Sunset is a game so realistically depressing that I had to Google to see if the setting of Anchuria was a real place.
Fred asked me to review the Tale-of-Tales game, Sunset. I tried to refuse but he did that friendship guilt thing, “Do it for me, buddy. You don’t even have to post it up.” I tend not to give informative opinions on the narratives of the chocolate folk. After all, the last thing anyone needs is another white person explaining shit – that’s a powder keg of misplaced good will if ever I saw it. Even if my opinions are ten times more valid (read: I’m white) the only thing that accomplishes is an argument with the But Statistics! and shoves the victims out of their own forum.
Still, Fred lent me money once so I’m pretty much in his debt forever. Progress!
Sunset is a game so realistically depressing that I had to Google to see if the setting of Anchuria was a real place. Spell check assures me it’s not. So did the search results. I’m still not entirely certain. You play as Angela Burnes, an African-American lady who majored in engineering now trapped by war in the city of San Bavón. In order to make ends meet you take up a job as a housekeeper, employed by a certain Gabriel Ortega, wealthy bachelor and art aficionado. For one hour before sunset each week, you let yourself into his lofty apartment to perform set tasks and tidy up a bit.
Gameplay is simple. Head into the apartment, do your damn job. Señor Ortega will leave you a list of tasks each week and you can perform these in one of two ways. Warmly, or professionally. Warm interactions will slowly result in the ever-absent Ortega becoming romantically interested in you. This is further established by the little casual notes he leaves scattered around the apartment for you to reply to. Brush him off or respond with a number of increasingly awkward and dramatic replies that may leave you cringing or wondering just how far you can push this guy without getting fired. For a game this would have been shoehorned, for an interactive fiction this… well I guess that means options are unlimited and they can put in anything they want.
Will you be a rebel? Will you be a romantic? Will you play through the entire game without realising you can actually have different results until you read the sales intro?
I think what Sunset really made me think about is the direction where games are heading these days. I know it’s a tired argument that never seems to go away but I think that’s because no one has really found an answer to it yet. I’m certainly not going to do it here. To call Sunset a game is a bit of a misnomer. It’s an interactive fiction that requires you to look for the next paragraph. Sitting in Gabriel’s favourite chair prompts Angela to write in her diary. This is optional, and you may well not even find time to complete your set tasks and take a break when you’re only employed for one hour each week. (Tip: Do it at the end of your tasks, the timer will run out but there’s no such thing as ‘mission failed’ in Sunset.) Doing so, however, will give you an insight into her character, what she’s thinking about, how she’s coping with her situation. It’s worth getting invested into the character because unless you purchased the game purely to simulate housework, there’s dick-all else to do.
The mission statement of the developer company, Tale of Tales, states that their goal is to “create elegant and emotionally rich interactive entertainment”. That may be the most pamphlet thing ever said, but I suppose if they were calling it games I may have a bit of an issue. As it stands, it’s probably time for us to stop thinking of anything that has controllable characters as a game. It’s a book, a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Whether this is anything of an improvement, I’m not entirely sure. Does taking away the ability to really immerse yourself in scenes and characters and settings really warrant the trade-off of kind of immersing yourself in a pre-built navigable map? For authors, is building the set with models preferable to building it with words? And if the prose is optional what’s the point in thinking of it as a kind of book? And if it’s not a kind of book then what the hell is it?
I won’t give away the story, you’ll have to play it for yourself, but it hardly needs to be said that having something written from the point of view of a person of colour was refreshing. Reading about her struggles with racism and prejudice in such a flawlessly natural way was appreciated. It’s not often you find something that discusses these kinds of issues without the use of side-apologies, but then it is a gamvel about classism, so I suppose it’s a given. Either way, it was well done.
That’s the word for it now, by the way. Gamvel.
On the other hand I do think the story is suited to a specific kind of audience – that is, a smarter one than mine. I can’t blame the directors for it, but I found the story a little above me. There were many references to art and culture that I’m not personally familiar with, and I think that resulted in me missing out on experiences that a more culturally educated person may experience. I won’t give my personal opinion on how I feel about that, but then I didn’t have to pay for it out of my own pocket. It’s clearly not for everyone, but if you have any background knowledge or interest in how art reflects civil rights and opinions, then this may be just the thing for you.
And because The People Deserve To Know, despite recently trading my dignity for a new video card, for a game with concept art infinitely better than the graphics actually used in play, it still made my PC cry a little. Absolutely check specs before handing over your cash-cash.
Following their Kickstarter success, you can now purchase Sunset on Steam, or get it directly from the developers. Tale of Tales lists play time as ranging from an hour to six, depending on your play style, but unless you’re prepared to put the effort into searching every corner of the apartment and reading everything you can get your hands on, it would really just leave you playing Depressed Maid Simulator.
Well, whatever works for you.
Steam Store page: http://store.steampowered.com/app/287600//
Tale of Tales store: http://tale-of-tales.com/Sunset/
Tale of Tales Twitter: https://twitter.com/taleoftales