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Complete Review & Description

Sunset, developed by Tale of Tales, has set fire to the flames of the gaming media recently. The game has only sold 4000 copies since its release, causing the developers to go up in arms against the industry. They’ve announced their retirement from game making with lovely tweets like “I’m so free. Look at me. I can say F*** GAMES! F*** GAMERS! F*** THE GAME INDUSTRY! DIE! DIE!DIE! And rot in hell!”.
Hmm. Not really the best PR for a failing game. Or maybe it is. I’m sure more than a few people have picked Sunset up after the storm of coverage this tantrum caused. I think we can all understand feeling frustrated when something you make fails to do well, but maybe it’s best to think about what you say before putting it out into the world. Before I step up into the saddle of my high horse and preach about ethics on the internet, it’s probably best I discuss the actual game. Is there a reason it failed to sell?

Sunset can quite easily be placed into the category that Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Dear Esther are in. Often derisively named “Walking simulators”, these types of games usually have minimal interaction but are backed up by snappy visuals and intriguing story elements. Unfortunately, Sunset fails to have either.
You play from the perspective of Angela Burnes, a black American woman, who must perform housekeeping duties for the wealthy Gabriel Ortega. She’s a pretty rad character really. She’s got a bit of an afro, she rocks the bell-bottoms and she’s a big softie at heart. You’re tasked with monotonous busywork like mopping and making beds. It’s even more boring in the game than it would be in real life though. Each day you enter the apartment and you have a list of one or two things to do. You find that spot, perhaps the bedroom or the office, and you click on the corresponding item. Find the mop bucket, click it, watch a small fade to black with Angela singing, and move on to the next spot. As far as literal gameplay is concerned, that’s all you do.

Some might make the argument that the tedious tasks help put you in Angela’s shoes as it’s all about setting a time and place. I totally get that logic, and I think that can work really well. Papers, Please is an excellent example of this with its quirky music and depressing art style. The struggle of connecting passport to person added up to something more than the sum of its parts. Sunset doesn’t to live up to that. It really is just incredibly boring. Some days you don’t even have tasks attributed to you. Ortega, your mysterious boss, literally tells you “Hey, just take a day off”. There’s also a week where all you need to do is click on the table to leave mail there. Not. Fun. I’m pretty sure not one of the tasks are obligatory either. You can skip day to day without doing anything and the sun continues to set.
You’re tasked with monotonous busywork like mopping and making beds. It’s even more boring in the game than it would be in real life though.
Now admittedly there is a little more going on. Angela loves to spout her expositional soliloquy at the start of every day. Sometimes you’re let into her mind and it can be provoking thinking about a black woman in the middle of a rebellion in alternate South America (Sunset takes place in Archura, a made-up latin country). Often though, the dialogue is ham-fisted and high-school emo-esque: “Demons are gathering at the window and the angels are nowhere to be found”. I found myself rolling my eyes a few times throughout Sunset’s short 3-4 hour playthrough.
One thing I do love about this game is the setting. 1972 in a swanky apartment really has some chops. It’s not a location or time explored much in gaming, and Tale of Tales do a visually engaging job of depicting the era. You are, however, stuck in the apartment for the entire game. Movement of whiskey bottles or new furniture helps to change up the atmosphere, but you are still stuck in the same rooms. Occasionally small aspects of Ortega’s personality are shown through records or books left lying around, but it feels like a missed opportunity. You never meet Ortega, which is fine, but more could have been done to delve deeper into the relationship of these two vastly different characters.

The story takes a couple twists and turns. One or two of these moments are presented in a cool “blink and you’ll miss it” way, but I wish there was more depth to them. I also appreciated the vibe of loneliness you experience. I wanted more though. You’re never given a real reason to care about any of the characters either. I felt no emotional connection with anyone as the writing just doesn’t hold up under any kind of pressure. If The Last of Us can make me cry in 15 minutes, I think a game based on emotional resonance and atmosphere should make me feel something more than boredom and slight loneliness over four hours.
I do get where Tale of Tales are coming from. You spend a lot of time and effort making something and you want to see your baby grow strong. I just don’t think it’s fair to turn around and blame gamers for not buying your “not-game” when it’s just not that evocative or provocative. Sure, games can be art. They can make you tear up, giggle, and pine longingly. Even big budget games like The Witcher 3 can invoke some pretty subtle responses. I just don’t think Sunset reaches those goals. It’s held down by lacklustre writing, terribly boring gameplay, and even a pretty shoddy technical performance. Maybe there’s a reason Sunset has shut the blinds



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