[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]ale of Tales is one of the few developers out there that I actually care about. Ever since discovering them via 2009’s The Path, I’ve excitedly followed each new game. Of course, when they launched the Kickstarter for Sunset it was immensely challenging to avoid backing. In the end, this first-person title raised $67,636 in July 2014. Less than a year later, they’ve released Sunset into the gaming populace. At times it thrilled me, at other times I was frustrated, but in all it was a captivating experience that overcame its issues.
Sunset takes place in the fictional Latin American country of Anchuria in the 1970s. 20-something Angela Burnes had traveled to the country from the United States to study its socialist structure. However, a military coup occurs, and the country becomes far less welcoming. Now no one is allowed to leave. Despite her college education, all Angela can do now is stay within Anchuria and serve as a housekeeper to a wealthy fellow named Gabriel Ortega who has just moved into an impressive apartment. The game itself runs you on Angela’s schedule. Every day she enters his apartment for one hour before sunset to take care of the household chores Gabriel provides. Because he arrives home after sunset, the two don’t even see each other.
It doesn’t take an hour to wash dishes or hang up a painting, though. So what does Angela do for the rest of her shift in the apartment? It’s up to you in Sunset. With no one there to stop you there’s no reason to avoid looking over every piece of artwork, discarded book, and especially documents marked “confidential” left out in the open. Although you choose what Angela looks at, she is not simply a vessel for the player. She has her own personality which reveals itself when interacting via notes placed around the apartment by Gabriel.
Our employer is rather chatty. He wants to know more about Angela, although to what end isn’t clear at the start. As with chores, players are provided with two options for interactions. Some responses allow her to be curt, others friendly, and sometimes flirtatious. It’s a fine line, especially given that Gabriel’s wealth/power casts him as someone Angela could view as an enemy easily. While he adorns his apartment with beautiful showpieces her own brother, also in Anchuria, lives dangerously with the resistance. And yet, in my playthrough, Gabriel’s utter mystery and love of art drew me in.
But that doesn’t mean you need to follow my path. That’s the exciting thing about Sunset. It invites you into a situation to explore your own feelings about what’s going on. You enact what makes the most sense for Angela – and what is closest to your own true choice. Hopefully by the time it concludes you’ll feel that the choices you made were right. As the game autosaves, there’s no quick way to undo a choice later. Do something, or don’t, and live with the results.
At the start of this review I mentioned there were some issues. These have nothing to do with the gameplay itself, although some may very well find it dull to explore the same apartment day after day. For me, the biggest issue was simply related to performance. It was very tough to get Sunset to run at an acceptable FPS, and it appears this was also an issue for many players on Steam. Sure, the graphics are fabulous, but this is a single apartment we’re talking about here. It shouldn’t push computers to the limits. Here’s hoping patches may eke out a bit better performance in the future.
If that technical matter were removed, Sunset would prove an even greater experience. The beautiful 60s/70s style brings Gabriel’s angular apartment to life better than almost any other digital set out there. Austin Wintory’s musical score seems practically authentic and further cements the game world. The relationship that forms between Angela and her absent employer is intriguing, and worth testing from multiple perspectives. Nearly every facet of Sunset comes together to make this a most intimate “war” video game.