual Sunlight on Steam before the Summer Sale ends for £1.99. But be prepared, this isn’t your usual gaming experience. However if you’ve played these interactive story experiences before such as Gone Home or Dear Esther, keep walking because this provides more of the same on a much shorter and darker scale.
+ Brilliant Art Style
+ Hard Hitting Story
– Not For Everyone
– Very Short/ Not Much Replay Value
– Can Get Too ‘Heavy’