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.
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.