Developer: Will O'Neill
Publisher: Will O'Neill
Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: N/A (M suggested)
A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review
Video games are most often viewed as a form of escapism. Many people want to whisked away to a fantasy world, overcoming impossible odds to save the world and get the girl. Or others may want to play the villain, doing deeds that are morally wrong that they could never do in the real world. However, not every game is made to help you escape from the dredges of the real world. Some games grab you by the head and force you to look at the problems plaguing ourselves and our peers and ask you, "Are you truly going to ignore this? Do you not see the real challenge--the challenge of someone's painful everyday life?"
Actual Sunlight is one of these games.
O'Neill's tale puts you in the shoes of Evan Winters, a man who, to say the least, is down on his luck. His job sucks, he's overweight, and he's alone. When Evan gets home, he binges on video games and junk food, to the point that he's in debt... and he hates himself for it all. This hatred and his depression makes him an embittered man, despising the world and himself to the point of contemplating suicide.
Actual Sunlight tells you something before you begin: "We all know where this is going." Yes, you know exactly where the story is taking you, and the worst part is there is absolutely no way of stopping it. The game's crippling linearity makes it so that the only thing you can do is continue forward, unable to stop Evan's descent to debilitating depression and the end we all know will come of it. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. Actual Sunlight is meant to be experienced this way, and giving a chance to change events would lessen, or even ruin, the message it is trying to get across.
It's all very emotionally draining. By interacting with the environment and speaking with co-workers, you delve into Evan's cynical and sad mind and learn how depression has twisted his way of thinking. Even at the beginning there's a few small glimmers of hope for the man, but they are slowly stomped out, by either life events or by the man himself. Watching Evan's life is like a train wreck in slow motion: It's terrible, you can't do anything to stop it, but yet you can't look away.
I suppose looking at Actual Sunlight in terms of gameplay, there really isn't a lot, of course. It is interactive to the point that you control Evan so that you can look at objects and continue the story, but there isn't anything beyond that. This simple interactivity really drives the narrative home, however; having to actually move Evan from place to place, and again the fact that the ending cannot be stopped no matter what you try to do, and it makes the player feel more of a connection to Evan than any book or movie could.
So, really, Actual Sunlight isn't much of a game... rather, it's an experience you should have. Go and give O'Neill five dollars and give this game a download--it won't be fun, it might make you sad, but it just might make you realize what happens outside our fantastical gaming worlds... and maybe even some things about ourselves.
+ Masterful writing drives the point of the narrative home
+ Relatively short play time makes just the right amount of impact
+ Extreme linearity makes you face the inevitable outcome
- Use of RPGMaker brings up some odd limitations and NPCs that look a bit out of place
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
Actual Sunlight will make you feel miserable. However, it's an experience that everyone should try in order to learn about the depths depression can take you to--and perhaps come to terms with their own ill feelings.