Sunset, developed by Tale of Tales, is the kind of game that fills a specific niche. This is the Dear Esther and Gone Home category of game, where we get the bare minimum of gameplay needed to push the story forward. Like those other games, Sunset is one where there isn’t much gameplay to be spoken of, but the internet will inevitably speak about the lack of it. It’s games like this that rekindle the kind of arguments such as “are games art?” and “is Sunset a game?”. For the purposes of this review, let’s make things simple; yes and yes.
Sunset stars Angela Burnes, a young American woman who fled the mundane life she led in the States by moving to the fictional communist nation of Anchuria, found in South America. Here, she finds a job as the housekeeper of a wealthy local, Gabriel Ortega, who recently moved into his new apartment in the city of San Bavón. The game is set in 1972, starting from early summer. A new regime has just risen, and it just so happens that Angela’s brother is deeply involved with the resistance.
We arrive in the apartment at 17:00 every day, and have an hour to complete the tasks Mr.Ortega sets out. Usually, these can be completed long before the time is up, and we have a chance to explore the apartment to complete optional tasks and learn more about the world. Player agency is restricted to a binary choice system for all tasks. You can do things “coldly” or “warmly”, and depending on which you usually pick will determine your relationship with Mr.Ortega. The issue with binary systems is that you need to pick one at the start and stick with it, as that’s the only way you’ll see that side of the story. This has been plaguing RPG’s with moral systems for years. You either pick the path of Captain Picard crossed with a Saint or the demonic offspring of Satan’s adulterous relationship with Skeletor. Picking a neutral path will make you miss all the interesting off-shoots of the story that one alignment will net you. In this case, I went with the warm option through the game, which led to some pretty creepy comments from Angela.
At the beginning of the game, we’re usually tasked with unpacking and cleaning, with a new set of trivial busywork set out for us every day. If you play through Sunset doing only the absolute necessary tasks, it will be over soon and you’ll be confused as hell. Sunset caters to those who are interested in the game’s world. Even the tasks Mr.Ortega gives you are optional, as there is no penalty for just ignoring them. From small gestures of attention, like moving a pair of slippers, to dastardly espionage work like decoding Ortega’s secret documents, Sunset offers you with a plethora of things to do each day. Angela also forms a special bond with one particular armchair, which inspires her to write extremely deep and thoughtful entries into her diary whenever she sits down. Based on these musings, Angela most likely studied art and philosophy,
which would explain her job.
This is a game that’s hard to speak about. There’s barely any gameplay, and since it is so reliant on the story, speaking about that is impossible without spoiling anything. Over the course of the game, it turns out that Gabriel, your brother, and the revolution are all connected, and things aren’t what the seem. The game is well written, if a tad pretentious at times. Another somewhat annoying thing is that sometimes the game assumes you do something in a particular way, even if you have the option to do something else. I’ve been picking the warm option all the way through, and one time Angela makes a comment about how she is mad at Ortega for something or other, seconds after writing a lovey-dovey note to him. The game has an interesting enough setting that could be made into a great story of betrayal and intrigue that stands on the merit of strong characters, but instead the plot goes into artsy and philosophical themes of varying depth. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was executed well, but here, it falls flat, and the game feels like it lacks substance.
Graphics wise, it’s pretty, though in the review build, of the four graphical settings, only two seemed to do anything. Minimum makes the game look like minecraft, except worse, and low-high-max were all identical. What did interest me was the 2.5d setting. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn the game into DOOM: Che Guevara edition, all it did was make looking at the screen nauseating. There were some technical issues, like severe framerate drops in the portion of the game set in august, and it crashed several times on one of the July days, but the review build wasn’t the same as the released version.
With the solid writing, it’s clear that the team behind this game have talent, but if they would have gone the way of a character-driven tale of espionage and double-crossing, in-keeping with the clear political message, they would have gotten something unique, interesting and wonderful. However, as things stand, they have something unique, boring, and a tad pretentious, but there are worse ways to spend your time. Bonus points for having Flemish as a language option, though.
Sunset was developed and published by Tale of Tales. It is currently available for PC, Mac and Linux.
A review copy was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.