Actual Sunlight is one of the most mature games I’ve ever played. Using a mixture of the visual novel and point-and-click formats, the game tells a brief, yet sweet story about a man who is dealing with depression and suicide.
In Actual Sunlight, you play as Evan Winters – a man that is bald, in his late twenties, lives in a small apartment in Toronto and is battling many demons. The game starts with you awaking one day and fighting off thoughts to go to the roof and kill yourself. He has these same thoughts and urges throughout the day, no matter who – or what – he is interacting with. These interactions, however, are key to Actual Sunlight’s gameplay.
From the very start, you will walk around various environments, including your apartment, clicking on objects. These objects will pop up either a monologue or a conversation Evan has had with his therapist. However, these are all text conversations; the game has no voice acting whatsoever. But that isn’t a bad thing. The text really drew me in and I became more and more curious who Evan Winters really was – and the texts revealed him further to me.
Like I said, you can also talk to people, whether they are fellow train-goers or Evan’s colleagues. Most of the time you’ll have a normal conversation and it will take you into the same type of monologue or conversation with Evan’s therapist. These usually tell you what Evan really thinks about them and can give a bit on context to the world Evan has going on around him. This is the only thing you do in the game. You’ll find something to click or interact with and delve a little deeper into the protagonist’s mind.
The game presents itself in a retro art style. It is reminiscent of the 16-bit era and is a good choice. It doesn’t detract from the overall purpose of the game: to drum up a conversation about depression and suicide. There are occasional bits where the game displays static screenshots – of maybe a coworker crying or Evan lying in bed. The screenshots are stunning. The bright, cheerful color palette seems to offer a sharp contrast between the dark subject matter the game presents and the hope that it hopes to present. It is apparent that the game’s developer – who makes a special cameo in the game that I’ll let you find for yourself – wants to strike up a conversation; he wants to bring the conversation to the forefront of everybody’s minds.
This may have been my favorite aspect of the game: the self-reflection it generates. Throughout the short three-hour story, I found myself sitting and thinking about what was going on to Evan and how I felt about the circumstances surrounding him. Without spoiling anything, the game gets progressively darker as Evan becomes even more lost in his own thoughts. We’ve all probably had interactions with people suffering from these diseases, but the game’s ability to place you in a person’s head who is suffering from it and quickly identify with him is very profound. However, don’t let that discourage you from playing if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. There is some dark humor used sporadically throughout the game that did make me laugh and broke up some of the tension caused by the subject matter.
Again, the game is only two to three hours long, but this shouldn’t discourage anyone from playing it. The game is a solid experience that will hold your attention for the duration of your playthrough. Even though you already know that Evan has these diseases, you will have a strong urge to dive even further into his mind. Many warrant a game’s quality on the quantity of hours, but I think Actual Sunlight is one of the games that proves that idiom wrong. Because it has such a strong impression after completion, I would say that it is completely justified.
However, there are some issues I have with the game. The sound design in the game is almost non-existent. There will be a song or two played during one of the interactions that take place, but it doesn’t feel right – you will mostly be playing the game with no sound or music the whole experience. It’s a curious choice to do this, and it makes me question whether it was purposeful. The developer may have wished to create the same contrast the color palette had with the story by including nearly any sound. It does create a sense of solitary in the world Evan is in – and he is very much alone, as you’ll find out.
However, I would rather there be an inclusion of a more well-rounded soundtrack. I want to hear happy-sounding tunes when Evan is doing one of the things he loves, like video games, and have some more depressing tracks for when he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.
You will certainly find yourself returning to Toronto after you complete Evan’s story. Even though you can get the whole game within one completion – remember to click and talk to everything, — you will have many standing questions and curiosities that warrant a return. I found myself sitting thinking about why Evan may have said, thought, or done something and found that it was very easy to just return to the game, especially since it is so short. You won’t be returning over and over again, but that doesn’t detract from Actual Sunlight.
While the game is short, Actual Sunlight will hold your attention from “Press Start.” The serious subject matter certainly will turn some away from the game – and they will be missing out – but if you do decide to pick it up, you will find that it is worthy of your time and will make you reflect a lot on what you’ve played, more so than other games.