Sunset review

Sunset review
Sunset review
Our Verdict:
Shows just enough promise to hold your attention, but is buried under too many problems to be enjoyable.
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Indie Belgian developer Tale of Tales has made a name for itself with artistic projects that seem intent on being non-games. The latest endeavor by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn is another such creation, although the crowdfunded Sunset is distinctly more game-like than any of their previous efforts. Its premise is certainly unique, and in general it’s fairly well made, but make no mistake: it is very much a niche game that won’t appeal to everyone, even those who generally like choice-based storytelling.

The basic setup of Sunset is intriguing: you play as Angela, a black woman from Baltimore with a college degree who’s working as a maid in the South American country of Anchuria for the wealthy bachelor Gabriel Ortega in the 1970s. Once a week, for an hour at sunset, Angela goes to Gabriel’s penthouse to clean up. If you think that an hour a week isn’t enough to clean an entire swanky apartment, well, you’re right. However, the main story centers on Angela and Gabriel’s interactions as civil war breaks out in Anchuria when the government is usurped by a dictator.

The specific story details revolve around the player’s choices. Everything you do in the apartment can be done in one of two ways, either a “warm” way or a “cool” way. These interactions determine the relationship between Angela and Gabriel in a very pre-determined way, regardless of whether or not it makes rational sense—like polishing the silverware with her breath would increase the closeness between them. As the war continues, Angela is also able to subtly affect the course of the war by both giving and withholding information from Gabriel and her brother, who is a rebel fighting for the freedom of Anchuria.

It’s an interesting concept, but if you are looking for dynamic character interaction and snappy dialogue, you won’t find them here. Other than a phone call from Gabriel, the entirety of the game is narrated by Angela’s monologues, as she has no direct interaction with anyone. Gabriel is never seen, despite the fact that his apartment represents the lone setting for the game. His home is interesting enough at first, with a multitude of spacious rooms to explore and all kinds of nooks and crannies to poke your nose into, but after an hour or two of traipsing tediously around the same rooms it becomes almost claustrophobic and you just want to go somewhere else. It is impressive how much you learn about Gabriel just by looking around and interacting with him through a series of one- or two-line post-it notes he leaves around, but in the end it’s not a substitute for real face-to-face interaction or even telephone conversations.

It also isn’t a substitute for objective knowledge about the war, as everything is colored through Angela’s perspective. Given that her brother is a rebel fighter, it’s not hard to see which side of the war she comes down on, and it becomes frustrating for anyone trying to figure out the real story behind it all. She claims the current regime replaced an “egalitarian government,” but was it truly egalitarian or is that just a polite way of saying “Communist”? By the end of the game you still don’t really know, as all of your knowledge comes from Angela, with not so much as a newspaper to give you anyone else’s perspective on the matter.

The burgeoning love story between Angela and Gabriel (should you choose to go that direction) didn’t impress me, and I have to admit that the only reason I chose that story route was because there were a greater number of Steam achievements to be gained by it. The slightly creepy overtones of the whole thing majorly put me off—never speaking to the person you’re supposedly falling in love with? Finding out more about this guy by snooping through his things? He’s clearly investigated Angela as well, which makes sense considering he’s a very powerful political player and would need a maid he could trust. However, the fact that this becomes obvious as he tries to flirt with her is a little off-putting.

Some of the things the game considers “warm” for their relationship are illogical, and would be more likely to get a maid fired from her job than endear her to her boss, such as arranging requested books by cover color rather than by title or author’s name, or hiding a newspaper so he won’t see the distressing headlines. Additionally, South America must have had a sudden solar energy windfall and abundance of drinking water, considering that the game’s optimal way to leave the apartment filled with warm gestures is with every single freaking light on and the water in all the sinks and baths running.

The art of Sunset is intentionally stylish but nothing innovative; it’s all basic, blocky 3D settings. The apartment is never seen in anything but an orange and purple hue, which evokes the appropriate hour of the day and gives off a very ‘70s-style vibe in an interesting and appropriate way, but like the apartment itself, the palette gets old after a few hours of playing and goes from feeling lovely and warm to an annoyingly unnecessary filter. There’s not a whole lot of detail in the apartment, though small things do change from week to week to prevent it from feeling too static. There are also a few small glitches, such as the ability to walk through table corners or see straight through plants I shouldn’t have been able to, though these are relatively minor.

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