"Oh, come on!" is a phrase you hear a lot in Sunday Gold. It's often uttered by your knuckle-dusting healer Sally, and is invariably followed up by, "You havin' a laugh, mate?" and "Facking hell!" - partly because Sally is from Laaaandan and is thus obligated to speak lik' tha', innit (because how else would you know this is a game set in Laaaandan), but also because the thugs, security guards and cybernetic dogs she's often fighting in this seedy tale of corporate dystopia are some of the most frustrating enemies known to video games. The type who are seemingly resistant to every single weapon type in your arsenal, or who invariably have big, scripted healing sequences just when you're about to nail 'em.
It's a phrase I often found myself echoing while playing Sunday Gold for review, too, both during its tedious, war of attrition-style turn-based battles, and while trying to figure out some of its more obtuse puzzles. BKOM Studios have tried to fuse one too many things together in Sunday Gold, and the result is a messy, somewhat artificial blend of Deathloop's style, Invisible Inc's tension and a more action-led focus on the cerebral role-playing of Disco Elysium. There's still much to admire in its stylish visuals and atmospheric music, but I also haven't been this cross playing a video game since Felix The Reaper, and that's saying something.
I think the crux of my frustration stems from Sunday Gold trying to impose its turn-based battling structure on its point and click puzzle sections. Mates and fellow crims Sally, Frank and Gavin are out trying to expose the seedy corporate dealings of Barry Hogan in Sunday Gold, a self-made billionaire whose company may or may not be doing lots of secret Bad Stuff TM in highly suspect underground laboratories on the down low, and whose cybernetic death dog, the titular Sunday Gold, is also raking in mountains of cash on the side because that's what apparently passes for entertainment in 2070 Laaaandan. They do this by exploring the offices, warehouses and even Hogan's tooled up country pile in classic point and click fashion, solving puzzles and uncovering evidence to expose Hogan's various wrong-doings.
Your party of three all have their own number of action points with which to solve said puzzles, too. Many actions such as searching drawers, swiping security cards playing answering machine messages can be performed by anyone, but there are some tasks where you'll need to select specific characters. Frank is a dab hand at picking locks, for example, resulting in several, very easy Bethesda-style lockpick mini-games, while Gavin flexes his hacking skills by solving Wordle-style number puzzles. Sally's extra brawn, on the other hand, lets her shove, carry or rip objects apart once she's performed some focused breathing exercises. Her minigames involve frantically clicking left and right with your mouse to guide a quivering needle to certain parts of her 'breathing arc', and while they were definitely the mini-game I liked least of the three, I never actually failed any of them outright thanks to the (probably too) generous number of attempts included in each of their respective difficulty modes.
Once those action points are exhausted, however, you'll need to end your turn to replenish them, at which point the security level of your environment steps up a notch, a la Invisible Inc, and you may get pulled into one of its turn-based battles if the supposedly patrolling security forces (which are never visible onscreen) start getting too suspicious. However, whereas Invisible Inc was all about pushing through an office space tile by tile and making calculated decisions on whether to explore certain corridors and risk being discovered, Sunday Gold lets you stroll around its environs as much as you like, robbing it of any tension or time-pressure. There are, admittedly, some fights you'll be automatically pulled into upon entering a room, but these are all scripted moments within the larger story - usually when you're trying to escape and everything's on red alert anyway. The rest of the time, though, nothing will happen unless you physically end your turn, creating the illusion that you've effectively got free run of the place. Nothing you do feels overtly suspicious, either, making it feel even more arbitrary and artificial when fights do eventually break out.
In small doses, these turn-based battles are actually quite enjoyable, for what it's worth. Each character has their own set of specialist abilities and weapon types to play with, for example, and the dynamism of the game's stylish, choppy animation style and comic book-style BANGs and POWs offer a welcome change of pace from its more static puzzle sections. It's not just your health and action points you've got to be mindful of, though – you've also got to manage each character's composure levels, too. If they get too wigged out, for example, they'll start to panic, which is represented in-game by glitches in their menu screens and a time limit on picking their next action. The former is never so pronounced that you can't see what you're selecting, but fail to give them a command in the time limit and they'll effectively act on their own, potentially harming other members of your party.
When you're balancing all this, keeping an eye on the turn order and trying to whittle down enemy defences so you can stagger them for a couple of turns, Sunday Gold can be really quite thrilling. Most battles, though, are just a fraction too long and difficult for their own good, and boss battles in particular are a real drag, often lasting upwards of 30 minutes due to increasingly high armour ratings and enemies looping through the same four attacks they have over and over and over again. Heck, the final boss battle took me three goddamn hours to complete, as there was seemingly no obvious gimmick to exploit, and both stages of it committed the cardinal sin of several full-on scripted healing moments.
It's not just enemy attacks that get repetitive, either. Many of your own party's special attacks also have such high accuracy and power penalties attached to them that they made me less inclined to use them (even after pumping skill points into them to try and improve them), which meant I, too, often relied on the same handful of attacks to chip away at these increasingly enormous health bars. Plus, unless you're really sneaky about it, most battles only leave you with only a handful of action points to play your next 'point and click' turn with, rather than replenishing them fully. Essentially, you're left with whatever number you had at the end of the last fight, which is great if everyone was stocked up when you dealt that final blow, but less so if it ended on a big chunky attack push. And trust me, there is nothing more soul-destroying than finishing a ten-minute battle, only to have to immediately end your turn and go again because you can't do anything in your puzzle turn.
It's just all a bit too much faff, and late stage puzzles are particularly demanding on the old action point front, shredding through your limited pool at breakneck speed. To make matters worse, the final chapter of the game is especially combat-heavy as well, due to the presence of another gang faction trying to storm Hogan's manor. I wouldn't have minded so much if all the extra combat actually meant something to my party's progression here, but when two of my three characters had already hit the game's level cap going into that final act (with the other not far behind), it meant every single battle was effectively pointless. I wasn't earning any more skill points, and all it was doing was getting in the way of the puzzles – of which there were many.
In its defence, the puzzles in Sunday Gold were pretty great, often requiring quite a bit of detective work to solve correctly, either by parsing computer logs or picking up on other environmental clues, such as post-it notes, phone messages, paintings or calendar entries. Some were a little obtuse for my liking, requiring one too many leaps of logic to arrive at the solution, while others involved a bit too much to-ing and fro-ing between different parts of the building as you went about combining different items. On the whole, though, Sunday Gold does a pretty good job of never handing you the answer on a plate, giving your brain as much of a workout as your tactical battling fingers – although a hint system of some kind for those rare moments of complete grey cell failure wouldn't have gone amiss either.
It's just a shame these puzzles face such frequent interruptions from its wearying, drawn out combat system, as I reckon Sunday Gold would be so much more likable if it was just a straight-up point and click adventure. By forcing it through the tactical turn-based grinder, though, its glistening highs just get repeatedly mulched and ground down over time, turning this 12 hour game (or 15, if you count the three hour boss battle tacked on the end of it) into a dull slog. You can play the prologue for free on Steam if you want to see what it's about for yourself, and I'll be interested to see if today's news of another month's delay until October 13th does anything to smooth out its rougher edges. There's a nugget of a good game in here, but in its current state, Sunday Gold really does feel like it's 'aving a laugh at your expense, mate.