War is a common theme in video games.  Whether you are storming the beaches of Normandy, calling the shots as a Shogun warlord, or searching a war-torn city in an attempt to find supplies, you can play many different roles in many different wars if you have the notion to do so.  Sunset, the latest effort from the creative minds at Tale of Tales, attempts to shake up the formula and take a new approach to war.  With a slow and pondering pace, Sunset provides the perspective of someone that watches a war take away the people they care about.  There are no weapons, no strategy, but there is something inherently engaging in exploring the choice-based world of Sunset.

Routine is the crux of the game.  Every day at 4PM, Angela Burns arrives at the residence of the affluent Gabriel Ortega to clean his apartment and do whatever chores are necessary.  Players have one in-game hour to complete the assigned tasks – and, if they want, some unassigned ones – before the sun sets and they go home.

Honor

There’s a rhythm that Tale of Tales attempts to establish with the droll humdrum routine of daily life early in the game.  The first time you enter Ortega’s apartment you only have to clean up a few areas, but can also open up the boxes and begin decorating the house.  These tasks are simple, but you can complete them in a “romantic” way, deepening Angela’s relationship with Ortega.  The “romantic” options are always a little more elaborate and take a little more time.  There’s a personal touch to them.  But they ignore Angela’s other characteristic – she’s a burning revolutionary, disgusted with the regime ruling the fictional country and desperate for Ortega to take action.

Ortega is also a revolutionary, though he still believes in peace and diplomacy, which leads to conflict between Angela and himself.  There’s no actual dialogue or interaction between the two as Ortega is always busy at work while Angela cleans his house, but the two communicate through notes and the way Angela goes about her tasks.  The way it plays out is very nuanced and clever, as players must balance Angela’s desire to aid the rebellion – which her brother is a part of – with the desire to see her and Ortega fall for each other.

The one bummer to all of this is it seems that Angela’s internal monologues are not greatly affected by your choices.  Even while I was leaving Ortega love letters and cooking him my favorite meals, Angela’s internal monologue – which begin every day on the elevator ride up to Ortega’s penthouse – spoke of her frustration with the man and how upset she was with him.  While you have the freedom to act however you please, sometimes it feels like Tale of Tales leans on you to make a choice more inline with their writing.

Denial

Aside from clashing with the mood from the game from time to time, the writing is quite good.  Most of it revolves around the perspective of an emotionally charged, headstrong main character who is stuck on the sidelines while the men she cares about get swept up in the revolutionary conflict.  Angela’s thoughts and feelings are rich pieces of poetry, exploring the range of emotions a bystander of war might feel.

Not all of the writing so excellent, however, as some of the notes between her and Ortega are a bit mushy and heavy handed, but it’s not outside of their character to be a little caught up in the moment.  These are two people who are falling in love with each other through a set up that sounds like “You’ve Got Mail” meets “My Fair Lady” set in a revolutionary South America.  I suppose people are bound to get a little mushy in such circumstances.

I liked a lot of what Sunset tries to do narratively, but I loved what it does atmospherically.  Going back to the routine and establishing the day-in-and-day-out mentality of Angela’s life, Tale of Tales subverts this set up by occasionally injecting surreal moments into the gameplay.  It starts subtly, with occasional sounds of gunfire gently breaking the serene quiet of the apartment.  But later in the game, unexpected explosions violently destroy the peace and shake Angela.  The fear of the brutal fighting sometimes pushes her to flee the apartment, other times she seeks Ortega’s home as a refuge from the chaos in the streets.

These moments only pay off after the game painstakingly sets up the premise, lulling you to a false sense of security, even (I feel, intentionally) boredom, only to disturb you with moments of fear and tension.  It all comes together with an ending that left me leaning back in my chair, contemplating it’s destructive conclusion.  This is the true objective of Sunset, it hits and misses in different places, but it will assuredly get you thinking.

Ortega

 

There are some technical faults to find with Sunset.  I got stuck on the geometry and hit a few glitches along the way, but the mechanics and design are well thought out so that none of these issues really shook my experience.  It’s annoying, but not derailing.

Sunset is a slow game; a pondering game.  It draws itself out over a handful of hours, pushing you to think and consider the world of Angela and Ortega, only to then inject the surreal events of war into the mix and leave you disconcerted.  Tale of Tales does a good job pushing you to the same raw and visceral emotions that Angela feels.  It doesn’t always strike home, but when the developers want to grab your attention, they hit their mark.  Sunset is a war game that wanders off the beaten path, not interested in hammering home a point, but more concerned with presenting ideas.  It’s strange and beautiful and imperfect, and it’s definitely worth your time

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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