A short but gorgeous artistic experience, Sunlight is a relaxing tonic to the real world. The Finger Guns Review.
A quick qualifier to everything I’m about to write – I have Aphantasia. This is basically a condition which means I’m unable to visualise mental imagery, like missing the inner eye. As far as I’m concerned, this has never been detrimental to my life except for in one regard – ‘mindfulness’. It was during a group mindfulness session at work when I first discovered that when almost everyone else closes their eyes, takes a deep breath and imagines floating away or walking on a desert island that they actually saw this in their mind. I don’t.
I think this is an overly personal yet important note to provide because, while I don’t imagine developers Krillbite (Among The Sleep, Mosaic) set out to make the greatest mindfulness game for aphants, that is exactly what they managed to create with Sunlight [STEAM]. In a year as stressful as the last has been, I’ve tried a number of games designed around chill vibes in the hunt for a tonic for the real world. Sunlight is one game I’ve played that has truly transported me away from the craziness and it did so with style.
Sunlight is a half an hour long meditative experience. It has no failure conditions or way to score points. If you scoff at the likes of Dear Esther or Proteus, this won’t be an experience for you. Some people would unfairly call it a “walking simulator” because that’s the genre that it most closely resembles – but it feels more than that.
The game begins as a beam of sunlight shines upon a plant as it sprouts from the ground. This small plant grows from a leafy stick into a tall stalk before being joined by others, eventually forming a tree. All the while, a story is being recanted. The voice that greets you in this game channels the elderly, calming energy of the likes of David Attenborough or Bob Ross.
As the tree forms and grows like strokes of a paint brush leading the trunk ever upwards, the camera pans out to reveal a forest that surrounds you. The visual style of Sunlight is tranquille and dreamlike. Taking inspiration from Edvard Munch’s paintings like ‘Elm Forest In Autumn’ and ‘Forest With Two Figures’, the 3D environment you get to explore in first person has this surreal painterly feeling. The wood, the leaves, grass and foliage carry the brush stroke in their outline with edges that refuse to settle in the wind.
The aged, calming voice emanating from the tree is joined by others – and this is when it hits you. Every tree in this forest has a voice. They’re all telling the same story but each tree has their own distinctive tone. Different accents and ages, pitches and resonances all recanting the singular tale. As you move around the forest, which is perpetually generated as you move through it, you’ll hear new voices. The closer you get to each tree, the clearer their voice becomes. What’s most impressive about this is the way each voice is in lockstep with the rest. This isn’t just many voices telling the same story. This is a choral harmony of voices that follows the same pace and structure, breath for breath. I can’t say I’ve ever felt that tingling sensation people say they experience when listening to ASMR videos but this concert of speech certainly sent shivers up my spine.
That wasn’t the only moment I had shivers either. The forest sometimes reacts to the vocal performances. The team of trees occasionally take a deep breath which sends a breeze through the forest, rustling the leaves and undergrowth. In another instance, the forest takes on a particular hue to match the events of the story. Each and every time this happened, it was visually and audibly impressive.
Every so often, the narrative pauses and the forest changes. The lights dim and lights glow in the distance. At each of these lights is a flower that, once collected, will continue the story. These pauses work 3 fold – they keep the player engaged, keeps them moving and gives them a moment to parse the section of the story that has just been delivered. Those moments of relative quiet as you walk to the next flower can be filled with reflection. It comes off as very smart games design.
As for the story, I don’t want to spoil it, especially the end. I couldn’t even claim to understand it all until the full context is revealed. There’s a philosophical quandary at its core with a quiet pain to the spoken words which hits home as the credits roll. This is certainly a narrative worth experiencing, both because of its message and the way it’s delivered.
All of this is underpinned by the enhancing choral soundtrack headed by Hymn of Cherubim by Tchaikovsky and performed by the Kammerkoret Aurum. I’ve sat and written this review with this particular performance playing in the background and it’s frankly fantastic. It’s a fittingly haunting yet spirited piece that’s married to the visuals and narrative in a truly entrancing way.
If I was to nitpick, and I suppose that’s my job as a critic, it’d be to say that there are a small number of tree voices that are marginally out of step with the rest. This can make some lines of the story hard to comprehend. The most noticeable is that of a child – but honestly, upon hearing it in that moment, it did nothing but make me smile from ear to ear. I simply made my way over to that partially sapling, using the excellent sound proximity system in place in Sunlight to guide me, because it was such a pleasant reading of the story.
In a world that feels constantly chaotic, Sunlight has been an entrancing ray of… well.. sunlight in the past week. Its 30-35 minute run time means it’s easily digestible in a single sitting and has served as a tonic to the stresses of home schooling during a lockdown while simultaneously attempting to work from home. The art style, the music and the vocal performances marry in a calming yet enthralling way. For someone such as myself, who can’t close my eyes, take a deep breath and be magically transported to a far away shore, Krillbite have created something truly rare – a moment of present, tranquil mindfulness to explore. I don’t think my words will ever do that fleeting feeling justice.
A magical, meditative experience that blends a surrealist painterly art style with majestic choral music and an imaginative narrative delivery, Sunlight is quite a special game. It won’t be for everyone but if you’re looking for a 30 minute diversion from the trials and tribulations of modern day life, Sunlight is a fantastic diversion.
Sunlight is launching on PC via Steam on January 14th, 2021.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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