Review: The Sun at Night
The bigger your game is, the more support you have to provide players in approaching it. Tiny hour-long games don’t need complex mapping systems or journals, but a title that stretches across a dozen hours is going to need those features so players don’t get lost in it. I bring this up because after two hours in The Sun At Night, I have no idea what I’m doing. I think I can find my way back to the plot, and I would like to because it’s entertainingly bizarre, but it’s going to take some effort and not everyone is going to be willing to do the same.
Where other games give little nods to alt-history, The Sun At Night is built entirely around it. The Soviet Union has conquered the world and is perched precariously atop the global power structure. A few scattered bands of rebels exist to thwart their will, and into one of them appears Laika, a talking dog from space wearing powered armor. Not one to look a gift cyberpooch in the mouth, the resistance enlists her to strike back at the Soviets and restore freedom to the world.
Playing The Sun At Night is just as insane as it sounds. The plot unfolds across a wealth of sprawling, open levels comprised of dozens if not hundreds of interconnected halls and rooms each. Laika can charge through these at a breakneck pace, speeding past foes and hazards with her shield or gunning them down with her unlockable arsenal of weapons. Locating nano-batteries also lets her upgrade her systems to do more damage in more ways, avoid damage through shields or special skills, or run even faster, wall-jump, and hover. Then there are terminals to hack, secret codes to uncover, and multi-part events to turn up if you can find them.
Providing you guidance in the gargantuan levels are colorful NPCs who are more than happy to share their aims and opinions with you. The writing here is quite a few notches above most game text, with plenty of flavor and depth worked into each character, no matter how minor. This even extends to the terminals and notes you find which do an excellent job of fleshing out the world through simple diagnostics or reminders. Many of your interactions and discoveries will give you quests that are tracked on your map and advance the branches of the story, unlock new abilites, or provide other bonuses worth chasing.
I say “tracked on the map” but honestly that doesn’t mean a whole lot here. The Sun At Night has incredibly complicated levels of intersecting hallways, multiple floors, and regional connections, and it’s all displayed in a 3D grid of colored planes that is intensely difficult to parse. The only things marked on the map are doors, save points, and objectives so using it to navigate is unnecessarily tough unless you’re checking it every time you approach a door. It doesn’t help that most rooms are nearly featureless as well, with whole regions like the prison and missile silos having shared backgrounds between all the rooms. Finding your way to your objectives is going to be a challenge, and that’s to say nothing of the quests with hidden objectives.
If you’re going to sit down with this title, you’re going to have to play it as long and as frequently as possible or you’re going to get lost in a hurry. The levels require so much memorization to navigate that putting it down for more than a day or two is going to leave you confused as hell. That goes double for the quests, as your log only records the most basic directive for each. One quest I was on required three different 4-digit codes that I found and didn’t think to write down, and the next day when I found the consoles for them I had forgotten what they were AND where to find them again. Some of the quests I’m on now I don’t remember the context or the guidance for at all, because while the writing is good there is a LOT of it and the key information doesn’t really stand out in any way.
The Sun At Night is a game of impressive scope that doesn’t include all the polish necessary to make it work. There’s still a fascinating world and tons of secrets to find in its massive levels but you need to devote yourself to it fully to really enjoy, and it wouldn’t hurt to keep a notebook handy either. The graphics are simple but get the job done and I literally can’t remember anything about the sound design even though I just played it an hour ago so don’t expect anything remarkable from the aesthetics, either. What it lacks in player friendliness it definitely has in depth, so players looking for something to go hard on will be well-rewarded here.