Life does not get much bleaker than the one of Evan Winters. Evan, a 28 year old professional residing in Toronto, is on the verge of suicide and you are there every step of the way in the darkest period of his life. Actual Sunlight is not for younger audiences nor for the faint of heart. This is not a feel good story in any way. However, this is not say that you should stay away from this game. This game is one of those rare games that you come across that may in fact change your perspective on life. When was the last time you played a game that was solely based on depression and suicide?
Actual Sunlight is more of a visual novel than a game. The foundation of Actual Sunlight is not it's 2D graphics, not it's limited gameplay, but it's deep, dark story about a man who is slowly self destructing. When I say deep and dark, I mean deep and dark. Nonetheless, even though Evan Winters is a fictional character, depression is real and is felt by many people. If you have fought with depression at one point or another in your life, as I have, you will find this game may hit very close to home.
Evan's life story is told through a series of text windows by interacting with objects and people. You go through his life, day by day, trying to piece together how it spiraled into this empty, wretched pit. Each interactive object or individual prompts a text or dialogue displaying current conversations, past experiences, current thoughts, stories and an inner look at Evan's dark imagination. From the beginning you will know where this game wants to take you with lines such as: “Why Kill Yourself Today When You Could Masturbate Tomorrow?"
This game wants you to do and feel things in a specific order and implements that premise by occasionally making you complete arbitrary tasks to get to the next text. This might put some people off, but I assure you that the writing in this game is superb, poetic even. I had initial doubts, but those soon subsided after becoming deeper and deeper embroiled in Evan's inner battles. We find that he is so caught up in his depression, that it has become a black hole in which his whole life has been engulfed in. His story touches on heartbreak, anxiety, existentialism and his own personal hypocrisy among other themes. In some moments you might find yourself empathizing with him, where other moments make him downright unlikeable. He begrudges others for their successes, but does not hold his own failures up to that same dark light. He fails at recognizing that no matter how unjust society feels, there are people more worse off than him. His flawed philosophical view on the unjustness is one of the driving forces behind his depression. Every step he takes, every breath he breathes is full of sorrow, grief and negativity.
Now, I will not go too much further into detail because this is one of those stories that you need to experience yourself. The controls and graphics may be simplistic, the game may be short(around 60-90 minutes), but the writing in this game is deep, thought provoking and emotional. In some instances, it was actually nice to get an unfiltered inner perspective on his cold, bitter mind because those thoughts seem almost taboo in our society. As I said before, this game is not for everyone and you will come away from this game feeling depressed and sad, but the experience in itself is worth it. I can't remember a game in recent history that evoked such an emotional response from me and that is what sets it apart from others.