Sunday Gold – Style over substance

Gold! Always believe in your soul!

Sunday Gold has some neat ideas, but falls down a little in the execution.

Point-and-click adventures were the games back in my youth. Day of the Tentacle, The Dig, and Monkey Island — yes, those are all LucasArts games, surprisingly — ruled the roost and drove a whole slew of copycats. Whilst the genre isn’t dead as such, there aren’t a great deal of puzzle solvers of that ilk. Sunday Gold appears to be trying to emulate that style, but adding in a few of its own mechanics, along with some RPG mechanics and combat. There are some good moves, but I don’t feel they’ve put together a complete puzzle.

Frank is a professional criminal who’s in some serious debt to the London mob of the near future. A criminal though he may be, he sees himself as more of a Robin Hood figure and tends to steal only from those who he perceives as deserving it. He and his partner in crime Sally meet a man named Gavin, a former employee of Hogan Industries, who is into some shady practices involving a national cyborg dog racing league. Gavin seems to have the inside scoop on some of Hogan’s private information that would go for a high price, so they team up to break into Hogan Industries, hack the planet, and pay off those debts. Things obviously don’t go to plan, as before long the team find themselves embroiled in murder and industrial espionage, and the only way to save themselves is to take down Hogan himself.

Lead character Frank is surrounded by interconnected information as he tries to work out what to do next.
Frank comes across as the leader of the group, but tends to be prone to rash decisions. His heart is in the right place though.

The story has a really interesting combination of 70s style art and music, 80s heist movies, and cyberpunk themes around body modification. It’s certainly interesting, and reading all the hidden information reveals all sorts of extra information about Hogan and his associates. The characters are great fun as well. Sally’s tough but calm demeanour comes across in great contrast to Gavin’s skittish, panicky nature. They come across like over-the-top cockney caricatures, and for the most part, are very well written and helped along with entertainingly scenery-chewing voice acting. I never felt like I wanted to skip dialogue to get on with the game due to how damn fun these sections were.

Gameplay is split into combat and exploration. I’ll start with combat as mechanics here tie into the exploration quite heavily. Fighting enemies will have your team members taking on a variety of foes or bosses in turn-based battles. This is like many RPGs of its ilk, with characters taking it in turns to attack, buff/debuff, heal, and such until one group is defeated. An interesting mechanic is you also have action points, and doing moves will burn a set number of these. You can overspend them at the expense of being stunned on your next turn, but if you run out you won’t be able to do anything other than use items or defend. Defending restores a set number of action points as well as blocking damage, so timing things well will allow you to mitigate the damage as well as have you ready for action straight after. Interestingly, if you use defend when an enemy is about to use a charge attack against you, you can lower a stun metre on them, potentially giving you a chance to press the attack. It’s an elegant system that rewards planning and keeping your characters working within their specialisms.

Frank and Sally are sat in a bar discussing events of their previous job. There's a man slumped over at the bar, and a member of bar staff cleaning glasses.
Between chapters, the group return to a local bar to discuss events and plan their next move.

Characters have composure as well as health, and as it decreases they become more vulnerable to attacks and start to panic. This is represented as text on the screen being scrambled, making it harder to read, and you having an increasingly strict time limit to select your actions. The pressure and things being mixed up can lead to mistakes if you aren’t quick and careful, and managing composure with items and abilities becomes key. I liked this system, and found myself stocking up composure items just to keep on top of it and reduce the amount of rushed decisions I’d have to make.

Combat is fun at first, but once you’ve levelled up a bit and spent your points strengthening abilities, you’ll find that you end up just doing the same few attacks over and over. Gavin’s overload to take out robots, Frank’s bleed attack to inflict damage over time, and Sally’s healing are pretty much everything I’d use apart from in extreme circumstances. This led to battles getting a bit tedious as other abilities just weren’t as good so why would I use them? The bosses, in particular, are irritating for this, as you tend to just use those abilities over and over against incredibly spongey foes. The final boss took me over half an hour, not because he was tough, but because it took me forever to whittle his health down.

Between battles, you explore environments and solve puzzles to progress the story. Again, different characters have different abilities, with Sally’s strength being used to move and destroy objects in the environment, whilst Gavin hacks devices, and Frank picks locks. These are all represented by little mini-games that are fun enough and not too difficult or obtrusive. Searching carefully will help you find new weapons and items to help you in battle, as well as help you solve puzzles. 

Frank faces off against two security guards dressed in plain suits in an office containing a grand piano and fireplace.
Combat is very much like turn based RPGs, with you choosing attacks in turn. The timeline at the top helps you plan ahead somewhat.

If you’ve ever played point-and-click puzzle games before, you’ll know some of the outlandish leaps of logic you’ll have to make, and it’s fun to do so. Having to use a whisky thief (or copper dog if you’re in the know) to collect a dangerous chemical to solve a subsequent puzzle feels nice when you work it all out, but it can be a touch tricky to make those connections. You tend not to end up with the old “try everything on everything” annoyance thanks to the game only letting you try items in the correct place, but you will find yourself clicking on everything to find the next prompt. It’s no less enjoyable when you piece it all together though.

What is irritating though, is how the action point system works here. You have action points when exploring too, and doing things depletes them, often very quickly. If you run out you have to end your turn which increases the alert level of the area, and the higher the alert level, the more likely you are to encounter a random battle. This is all well and good, but battles and exploration share the action points, so if you end a battle with no action points, you’ll still have none when you go back to exploring. This is really irritating, and led to me artificially extending battles so that I’d have more action points when returning to the field. It also feels like it punishes exploring. Searching more areas uses more action points, leading to more battles. Because health, items, and action points all carry over, more battles are rarely a good thing beyond farming for experience points, which are rewarded in very low amounts for random battles. 

I love the idea of action points when exploring, and they were used really well in certain puzzles, such as needing to escape an area within a certain number of actions. But I really didn’t like how they tied into battles and how exploration felt like it was penalised. A way around this would be to make plot critical actions cost little-to-no points, but additional exploration to cost significantly more. It’s a shame, as this element made me feel like the final stretch of the game was a bit of a slog.

Three comic panels show Frank about to step into a jail cell, with Sally and Gavin asking if he's ready.
Cutscenes tend to be shown in comic panels that really work with the game’s aesthetic.

What I have no complaints about though, is the art style. Sunday Gold looks really good. The graphics aren’t earth-shatteringly good as such, but the style carries it so well. It’s like a cel-shaded comic book, with bright colours and movements looking like single frames. Attacks in particular look great with several rapidly cutting frames culminating in a bloody strike. I have no complaints beyond petty things like minor clipping issues. The sounds help with those vicious strikes too, being beefy shotgun blasts interspersed with deadly blade slashes. Music also plays a solid part in the experience. It’s got this great heist pastiche to it that you might expect from a 70s movie, and those level up stings never got old.

My overall experience of Sunday Gold was enjoyment about seventy percent of the game, mixed with irritation as fights were far too common or much longer than needed. The story was fun, the world was great, and the presentation was excellent. I realise that I’ve gone in quite heavily on those few irritations, but by the end they really were excessively annoying to me. Don’t let that put you off though. Developers BKOM have taken elements from a number of different areas and put them into something you likely won’t have seen before, and that alone is worthy of praise and attention. 

Sunday Gold is available now on PC.

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