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Sunlight Review: The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Do you enjoy a quiet walk in the woods with only the companion of existential dread to keep you company? Have you ever actively thought about the presence of the skeleton inside your body? Do you like flowers? Then Sunlight is for you.

Sunlight Review

From the makers of The Plan, Among the Sleep and Mosaic comes Sunlight, a short and sweet meditation on reality, perspective and experience whilst you (whatever or whoever that may be) stroll through a sweet and vibrant forest with only one destination. Being a big fan of more narrative-focused titles, I was excited to find out what Krillbite Studio’s latest release offers to players like myself – those who don’t mind sacrificing a little playtime or replayability for a more cohesive experience.

I was also curious to see how well the developers approach the delicate balance of ludic and narrative elements that have proved such an obstacle for similar titles in the past. As it turns out, Sunlight‘s solution is to throw the proverbial scales out the window and double down on its narrative potential. It succeeds.

Sunlight is now available on Steam.

Sunlight Announcement Trailer

STORY – ELEGY SIMULATOR

Sunlight isn’t really what you’d call a story in any conventional sense. It’s more of a narrative experiment or concept, much like Krillbite’s previous release, The Plan, which has you experiencing the short and mundane life of a fly for about eight minutes. This title manages to reach a playtime of about half an hour.

This time, however, you’re hearing and almost experiencing an enigmatic narrator’s thoughts after they are somehow changed during a walk in the forest and a subsequent visit to the doctor’s office. You get the feeling it’s one of those visits to the doctor’s office that everyone dreads. It’s not specific, but it’s bad news.

Simply put, it’s all an extended musing and meditation on the body and all of its inherent implications – namely growth, decay and impermanence. The human body. My body. Your body. Our bodies. The independent and the collective. Wholeness and separateness. It’s hard to pin down but I found it intriguing and fresh nonetheless.

A forest provides images of growth and decay

A forest provides images of growth and decay

I loved how the game picks apart the nuances between the metaphysical and the biological, all in an effort to boil the human physical experience down to a simple and meek vessel that only endures a series of stimuli and sensations – all before that final and inevitable trip to the coast. I found it to be a morbid but altogether worthwhile train of thought.

However, there’s not just one narrator. There’s an inclusive and fantastic cast of narrators of all ages, genders and dialects accompanying you in your introspection, all speaking at once as if one whole. The voices also seem to emanate from the trees themselves, as if they’re neurons firing in the same nervous system or blood cells in the same blood vessels. The forest is alive, just like you.

I think it all works fantastically. It’s a beautiful piece of imagery, made all the sharper by the game’s weighty finish. All sorts of voices comforting you and meditating with you concerning that dreadful and ever abstract burden – the fact that we’re all going to be cashing in at some point.

Collecting flowers as if to lay on a grave - but whose grave?

Collecting flowers as if to lay on a grave – but whose grave?

I found the prose to be exquisitely written and almost poetic at times, but I expect that it might be hard to follow for some. I can imagine some confusion and even frustration with the narrative direction. The only real character is you. You’re not diving into the game; the game is diving into you. So, the heavy subject matter combined with the real grounding effort on the part of the developers may not be the form of escapism you’re after.

Personally, I appreciated Sunlight’s efforts dearly. It had me feeling a little melancholic but intrigued nonetheless and somehow left with a bit of optimism. I found it cathartic. It didn’t seem to matter as much that I couldn’t entirely understand what was being said or really pin down what I was feeling, more than the fact I, myself, was feeling.

GAMEPLAY – FLOWER GATHERER

There isn’t really any gameplay to speak of. It’s what some might call a ‘walking simulator’ at its most basic. You begin in a clearing of a seemingly endless and procedurally generated forest. You may walk in any direction you see fit whilst listening to the words of the narrator.

Occasionally the narrator takes a pause, prompting a series of particularly incandescent flowers to spawn ahead of you. You pick them up, and the narrator continues. Other than that, there’s a charming and poignant bit of interaction during the climax, of which I dare not spoil.

Follow the light!

Follow the light!

As someone who is fine with developers almost entirely disregarding any significant gameplay elements in favour of a more cohesive and curated narrative experience, Krillbite’s latest release left me satisfied, even considering its £3.99 price tag. However, if you’re someone who appreciates some engagement beyond just listening for a short while, perhaps this title isn’t for you. It is very short.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – ACRYLIC EUPHONIOUSNESS

Sunlight’s visuals and audio are just as rich as its ambitious writing. The game’s technical elements really compliment its larger ideas as a whole, totally immersing you in the world and the story.

First, there are the visuals. The developers promise that you’ll feel like you’re walking through a three-dimensional painting, which is just about spot on. It definitely gives off an Expressionism vibe. Every frame of your journey through the forest could make for a good screenshot, showcasing a vibrant and stylised forest environment with some, especially terrific lighting. At least you’ll have a nice view when you’re pondering on the brief nature of our existence.

The narrators do a fantastic job. They manage to remain somehow distinct whilst speaking in the same sea of words. You can make them all out. Lastly, and perhaps most notably, there’s the soundtrack. Krillbite opted for a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Hymn of the Cherubim, a central piece of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The sacred Capella choral work plays an important part in various Eastern Orthodox eucharistic services.

The work’s religious connotations are apt for a title tackling such serious subject matter. The piece is simultaneously haunting but celestial, transcendental and sharp all the same, making for a memorable and brilliantly performed ambiance.

Sunlight was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by Neonhive.

Summary
Whilst very brief and slightly obsolete in its gameplay, Sunlight provides an ambitious and rich narrative experiment, offering keen insight into concepts of impermanence, sensation and mortality.
Good
  • A captivating thematic experiment
  • Entrancing visuals
  • A hauntingly celestial soundtrack
Bad
  • Very short
  • Virtually no gameplay or replayability
8
Great
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