What is it? A curious mix of JRPG with point and click adventure in a very Deathloop-esque '70s near future
Expect to pay: $22/£18
Release date: October 13
Publisher: Team 17
Reviewed on: Intel i5 12600K, Nvidia RTX 3070, 32GB RAM
Link: Steam page
The trend in newer RPGs (I'm thinking Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin 2) is to bring you back to full health between fights so that you can focus on the tactical minutia of each battle. Sunday Gold will have none of that. Its three chapter-heists are a war of attrition. You'll manage party members' health, stress, action points, and consumables, solve classic point and click adventure item gathering puzzles, and battle corporate security without any real breaks. It's like someone jammed an old school, hardcore RPG into a Sierra adventure. While the battles themselves are just ok, the puzzle-solving benefits from the constraints and added intensity of managing dwindling resources.
The story is very Final Fantasy 7: You've got the corporate overlord and his secret labs gutting an over-industrialized city, the rag-tag group of freedom fighters—complete with disaffected loner and bruiser lady with a heart of gold—and a secret base to return to under a dive bar. It's red meat, classic videogame stuff in a neo-'70s sci-fi setting.
I'm into the comic book art, but it's that ruthless game of attrition that really makes Sunday Gold exciting. Your characters use the same pool of action points (AP) in exploration mode and in combat. Ending a turn of exploration triggers a chance for a random encounter. That means it's possible to get into a loop where you finish a combat encounter with no AP left, end your exploration turn early to refresh those points, and instantly trigger another random encounter.
Those Who Fight
The JRPG-style battles are otherwise typical: There's a rock paper scissors resistance system, enemy armor that you have to deplete and time your best attacks against, and status effects like "bleed" (damage over time) and "fractured" (slower AP regen) for you and your opponents. The persistence of health and AP between fights and exploration adds an element of long term strategizing to each battle that elevates the whole. I found that timing combat decisions such that I finished with max health and AP for the next exploration phase won out over finishing fights as quickly as possible. Pyrrhic victories are a no-go—finishing a battle with low health or AP would royally screw me over for the subsequent exploration turn.
Sunday Gold's addition of scarcity and stress to classic adventure gameplay is refreshing in the current field. It's innovative in a similar vein to fellow 2022 adventure/RPG, Citizen Sleeper, which tasked you with making the most of daily dice rolls to live your best life on a space station. These two games present an alternate path to the way PC Gamer's perennial favorite, Disco Elysium, blended the genres of RPG and adventure. In contrast to Disco Elysium's embrace of build crafting and skill checks, Sunday Gold and Citizen Sleeper are all about thinking on your feet and managing those scarce resources effectively.
The result is something really special: hardcore RPG resource management like you'd find in Baldur's Gate or a single digit Final Fantasy, but in a point-and-click adventure. I couldn't just click everywhere and try every action prompt at my disposal until something new happened like I did in the Monkey Island games when I was a kid, because my party would run out of action points and get torn up by random encounters. I had to think through the puzzles and weigh each action rather than rely on brute force.
There's a set piece about two-thirds through that exemplifies that tight, harried puzzle solving. Your party gets trapped in a classic Star Wars trash compactor situation and you have to find four keys hidden in the room. You get a shared pool of around 25 action points to spend before the trap goes off, wiping your team, but there's more than that many points worth of things to do and problems to figure out. The keys themselves are perched atop high shelves or locked behind an electrified door. The room also contains valuable optional loot like a shotgun for Frank, your DPSer. There's also, however, a smattering of junk actions like shoulder checking the door or fruitlessly shooting at it. On my first attempt I threw everything at it and failed. Chastened, I reloaded and really thought my way through the puzzle.
Sunday Gold really trolled my gamer instincts when I was searching a dead body for an ID card early in the game. My greedy impulse was to pillage every pocket for health potions, but feeling up a corpse understandably drained my character's morale meter (going too low introduces deliberate interface glitches and a strict time limit for combat decision making). Also, it turned out this brutally assassinated corporate stooge didn't have any small keys, amulets of natural armor, or enchanted short swords to make that morale hit worthwhile. Once I'd found the plot-critical keycard, I should've ignored those completionist instincts and gone on my way. Sunday Gold punked me, dangling a carrot and then swatting my hand as I reached for it, and you know what? I deserved it.
Sunday Gold does feature a bit of that old Sierra moon logic for some of its puzzles, to its detriment. There's that adventure game staple of machinery having a missing valve that you have to collect from elsewhere before screwing it in to use it for a valve-y purpose—seriously, who keeps these things anywhere other than where they screw in? It's not always signposted well when a puzzle is limited to one room and when you might have to backtrack to gather necessary components, leaving a few set pieces that sent me clicking around a series of rooms until something, well, clicked—just the kind of behavior Sunday Gold is at its best when it discourages through its AP system.
That occasional muddiness left me thinking the lone progress-blocking glitch I encountered was actually my own inability to solve a puzzle. This obtuse sequence involving lasers and a coolant tank sent me to point-and-click adventure ironic hell: I'd done everything right and exhausted all my options, but the last piece of the puzzle glitched. My character would give an "I can't do that right now" bark when I tried to shoot the dang thing as required. I assumed I was missing some doodad or boobah to complete the puzzle and the LucasArts gods were unhappy with me, but after clicking on everything in the room five times I reloaded a save and discovered it had simply bugged out.
Sunday Gold's expressive, impressionistic character design and '70s "conversation pit future" are what really drew me to it initially. The style is somewhat wasted on the game's first two acts, corporate office building and a catalog-direct Umbrella corp secret lab, but your dive bar home base and the final act's Knives Out novelty mansion leverage the setting better. I think there was a lot of juice left in that orange.
Sunday Gold's writing averages to an almost perfect net neutral for me. There are some great bits throughout the game, such as the gruesomely over-the-top evil corporate motivational posters scattered throughout the office chapter, and the world building is cheeky and fun. The game takes place in an extravagantly cruel future London obsessed with zombie dog races and owned by a "visionary" billionaire who looks like a '70s Hollywood producer. The dialogue, however, is perfectly room temperature. Smug con man Frank, activist bruiser Sally, and high-strung anarchist hacker Gavin are fantastic in profile, compelling archetypes with memorable visual design, but they communicate in either bland bants or straight information dumps. The cool visual style can only carry so much.
Storytelling aside, Sunday Gold is a successful proof-of-concept, effectively taping two genres together to make something new and, in some ways, better. It doesn't have the emotional or philosophical heft of a Citizen Sleeper or a Disco Elysium, but it has what really counts: tactical, menu-based combat.