The Sun at Night, (originally Laika Believes) has had an interesting journey to where it is today. Following one failed kickstarter and a name change before its release, it’s currently on greenlight and available through the humble widget.

The premise is a strange one – managing to sound both like pulp and high-concept sci fi at the same time! You play Laika, a dog who fell to earth in silver armor with an energy shield and blaster, and you’re picked up by a group of revolutionaries fighting the Soviets. I’ll admit, at first glance I suspected this to be another “Oh no, evil commmies, save us America!” style game, but it’s more nuanced than that.

As you play through the opening section (a campsite where you and your allies now live), you come to learn that the revolutionaries are a global mix, with the leader and her children originating in India. This avoids the binary U.S./Russia conflict we see a lot, and the little snippets of other camp members and their political goals make it clear this isn’t as cut-and-dry as it first appears.

The game’s real strength is its narrative, told through various war documents. It’s well worth taking the time to read these journals and notes because everything in the world is so carefully crafted and important. It manages to humanize many of the bad guys you’ll encounter, as well as leave tantalizing suggestions of plots and schemes that you merely touch on.

Unfortunately, this narrative has to hold together a game that’s frustrating to play. It’s entirely 2D – except for the map, which is built up of unmarked 2D planes in the 3D field. This would be fine, except it also requires you to use save points, which are incredibly spaced out. Even this might be okay, except there are doors you can go through to instant death. The combination of these  facts leads to a decent  amount of time figuring out where you’ve been from a save point that is a good distance away all while hoping you can remember which door killed you. There is the ability to hack certain terminals and make them into save points, but the hacking mini game is repetitive, and there are more immediately useful rewards available from it.

The gameplay itself is somewhat bland. Even though the upgrade system should make the game more interesting it never felt necessary. I managed to get through a good chunk of the game without using any weaponry beyond the first blaster. There’s usually little variety in enemies, and utilizing your shield whenever you enter a new space will allow to clear most foes out with ease. Except for the instant deaths. That’s the big problem with The Sun at Night – it’s either very simple or completely cruel. Instead of feeling like a challenge, death feels like a punishment, and with the awkwardness of the map, it’s tempting just to give up.

It’s a shame this is such an obvious flaw, because everything else would be delightful to play in a different context. The artwork is great to look at (though occasionally the background and foreground blend in a confusing way) and the music is fast-paced and exciting. Laika is a surprisingly interesting character, and developer Minicore clearly has some commentary on how humanity would treat such a trusting, helpful creature. For someone like me, who loves a good sci fi story, the narrative was more than enough to keep me hooked, and I will definitely be playing the next installment. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t really care about that side of games though, there’s little here to catch your attention.

Minicore are on to something potentially great here – it seems smart and beyond your usual run-of-the-mill alternative histories where Russia wins – but they may lose out if their flawed game design sticks around.

Review: The Sun at Night
The Sun at Night is a great story, let down by some bad gameplay decisions. If they can fix those flaws, the next parts could be something amazing.
Pros
  • Original, interesting narrative
  • Great use of character
  • Engaging science fiction story
Cons
  • Spaced out save points
  • Bland, repetitive gameplay
  • Poor map design
6Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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About The Author

Contributor

Jenni is studying philosophy and religion, but likes to pretend her two true loves (gaming and science fiction) are totally relevant to that. When she isn't playing games, you can find her making exciting things in museums or hidden in a pile of books. You can find her on twitter @geekessays.