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Actual Sunlight (PC) artwork

Actual Sunlight (PC) review

"A case study in self destruction."

I finished Actual Sunlight several days ago, and have then spent the rest of my available time doing my best to find reasons to put writing this review off. It should be the easiest thing Iíve written this year: as a game, itís only a handful of hours long, completely linear and built off an RPG Maker engine. Nothing about it screams complexity, and I should be able to spit out enough content, then pad it out to meet the ethereal word count we all pretend doesnít really exist without trouble. So, this should be a breeze Ė but it isnít, and a significant part of me doesnít want to explore why.

Thatís because Actual Sunlight is the focused tale of Evan Winter. Evan is an articulate, intelligent person reaching his early thirties who is angry at the world for his myriad failures. He hates his job; he hates his life; he hates dragging himself out of bed just to face another day packed with disappointment. In being witness to the chronicle of Evan, you are a powerless observer, and what you observe is nothing less than the gradual deteriorating of a manís reasons for existing. His journey is filled with bleak absolutes, of bitter internal rampages and contradictory understandings of his festering hypocrisy. He is a white male; he is employed, educated, sheltered and well fed. He says so himself in the first of many essays of his you will find littered around the gameís world.

Actual Sunlight studies three chapters of Evanís life, each seeing him slip further and further into a downward spiral entirely of his own making. Itís easy to dismiss him as a hopeless loser and leave it at that, but the wit and insight he offers into his situation through his writings turn him into an introspective critic of his own destruction. His humorous take on DIY instructions end with an indifferent shrug, suggesting that clothes will just be hung off random furnishings and itís not like thereís going to be any prospective girls coming back to his room to be put off by the mess. An apathetic chat with a therapist reveals that he sets his alarm for 5am every morning then hits the snooze button for two hours because, though he knows he should get up early and exercise to fight off his growing obesity, itís easier to momentarily kid himself into believing that heíll start tomorrow.

The only time Evan ever displays any glimmer of hope, the only time he manages to shrug off his bitterness and spiritual rotting, is when the subject turns towards his own suicide.

This is the tenth time Iíve stopped at this point to reread what I have written because Iím desperate not to accidentally advance a piece of pro-suicide writing, not only for the obvious reasons of not holding that stance, but because thatís not what Actual Sunlight is about. Game maker, Will OíNeill, smashes the fourth wall early on with a personalised note to the player explaining how Evanís situation is unlikely to mirror anyone else out there, pointing out how his loss of hope is due to his reliance on dwindling excuses and the extremity of his delusions and concealed depression. He demands no one look at Evan and see how his path and his solutions should fit into their life. Itís a heartfelt plea and ends on a point-blank demand.

Donít you fucking dare.

This demand is made because Will knows what heís produced. Itís a portrait of perfect self-destruction, of stripping away the self-manufactured illusions man wraps himself in, and forcing Evan to look at the life heís wasted, deconstructing his excuses one by one until thereís nothing left to blame but himself. His carefully rallied attacks on corporate waste and ignorance are not incorrect or initially self-serving. He talks, with no small amount of bile, about middle management training seminars where, for almost a week after an expensive course, everyone is convinced the companyís lack of growth is due to poor communication. For exactly one meeting, everything is plagued with flow charts listing every suggestion forwarded with bullet points of any corresponding brain storms that follow. Long after this is abandoned, despite the unbridled enthusiasm it was initially met with, upper management decide the officeís biggest issue was with all the overpriced management seminars taking place. We all have stories similar to this from various workplaces; we all suffer incompetent bosses that, we tell anyone whoíll listen, have lost sight of the woods through the trees. Sometimes, weíll smile knowingly at likeminded colleagues; sometimes, weíll silently rage at the ineptitude of it all. Evan soundlessly digests it all, and places the dead end that his life has reached squarely on its shoulders.

Again, I pause to reread what I have so far because itís important to note that Iím going to recommend Actual Sunlight as an experience of worth, but the arbitrary X/10 nonsense Iím forced by aggravating convention to record at the end of every review simply has no place here. Evanís heart-wrenching journey towards his own prophesised annulment is all the more painful because of the promise he shows but chooses to ignore, of the unheeded talent obvious to everyone but himself. Of the people around him who clearly care, but he ignores in his crusade against interaction. No one cares about him; heís a fat, worthless lump and the world would be better off without him. Evan repeats this mantra over and over again until it becomes, in his twisted reckoning, the only truth of worth left. Then the only path left for him to follow becomes clear. And everything, in every sense of the word, ends.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 07, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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If you enjoyed this Actual Sunlight review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Germ posted April 07, 2014:

This game sounds like it was a nightmare to review, but you did a really great job.
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EmP posted April 08, 2014:

Thanks. Itís the third game Iíve reviewed this year that contains strong vibes of mental illness so perhaps Iím finding a really unhealthy niche to exist within. Iíll expect some kind of intervention if the next review I write is for something as bleak and depressing.
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jerec posted April 08, 2014:

This sounds a little too much like my life at the moment that I'm morbidly curious to give it a try.
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honestgamer posted April 08, 2014:

I'm thinking that I had probably best avoid it, as the last thing I need is to spend too long exploring such unpleasant themes in my escapism, but the game also sounds ambitious in what it attempts. Great review, Gary!
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EmP posted April 09, 2014:

It does have moments that are very powerful and is very likely to strike a few chords with whoever the player is. It's also set in Canada,which, as we know, is the most miserable place on the planet. I honestly couldn't recommend it more as an experience; I'd love for some of you to pick it up and share their thoughts on the subject. But I'll certainly not blame anyone if they choose not to.
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- posted April 09, 2014:

I bought this on Steam, and I might play it this weekend.

I haven't read the review yet, but will come back once I've experienced the game!
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- posted April 12, 2014:

It's interesting, because I struggled to get into Actual Sunlight. I stopped after 20 minutes because it did very little for me - I think partly because Evan Winter is such a specifically written character. I thought last year's Depression Quest was excellently done, and the main character was nameless and any person with a job, basically. It was easier to imagine being in his shoes and to empathise.

Anyway, I'm happy enough instead reading the review, which is as usual well-written and summarises the themes at play and what to expect.
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EmP posted April 14, 2014:

That's somewhat interesting, because the few people I've spoken to who have tried this game (including myself -- I often talk to myself. I'm great company) were more or less suckered further in by the first half an hour or so by the first wave of Evan's memos. If the game's writing fails to pull you in by the end of the first chapter, then stopping there is probably for the best.

I've seen Depression Quest banded around after the Greenlight drama it's been hit by (twice now, I believe) and plan to give that a go at some point.

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