Reviewed on Linux, Macintosh and PC
→ May 21, 2015
The act of housekeeping sounds like a curiously mundane fit for a video game, but in its latest game Sunset, developer Tale of Tales has turned it into a welcome constant in a world of chaos. Sunset is a meditative and unnerving experience, and one I won’t forget quickly.
As Angela, a university graduate from Baltimore, Sunset tasks you with completing dull chores in a single penthouse over a series of days. I found these repetitive – the intricacies of the chores are boiled down to the click of a button – but as I quickly learned, that’s the point. The less I cared about folding clothes, the more I cared about the world around me.
Sunset is set in a fictional South American city at the beginning of the 1970s. There’s a loud revolution going on outside its floor-to-ceiling windows, yet Angela is cocooned in her wealthy trappings, and sirens and gunfire are only ever heard from a distance. Being so removed from the action encourages a sense of isolation and helplessness, echoed in Angela’s own inner monologues.
Angela is a fascinating character to control. Intelligent and beautifully eloquent, she’s an African American housekeeper living in a foreign country in the 70s, which essentially makes her (in her own words) ‘invisible’. Yet she’s also passionately liberal, and as the uprising escalates into violence she finds these passions torn in two. It’s wonderful to be able to inhabit a character with such complexity, and it’s to Tale of Tales’ credit that I felt as morally torn as she did.
Her mysterious employer, a man known as Ortega, becomes a further obsession. As Angela cleans his expansive and sparsely decorated house – we’ve not quite reached the heights of ‘70s kitsch – she slowly develops a relationship with Ortega. Although I never met him during my 4 hour playthrough, notes exchanged and the subtle shift of items – a half-drunk bottle of whiskey next to a single glass, a rumpled bedsheet – cleverly encouraged a sense of intimacy.
But as Angela discovers during her frequent visits to Ortega’s world, he has a murky involvement with the military regime, and it’s here that Sunset offers you some important choices to make. Do you report whose apparent wrongdoings to the rebellion? Or do you leave well enough alone? While these decisions may not alter the conclusion in an obvious way – you are told of repercussions, but you do not see them – I found them weighing on my conscience, which is testament to Tale for Tales’ storytelling technique.
Sunset’s structure doesn’t always gel with this sense of escalating urgency, and I did eventually find constantly having to leave after I’d finished my chores, only to immediately re-enter Ortega’s house, tedious. It also distracted from the ebb and flow of the story; I had to do it so many times that I found myself rushing through the process, and occasionally confused the chronology in my head while doing so.
But otherwise, I appreciated Sunset’s glacial pace. Without the usual distractions of the interactive environment, I was left to muse on the world around me, which gave Sunset a great sense of place. And in such a quiet setting, when stuff did happen – a phone call, for example, or a window breaking – it came as a shock, and more importantly, an intrusion into the oasis. Once again, there’s that feeling of helplessness.