Welcome to I’m Still Talking About… My 2015 end of the year feature where I find fifteen games that defined the indie game scene for me this year.  These aren’t the best games of 2015, they’re not the must-plays, they are the games that have refused to leave my thoughts, the games that got under my skin.  For better or worse, these are the games I’m still talking about.

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Developer Tale of Tales has been through a rough year.  After writing a conflicted goodbye and closing down the studio, it was hard to see a future for the husband and wife team.  But let’s not focus on the future, let’s revisit their eerie and atmospheric title about war and relationships.  While the world watched in horror as Paris suffered a terrorist attack, I couldn’t help but think of this game and how it attempted to get players in the minds of the people who bear witness to these moments.  That’s why I’m still talking about Sunset.

 

Is it really THAT good?

Sunset is an uneven game, especially for one that is trying to capture the humanity of war instead of the blockbuster violence.  While Tale of Tales wants you to get in the headspace of Angela, a woman with a revolutionary brother who is tasked with cleaning the house of a powerful political leader, it leans into a sappy love story without much substance.


As I said in my review, Angela might be the kind of person who would get swept away in a romance that seems tailor made to be a Nicholas Sparks novel.  But it doesn’t make it any more palatable to the audience.  And it doesn’t feel like you have as much control over the narrative as the game would lead you to believe.

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So why are you talking about it?

As Fallout 4 launched to critical acclaim this fall with it’s famous tagline, “War Never Changes,” it felt a little too on the nose.  War in video games doesn’t ever change, and whether it’s simulating the beaches of Normandy or Emergence Day from Gears of War, games have always been obsessed with exploring conflict through the eyes of the soldiers and commanders.

War video games often become a din of machine gun fire, being loud and getting only louder.  Each year we see another game about war try to one up itself with more explosions, more involved action sequences, and bigger “oh shit!” moments.  These games would have you believe that war isn’t about fear or survival, it’s about killing enemies and capturing objectives.

Sunset offers a different take.  I can already see the fans of This War of Mine, fidgeting in their seats, waiting to say, “Yeah, but…”  This War of Mine is a bleak look at how war affects civilians caught in the crossfire of the battle, but Sunset reaches even further.  I recall the great line spoken by Pippen in the film Return of the King: “I don’t want to be in a battle, but being on the edge of one is even worse.”  This line so wonderfully encapsulates what Sunset taps into.  This feeling of violence at your doorstep, threatening to invade your home and take your loved ones.  You wait for the hammerstrike to fall, wait for the bad news, but it never comes.  The torment of the waiting and expectation is arguably even worse than the conflict itself.  Sunset is a game about the hopelessness and helplessness of being these people on the edge of war, waiting for it to consume their lives.

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Okay, that sounds alright.  But what is the real reason I should play this game?

The best thing about Sunset is the realization of day to day life while civil unrest broods beneath your feet.  When I read about history, I always imagine the people whose names we don’t remember.  The butcher whose shop is ransacked during a food riot, the family who hides in the basement while their town is pillaged, or the historian who bravely watches the war play out before their eyes, chronicling for future generations.

Angela is one of these people.  Her life is a quiet one.  Most of Sunset is spent wandering through the penthouse of Gabriel Ortega, unboxing his personal items and putting everything in order.  straightening up his expensive furnishing, and pretending not to read the notes he casually leaves about his political ideals.

In the couple hours it takes to playthrough Sunset, these moments of quiet routine are broken by the surreal images of war through civilians eyes.  When buildings explode and gunfire erupts on the street, your reaction isn’t nearly as cavalier as it would be in other games.  These moments feel out of place and your strike a chord of horror rather than thrill.   Even after the initial shock wears off and you’re collecting pieces of shattered glass from the patio windows which were broken during the explosion,  you still feel a haunting reality to what war really means.

 

So you’d recommend it to anyone?

Sunset is a slow burn.  Like I said, it’s not going to play to your thrill-seeking, shoot-first-ask-questions-later style of action-war fantasies.  It’s subtle and quiet.  Sunset is a game about experiencing and embracing your surroundings.  There’s no winning and there’s no challenge to the game, it is only looking to tell it’s simple (and occasionally overly dramatic) story of woman sitting on the outside of a war, looking in.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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  • Old article diving. I wish Michael Samyn of ToT would’ve really focused his energy into Biento’Lete (I’m butchering the title I am sure) as a kind of ambient VR isolation tank. I wonder how people play Sunset. For me, I could not get any of the control modes to work half functionally, and the swaying effect makes me seasick, and is generally extremely distracting. I wish their company would take accessibility more seriously. Also, Sunset should’ve used the scheme from their test project demo called The Apartment.

    How do you play this game? I can’t get it to work. Last year I developed a technology that makes anti-aliasing obsolete, and it will make the shimmering jagged edges in games go away, without any special image-based effects (FXAA) or multi-sampling (MSAA). The swaying effect in Sunset completely draws out these jagged edges by infusing them with motion, and omnipresence.

    Right now I am working on making COLLADA a real technology, so that hopefully this medium can get itself on the right track. It’s kind of weird because COLLADA is used in open-robotics as well. I need a way for users to manage 3-D art, so we (or just me) can do something with this exciting new video technology.