The long shadow of war



So this is how the other half lives. No, not the rich – although ex­plor­ing the op­u­lent pent­house apart­ment of fic­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary Gabriel Ortega af­fords an in­tox­i­cat­ing glimpse of the kind of wealth that few will ever ex­pe­ri­ence. Rather, Tale Of Tales’ lat­est al­lows us to ex­pe­ri­ence con­flict from a rarely ex­am­ined per­spec­tive. We’re ac­cus­tomed to be­ing the boots on the ground, or oc­ca­sion­ally the eye in the sky; if we’re not re­spon­si­ble for the con­flict, then we’re usu­ally caught up in the mid­dle of it. Sun­set, by con­trast, ex­am­ines what it’s like to be on the pe­riph­ery. As cleaner An­gela Burnes, we hear the rat-a-tat of dis­tant gun­fire, get star­tled by a muf­fled ex­plo­sion, and look through mir­rored glass at a build­ing set ablaze, our re­flec­tion star­ing back at us through the flames. In most games, we’d be en­cour­aged to rush to­wards the fire; here, we can only press our nose up against the glass and watch the city burn.

It’s the magic hour when we begin our first shift. Our job is to clean Ortega’s desk and empty the ash­trays in his bar. “I can do what I want,” reads Burnes’ di­ary, “but I re­strain my­self.” We’re a lit­tle less re­served, how­ever, pok­ing around as much as we’re al­lowed to, tap­ping the keys of his grand pi­ano and ex­plor­ing the atrium be­fore com­plet­ing the tasks we’re be­ing paid to do. Though we’re sup­posed to be here, there’s still some­thing of an il­licit thrill to be found in wan­der­ing around some­one else’s home.

And why not, when it looks this invit­ing? The nat­u­ral light from the fad­ing sun even makes the oc­ca­sion­ally ques­tion­able ’70s dé­cor – ze­bra-skin rugs, for ex­am­ple – look that much classier, although as the skies darken, we opt for a bit of taste­ful mood light­ing, one of sev­eral small ac­tions that will help de­ter­mine how our re­la­tion­ship pro­gresses with Ortega. The way you clean sub­tly shifts the dy­namic be­tween the pair; you can re­ply to a note to sug­gest he might want some com­pany, or leave his tele­scope point­ing at the Big Dip­per rather than closing the lens cap. It’s not our idea of flirt­ing, but Ortega is a stargazer, and ev­i­dently re­spon­sive to such play­ful be­hav­iour.

Things have changed in the sec­ond part of this devel­op­ment build, set six months later. It’s clear Ortega is gain­ing ground. The apart­ment is filled with crates, and ex­am­in­ing a statue re­veals that he and his rebels have been at­tack­ing mu­se­ums, used by the cur­rent dic­ta­tor as mil­i­tary out­posts. Out­side, there’s the un­mis­tak­able sound of whirring blades, and, sure enough, you can spot a chop­per hov­er­ing nearby. It’s Christ­mas day, and Burnes reacts with hor­ror when she re­alises the flakes fall­ing from the sky are ash, not snow. Sud­denly, our at­tempt to make the place feel more fes­tive by hang­ing fairy lights feels fu­tile. By this stage, it’s clear that Burnes has be­come deeply in­volved too. “Peace on Earth to any­one of good­will,” she says, be­fore mut­ter­ing a de­fi­ant threat, “but death to all oth­ers!” In a coun­try gripped by con­flict, it’s a re­minder that war em­broils ev­ery­one. Though it re­mains to be seen ex­actly how much your ac­tions can mould the over­all nar­ra­tive, Sun­set is al­ready an ab­sorb­ing mood piece, a thought­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the na­ture of war through the eyes of a dis­tant ob­server, rather than a grunt with a gun. And even in adopt­ing a me­nial do­mes­tic role, you feel strangely em­pow­ered – through your in­ter­ac­tions with one of the con­flict’s key fig­ures, you may yet be hav­ing some small im­pact. Or per­haps it’s sim­ply the psy­cho­log­i­cal well­be­ing brought about by a bit of tidy­ing up, cre­at­ing or­der from chaos on a mi­cro level.

Then again, some of Sun­set’s most pow­er­ful mo­ments are only pos­si­ble when you slack off. On our third visit, we walk up to the tele­scope and look through the viewfinder. The plumes of smoke may still be vis­i­ble but, if only for a short while, the sounds of war have sub­sided.

El­e­va­tor pitch

In­ge­niously, Sun­set’s menu has been fash­ioned af­ter the but­tons on a lift panel. When start­ing the game, you’ll push the ‘up’ but­ton to rat­tle to Ortega’s plush bach­e­lor pad, and you can call the lift at any time once you’re in­side. There’s a lock, be­hind which you’ll find a panel of dis­play, con­trol and sound op­tions, while the alarm-bell key pro­vides the game’s in­struc­tions. The ‘call’ but­ton, mean­while, opens Burnes’ di­ary. Her in­ner mono­logue de­tails on­go­ing events as her work­ing day be­gins, per­haps not­ing the ten­sion caused by the pres­i­dent’s guard pa­trols or ex­press­ing con­cern at her in­volve­ment with the rebels. Ob­ser­va­tions she makes within the apart­ment are scrib­bled down here too, al­low­ing you to fur­ther per­son­alise the game’s story.

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