Videogames are a funny thing. They can encompass a wide variety of experiences, from thought-provoking journeys to simple time-wasting fodder. For the longest time, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not they are considered art. The Wikipedia definition of art reads as: ‘Art is a diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), which express the creator's imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’ Video games check off a lot of those boxes but with one crucial difference: they are interactive and require physical input from the viewer in order to function. I feel like this is the main crux of the argument that games can’t be considered art, and to be honest, we know that not all video games are equal. Never in a million years would I call Frogger art, but when talking about a title like Sunlight from Norweigian developer Krillbite Studio, how can I call it anything but a work of art?
Almost as soon as the game starts up, it gets philosophical. A wise-sounding old man poses you a question (I’ll paraphrase to keep it brief): “If your child was born completely blind, how would you describe sunlight to them? By what it does? Or by how it feels on their skin? I think I would play this song for them.” Cue Tchaikovsky’s divine choral masterpiece Hymn of the Cherubim, performed beautifully by Norway’s own Kammerkoret Aurum in the Archbishop’s Palace of Trondheim. This holy work of art will serve as the backdrop to your meditative journey through Sunlight. The rest of the audio work is fantastic. Accompanying you throughout your forest stroll is a myriad of voices, speaking in harmony over one another. It sounds weird to describe it, but basically, one voice will fade while another grows stronger. Sometimes they’ll speak in unison. It’s an ethereal effect that works well thanks to the excellent acting of the diverse group of voice actors. The use of 3D audio allows you to precisely hear which direction each voice is coming from, as one will grow louder than the other and fade in and out as you move about the woods.
Even graphically, Sunlight is a literal piece of art. The game description is not shy about telling you how it is inspired by expressionist painters like Edvard Munch, but to me, the coolest thing is how the game was hand-painted using Quill, a VR tool. The end result feels like you’re moving through a real painting. Colors bleed onto the screen like paint on a canvas, then bloom and coalesce into shape as you get closer as if an unseen artist was in the process of defining them. I feel that a game like this would have been Bob Ross’s wet dream! At first, I was having some issues with screen tearing but after messing around with the V-Sync option for a few seconds, the rest of the game ran flawlessly. Between the audio and visuals, Sunlight makes for quite the immersive experience, but I feel that headphones are a necessity.
In terms of pure gameplay, there ain’t much going on. The gist of it is that you will spend about 30 minutes (Sunlight’s total runtime) walking through the woods and collecting flowers while enjoying the peaceful visuals and excellent narration. As you stroll about, the narrators will tell you the story of a person who fell very ill and began to change their perspective on life and how they view other people. The contents are highly philosophical and debatable, so whatever meaning you take from it could be quite different from mine. After a few blurbs, the forest will darken and certain flowers will light up in the distance. Picking up a flower will progress the narrative. Eventually, the voices will disappear and the blood-red rays of sunset filter through the trees as you move towards a distant clearing. As you breach the clearing, sunset passes into its final resting place and the darkness settles in. The music fades. Only a cold, whispering breeze remains as you survey the barren field of dirt, rock, and felled trees: their broken stumps dotting the horizon like so many gravestones. You approach a stump, lay your gathered flower bouquet across it, then enter your message into the system for display. Surely, the flowers will lose their beauty and color as they wither and die; it’s only a matter of time before the stump rots away to nothing, removing all traces of your message. But for now? It’s proof. Proof that in all of time, in all of space, you were here in this exact location. Proof that you lived. That you mattered.
The message is clear: life is but a fleeting dream and nothing lasts forever.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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