If you know anything about Sunset, the first question you may ask yourself is, whether it is a game or a piece of interactive art. However, the more interesting question is whatever or not it is good.
Set in their ways
Developer Tale of Tales has long flirted with games as an artistic medium. They have offered directionless disembodiment with Fatale, contemplation of existence with Vanitas, and fairy-tale horror in The Path (to my mind their best work). But while these all varied in success as games, they were always interesting, a pattern they continue with Sunset.
You play as Angela Burns, a young black American woman, in 1972. She finds herself trapped in Anchuria, a South American country on the brink of revolution. Taking a job as a cleaner for a politically-outspoken art collector, Gabriel Ortega, her story becomes entwined with that of her employer and the future of the country.
Does that sound game-y? Well, it’s not really, but that is not a criticism. Because while this is a first-person tale of military coups and revolution, it is not Call of Duty, instead it is an intense reflection of events behind the scenes - small acts of heroics and defiance.
Each week you visit the apartment for one hour from five until six in the evening (yup, Sunset), and have to perform a few tasks that are provided for you on a post-it note. You move around the house in first-person, but are only able to interact with specific items. Or not - because you do have freedom of choice. You select not to do things, or do extra tasks to make the house more homely. So, while it plays like a game the usual consequences of failure are removed.
While the range of tasks are mundane, they are always unique - and if you are a gamer you are probably hard wired to try and complete them. One day you may have to find and post a letter, while another you will be checking through Ortega's military documents to copy them for the resistance.
Art of the sun
Each time you perform a task, more of the hour passes, so some days finishing everything on the list could be a challenge, but usually you have time to spare. At first I filled my extra time cleaning and making sure that the calendar set to the right date. But later in the game - when options were more limited - I began to have Angela learn piano and keep a journal so I could learn more about life outside the apartment.
Occasionally you pass a reflective surface and see Angela. Here she will check her hair or watch events outside the apartment. This is an interesting take on Tale of Tales technology. In their third person game, The Path, each character would react differently to the area they were in depending on their interests. Here though, Angela reacts differently depending not only on where, but also when she is seeing herself.
As things change in the world, so too does the apartment. Ortega acquires art, doors are locked, allegiances change, and the war continues, all altering the look and feel of the game. Even time of day alters the apartment, with the fashionable 70’s colors of the apartment becoming changed to vivid reds and maroons as the sun goes down – a beautiful effect.
And it is somewhere in all this that the game lies. Finding each interaction, filling out each journal entry, and deciding what to do and how you feel as the horrors unfold outside. Plus, you must consider your involvement in it all due to your interactions with Ortega and the resistance.
Has the sun set?
Sunset is slow, methodical, and introspective - more radio story or interactive art than game. But, however you define it, it is wonderful. It provides you enough activity to make you feel involved with events in the war-torn Anchuria. With beautiful vocal work that feels like Angela is reading from her diary, this chilling and emotional tale will absorb you if you let it.