The big break is always around the corner. You go in one last time, you make your final run, you score big, you break even. Whether it's a video game or real life, these are the lies we tell ourselves to mitigate the crushing loss and disappointment of our poor decisions—the next big bet is going to solve everything.
In Sunday Gold, Frank has convinced himself that the big break is right around the bend. Living in a rapidly disintegrating brutalist future London, Frank is just one of many down on their luck and ruined by the oppression of corporate oligarchies, out-of-control rent prices, and violent inflation. It's a city foreign and familiar, that may have once been a bustling haven but is now a dystopian crush of rain, blood, and bodies. Frank only has to be thrown out on his ass one more time to face the truth: things are not going to get better. And that's when opportunity strikes.
The Haves and the Have Nots
Sunday Gold gathers Frank, his partner Sally, and unknown ex-corporate geek Gavin together as they seek to succeed in a final heist that strikes at the very heart of one of the city's most nefarious billionaires. As they traverse the business tower of Kenny Hogan and go toe-to-toe with hired guns, villains, and former allies, Frank and company realize that their final job might truly be that. Dangerous, blood-soaked, and grim, the job is not what it seems, and neither are any of the people involved.
Cobbling together RPG elements, turn-based combat, point-and-click adventure puzzles, and visual novel flair, Sunday Gold is a fascinating cocktail of theme and action. It carries the same brackish style as Disco Elysium, and like that magnum opus, Sunday Gold is no stranger to grim settings, foul language, humanist themes, and disheveled characters. While it might carry itself like Blade Runner, there are many inspirations drawn from a wide idea board of cyberpunk, detective noir, and classic heist films.
The gameplay loop itself is fairly addictive—both combat actions and explorative actions are shared by AP, which can only be replenished at the end of a turn. Ending your turn on the map will heighten the chance that enemies find you and a battle may ensue. Ending your turn in battle restores AP and throws up a guard that mitigates damage. The actual turn-based combat is fairly straightforward, with your typical blend of buffs, debuffs, heals, and special attacks.
One wrench in the works is the composure system—characters who suffer too much anxiety from the horrors around them will be more difficult to operate in battle. If a character sees a dead body, or a sudden plot point tests their resolve, composure will dip. When this stat drops too much, characters will suffer in combat, having less time to make selections or being more difficult to control. While composure can be restored with items or abilities, it is something that must always be considered alongside the remaining usable AP.
Characters can be upgraded through a combat sheet reminiscent of standard TTRPG fare, with a blend of both battle and field actions that can mitigate how much AP you spend or how much damage a single special attack might do. Characters also have unique property actions on the field that are resolved via minigames, which are creative diversions from the point-and-click exploration and investigative document poring. This cycle never gets old, and each chapter changes up the narrative enough so the player is always guessing.
A Bit Of Everything
This unique blend of area-based field actions and combat tricks governed by AP is a style I have not personally seen since the GBA title Riviera: The Promised Land. It's a satisfying blend of themes and ideas, and Sunday Gold never overstays its welcome. For those who loved Disco Elysium but were missing the flair of traditional combat or anyone who's itching for a Phoenix Wright entry with a bit more meat on its bones, Sunday Gold is a perfect choice. It's breezy and well-paced, and the gnarly imagery and unbidden language are satisfying against an RPG genre that's increasingly filled with stories and characters that would fit better in a young adult novel. While Frank, Sally, and Gavin are initially held together by the tape of their shared goal, the bond between them grows through bloodshed and sacrifice. There's nothing quite as satisfying as working-class villains becoming reluctant heroes, and the game is ripe with world-building detail that doesn't come across as thick or suffocating.
With its comic book visual flair, intense violence, and gritty story, Sunday Gold at times feels like Sin City: The Video Game. This is a good thing, and will certainly scratch the itch for anyone looking for a weekend RPG without the fluff or filler of endless questing or empty worlds. The balance of watching your AP, maintaining character composure, and looking for the next detailed clue is satisfying on micro and macro levels, and Sunday Gold boasts an art style that feels right at home with its particular cross of genres. Tight, adult, and focused, Sunday Gold dips its toes into multiple puddles and stains its hands with blood in the best possible way.
Sunday Gold releases on Steam on September 13.
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