Rain and darkness mix freely in this powerful detective story set in a dystopian, future London.
Adventure games in the point-and-click genre are something that I personally have a huge soft spot for. From the first outing with Leisure Suit Larry to what many consider the golden age of the genre in the mid and early 90s with Indiana Jones and his quest for Atlantis, to Guybrush Threepwood's quest for Big Whoop, and the time travelling madness of Day of the Tentacle. LucasArts was my temple and both Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert were my childhood gods. A devotion that lives on and is very much alive today. A flame of love that never fades.
Unfortunately, as most of us know, the point-and-click genre didn't fare well when the new millennium came crawling in. The transition to the third dimension simply didn't work and apart from the swan song Grim Fandango, it never felt like the creators of the time knew how to take the genre forward and avoid stagnation. Now, twenty years later, the situation is completely different and the traditional point-and-click adventures have been transformed and reimagined through a subtle embracing and implementation of bits and pieces from other game genres.
It is in this exciting wake that Sunday Gold exists. A game that, like few others, manages to mix and borrow elements from different genres and carve out something of its own that also drips with style. Team17 has taken an entire tub of concepts and ideas and stirred them together into an oddly tasty soup that works surprisingly well. Tried-and-true point-and-click elements are seamlessly blended with turn-based strategy, puzzles and various mini-games that, along with the apt design, contribute to a tasteful unity.
It's a grimy and desolate London that greets you as the adventure begins outside The Jolly Hangman pub. The rain slaps against the cobbles and through the run-down establishment's dingy windows a warm light shines out onto the shiny stones of the pavement. A lonely man, homeless and destitute, sits at the doorstep of the pub in front of his cardboard box home next to an alleyway that has been cordoned off with heavily fortified iron gates.
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The year is 2070 and you are Frank Barber. A modern day Robin Hood trying to justify his criminal activities by stealing from big business and the rich to give to the less fortunate living on the fringes of society. Perhaps most notably, Frank himself. Heavily in debt to people of shady character, he lives day to day, week to week. Constantly in search of new money, enough to allow him to continue his violent life steeped in blood and ill-gotten wealth.
In Sunday Gold, the target is Hogan Industries. A big company with a really rotten reputation and with information worth millions on the black market for anyone who might manage to get their hands on it. Something that is of course easier said than done and together with their friend Sally and new acquaintance Gavin (a former employee of Hogan Industries) they plan a raid on the office building. And so begins an incredibly dirty journey into the darkness that quickly gets its claws into you and makes the hours literally fly by at a frighteningly fast pace.
Frank is the anchor of Sunday Gold, and while he may not be a character you necessarily either identify with or sympathise with, his crusty demeanour is spellbinding, thanks to the rough-hewn, naturally written dialogue and some absolutely phenomenal voice acting. He's one of three characters you'll control over the course of the game, and you'll also be introduced early on in the adventure to computer genius Gavin as well as the manly, cocky Sally, who more often than not allows her knuckles to do her talking.
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It's a colourful trio to say the least, and the three have their own specialties and abilities that complement each other. Frank is the muscle of the party and is an expert at handling both firearms as well as close combat, yet he also has an eye for detail and can be used to break locks and spot details in the environment. Sally is the tank and the healer, with amazing abilities to both cover up, heal and even enhance the others. She's also really rabid with her fists and has no problem dishing out a jaw slap or two if the moment calls for it.
Lastly, there's Gavin. A certified genius who is well versed in computers and electronics. Perfect for hacking into closed systems or terminals to disable everything from locks to surveillance systems. He's the joker of the group, able to deal devastating blows that bring down unwary opponents with various status effects. Gavin also happens to be the gang's mentally weakest link and the one most easily negatively affected by adversity and stress.
Because mental well-being is something that is important to keep track of, at least as much as health points. A mentally unstable character can act on his own. Flee to other rooms and attract unwanted attention or even attack the other members of the group. In other words, something you want to avoid at all costs, and it can definitely be a never-ending scramble at times to maintain a good atmosphere between the three of them during each round and especially during combat.
Clashes with enemies are, of course, an inevitable part of the adventure. But with a bit of clever thinking and smart use of each character's actions during each round, it's possible to minimise the number of confrontations you'll run into. The battles themselves proceed in turn order just like the rest of the game and different actions cost different amounts of action points. Everything from using first aid on wounds to firing a rifle. The focus is solely on actions, and movement or position is not something you need to consider.
Battles are simply very fast and streamlined with plenty of emotional punch. On the zoomed-in battlefield, the comic book-like style becomes even more apparent and all actions are accompanied by crisp animations that enhance the action. It's truly addictive, and the difficulty quickly ramps up to the point where you're forced to dance a delicate waltz between defending and attacking. The battles also serve as a phenomenal break from the rest of the game, which focuses more on problem solving and exploration.
The three characters level up individually and each have their own tree of abilities where you're free to spend experience points on improving already inherited traits or acquiring more and new ones. There's plenty of flexibility and opportunity to shape the three to your own play style. And while you can't totally re-profile Frank, Sally and Gavin, it's still enough to leave a more personal mark on them. Each of the three characters also has a unique trait that acts as a recurring mini-game. Gavin hacks terminals, Frank can pick locks, and Sally moves heavy objects by focusing her energy.
Sunday Gold's main gameplay aside from what has been previously mentioned focuses around pure detective work and problem solving. As well as combat, action points are used to move your three characters around each scene where you're expected to investigate everything from lockers to computers and bloody tracks, or engage in dialogue with more or less friendly characters. Each action costs you points and at the end of each round there's always the risk of enemies appearing, especially if you hang around too long in larger rooms or are careless and make yourself seen by cameras or other surveillance equipment.
Efficient thinking is rewarded, in other words, and there's never any real time pressure to consider when it comes to choosing actions. In addition, many scenes have more than one possible solution or alternate events that in turn can earn you extra experience points. Something that is always extremely desirable. As for the difficulty of the puzzles, they never feel unattainably difficult, just delightfully challenging and each feels like a small victory. Constant micro-kicks of endorphins pushing you forward.
In other words, the variety in Sunday Gold's gameplay is brilliant, offering far more than we've otherwise become accustomed to being served up in a traditional point-and-click adventure. That said, not every aspect of this motley assortment of elements is without its problems. You'll most likely run into situations during your time with Sunday Gold where your preferences will run counter to what the game expects you to do. Some gameplay elements simply work less well than others and can sometimes feel a little forced or even half-baked.
But with its gripping narrative, engaging main characters and wild mix of pulp noir and wonderfully brawler-heavy future dystopia, it's hard not to get choked up with joy at what Team17 has actually managed to achieve here. The mood is often almost overwhelming and you're struck early on by how captivating this pale pulp-noir version of a future London is. It's Disco Elysium scaled up to eleven filled to the brim with adult themes, violence and blood. It's apt, burly and as British as it gets, with hypnotic dialogue throughout.
For me, it's hard not to love Sunday Gold. The fateful, powerful atmosphere that never lets go, accurate design, varied gameplay and just the right amount of role-playing marries perfectly with the on-paper perhaps simple but oh-so-engaging story. The dynamics between the three main characters are phenomenal, the dialogue fantastically well-written and the adult pulp-noir style makes me downright chuckle. It's been a long time since the hours of a game flew by this quickly and Team17 has a regular hit on their hands with Sunday Gold. Buy, play and enjoy.
9 / 10
Incredibly stylish. Well-written dialogue. Colourful characters. Engaging story and thrilling battles.
The mini-games can be frustrating. Lacking support for controllers.