I’ve literally reviewed hundreds of video games (and edited countless more), so when I say that I’ve never “played” anything quite like Actual Sunlight you can rest assured that covers a lot of ground. In fact, calling it a game is a somewhat loose interpretation of the medium. You move a character around and interact with objects, but the vast majority of the experience is reading text as you travel down a pre-determined path.
Now then, if the thought of spending most of the game’s short run time (a little over an hour) reading through pages of internal dialogue sounds dull this may not be for you. There are literally no action sequences — not even a QTE — and most of the controlled segments boil down to you to walking around, locating things you can interact with and reading the subsequent chunk of text. You can’t alter the story arc, either. You’re purely along for the ride; and a pretty helpless, depressing ride at that.
Assuming you can get on board with the presentation, Actual Sunlight tells the story of Evan Winter, who lives a very ordinary life. He has a job, commutes to work every day and comes home to a one-bedroom apartment somewhere in Canada. There’s nothing overtly wrong with Evan’s life on the outside, but on the inside he’s filled with depression and self loathing.
This information is presented to us via a series of essays, ostensibly written by Evan himself, and are well done. The style of writing is very clever, and while it doesn’t exactly introduce groundbreaking new topics or delve deeply into the human psyche, there’s a very human and relatable mix of emotions being covered. In some ways, Evan seems to view himself above the rabble, but at the same time thinks he’s unworthy of personal relationships.
You don’t need to be clinically depressed to relate to many of Evan’s thoughts, either, as much of what’s written feels familiar; albeit with the emotional fallout turned up to 11. If you’re a functional adult, odds are you’ve at least had moments where the types of questions and frustrations that define Evan’s very existence have intruded on yours. How can you not? We all worry about these things at one time or another. Most of us, however, are able to work through them.
It’s that sense of camaraderie that makes Evan’s misery and unraveling all the more intense, because we want to help… and we can’t. That makes you wonder if that could’ve been you had certain things not turned out to your benefit along the way. At least that’s what I took away from it. Someone else may have a totally different reaction. And even if you don’t find Evan relatable, the game is so well written that it’s worth your time to play it through.
A smartly written story that should resonate long after the credits roll, Actual Sunlight provides a very interesting look into the world of depression. I’ll spare you the hyperbole of calling it a life-altering experience, but it should at least provide some food for thought.