by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
The Art of Wars
Like me, you have probably played a lot of exciting roles in games. Between super soldiers, sports stars, magical badasses and beyond, not much hasn’t been done. I bet you haven’t played the role you are dropped into in Sunset yet, though. See, in this game, you are tasked with the exciting role of... maid... who does chores... and that’s it. Indeed developer Tale of Tales has crafted a full game where you literally don’t do anything except walk around one apartment and do chores for the never-there owner. Most surprisingly, though, is that the game ends up telling a fairly compelling, if not flawed, narrative about love, art, war, and what brings people together.
The War at Home
I suppose it makes sense to start the discussion of Sunset with its story, because its story is, quite simply, the entire game. You start off in a most humble situation: riding an elevator up to the penthouse apartment of a wealthy gentleman you have never met with a piece of paper listing a few housekeeping tasks for you to take care of that day. See, you might be an intelligent, proud, sophisticated young African American woman (I only specify because her racial and gender identity is a major theme in the narrative) who recently graduated from college, but for some reason you decided to move to the fictional tropical country of Anchuria. The problem is that a civil war has broken out, and you are no longer able to travel back home. So, you are passing the time doing work as a housemaid. From here, the game’s narrative unfolds as you come back every day for an hour to take care of household tasks for your employer Senior Ortega like cleaning up papers, doing laundry, painting walls, etc.
While you’re working, you are simultaneously trying to get to know more about your employer (who’s never there when you are), follow developments of the escalating civil war, and make peace with yourself about how and why your life has ended up where it is. The entire narrative is actually incredibly adult in its execution. Not because of language, sex, or violence, but mature in the subtlety and honestly with which difficult subjects are tackled. Without spoiling what happens, there’s a voyeuristic catharsis to getting to know a person and experiencing the mental toll of a war from a removed, isolated position. You literally never see any other character the whole game. You barely ever hear anyone else.
All you have is the changing interior of the apartment over the course of a year (your character visits once a week) and the fairly limited view from the penthouse window. It’s peaceful, but also incredibly stressful. It’s calm, but incredibly high energy. It’s removed, yet deeply intimate. It’s hard to explain, but those that have played games like Dear Esther or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might have an idea of what I mean.
Almost Too Good of a Simulation
Like I said above, part of the beauty of Sunset is the subtlety of groundedness of its narrative. You never pick up a gun. You never run from bad guys. You never do anything that a real, everyday 20-something woman working as a main probably wouldn’t do in a similar situation, and while it makes for some beautifully real seeming moments, it also makes for some stretches of dullness. For one, the game definitely starts off slow, which I don’t mind since the game needs it to set up the environment and characters. Cool. I can appreciate a slow burn to build story. Then things start to pick up as you find out more about this Ortega character and his mysteriously growing art collection. From there it is really up and down. For every tense, emotional visit, there are five where you literally don’t do anything. Look, I get the “but there’s beauty and honesty in the every-day, that’s what makes the game relatable!” thing. I do. But when the game only takes two hours to beat (and I was taking my time, exploring the whole apartment every visit), having about an hour of it be a drag is too much.
Touching story, adult presentation of narrative and themes, great voice acting.
A few dull stretches, anti-climactic final minutes, and dated visuals.