In ‘Sun­set,’ the hero re­ally cleans house

War is be­ing waged, but for­get the weapon. Just pick up the dust cloth and get to work.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Todd Martens

Play­ers in “Sun­set” com­mit what would be con­sid­ered acts of war by aid­ing a re­bel­lion in a fic­tional South Amer­i­can city. They do this not by fight­ing but by house­keep­ing.

“Sun­set” is the rarest of war sto­ries, one that touches upon those on the side­lines rather than the front­lines.

“This is not like most video games where you’re the ac­tual hero and you go out and save ev­ery­one,” says Auriea Har­vey, one half of the two-per­son Bel­gium stu­dio Tale of Tales.

The lat­est game from the in­de­pen­dent and ex­per­i­men­tal stu­dio, “Sun­set” il­lus­trates the emo­tional tur­moil war plays on ev­ery­day cit­i­zens, in this case an overqual­i­fied house­keeper who im­mi­grated to South America from the United States.

She’s less wor­ried about peace in our time than she is just find­ing a peace of mind.

“Some­times when I get home,” says the game’s pro­tag­o­nist An­gela Burnes, “I just lie down and close my eyes.”

“We de­cided to use the game as a tool to sort of deal

with this idea of a war hap­pen­ing, and while you’re a part of it, it’s some­thing that’s over there,” Har­vey says. “Even if it’s get­ting closer to you, what do you do? You get on with your life.”

There’s an ac­tion movie within “Sun­set,” but the ex­plo­sions and the gun­shots are off in the dis­tance, the de­tails kept just out of the pe­riph­ery of the player. “Sun­set” ul­ti­mately is a game about life on the mar­gins — of war, of the mid­dle class and of ro­mance. It hooks by al­low­ing the player to toy with the in­ner­most thoughts of its main char­ac­ter.

It’s also top­i­cal. “Sun­set” is set in a made-up past but is meant to draw par­al­lels to the world of to­day. In the early 1970s of “Sun­set,” the U.S. is in­volved in a war in a dis­tant coun­try and strug­gling with the civil rights move­ment back home.

“We didn’t know Ferguson was go­ing to hap­pen when we came up with An­gela, but when it hap­pened it was ex­actly what we were talk­ing about,” Har­vey says. “Things change, but they stay the same. We don’t have to talk about ‘now.’ We can talk about the past, and it’s the same to­day. Maybe that sounds pes­simistic or cyn­i­cal, but we live in a cyn­i­cal time.”

“Sun­set’s” Burnes is an African Amer­i­can en­gi­neer­ing grad who left the U.S. in the early 1970s seek­ing a bet­ter life; she found a war zone.

“Sun­set” finds a way into her head, let­ting play­ers dis­cover her idle thoughts, stresses and fears as she goes about clean­ing the swanky bach­e­lor pad of a mem­ber of the South Amer­i­can rul­ing class. The player is im­me­di­ately on the de­fen­sive, know­ing in­stantly that Burnes is overe­d­u­cated for her gig.

Some of the game’s strong­est mo­ments bring it back home to the U.S., where Har­vey, a 43-year-old In­di­ana na­tive, lived be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Bel­gium af­ter fall­ing in love with Michael Samyn, her part­ner in Tale of Tales.

As war in the game in­ten­si­fies, the player hears Burnes com­pare the fight­ing in South America to the civil rights move­ment in the U.S. She re­calls the hor­ror of hear­ing a car speed away af­ter a neigh­bor­hood church is set on fire. It’s a dif­fer­ent sort of war, but Burnes ap­pears to have fled one to land in another.

It doesn’t al­ways help her at­ti­tude that the pent­house she must clean is filled with use­less knick­knacks, over­priced fur­ni­ture and bad, im­per­sonal art. Play­ers dis­cover the house from a firstper­son point-of-view, get­ting only a glimpse of Burnes as a re­flec­tion in the mir­rors and win­dows she must clean.

Through chores — pol­ish­ing the owner’s shoes, or­ga­niz­ing his vinyl, fix­ing a win­dow shat­tered in a nearby ex­plo­sion — “Sun­set” un­rav­els a tale that touches upon race, class and poverty. Play­ers can snoop through the be­long­ings of one Gabriel Ortega and won­der why he hasn’t f led the threat of the govern­ment coup.

Burnes early on ob­serves that she’s fi­nan­cially stuck in the faux town of San Bavón, but Ortega is blessed with aff lu­ence, here a trait that seems gained by ran­dom­ness rather than hard work.

Maybe this makes a player an­gry, or maybe this makes a player warm up to Ortega’s per­se­ver­ance — or his check­book.

Lit­tle choices the player can make hint at these dif­fer­ent paths. You can, for in­stance, leave a pas­sive-ag­gres­sive note that sug­gests Ortega should be spend­ing his money on more than high-class stereos. Or you can leave a flir­ta­tious note in­stead.

If you’re feel­ing friendly to­ward Ortega, one you can play­fully ar­range his records by mood rather than al­pha­bet­i­cally. And if you are skep­ti­cal of Ortega, you may read his work be­long­ings and alert the rebel cause if any­thing seems sus­pi­cious.

A lot about the story is pur­pose­fully am­bigu­ous. Burnes even­tu­ally learns that Ortega is con­nected to the govern­ment, but let­ters he leaves for his house­keeper im­ply he is an­ti­war.

“We tried to get some nu­ance in there, even though ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence won’t be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent,” Har­vey says. “Peo­ple bring their own ideas — their own prej­u­dices about a guy in a house like that or their own prej­u­dices about a woman who’s clean­ing.”

From its open­ing mo­ments, “Sun­set” makes the player slightly un­com­fort- able. At the start, Burnes will unpack and or­ga­nize the home of a man she never met, forc­ing the player to sud­denly get per­sonal with a stranger. Yet as war rages out­side the win­dows of the fancy pad she must clean, the place starts to feel more like home, or at least a safe zone.

To com­pli­cate mat­ters, she’s be­com­ing at­tached even as she be­comes con­sumed with who’s side Ortega is on and what it means that she’s work­ing for him. One soon re­al­izes that the most per­sonal re­la­tion­ship in Burnes’ life is with some- one she never meets face to face.

“Mostly, we thought about love,” Har­vey says, and how the heart can be un­af­fected by “class sit­u­a­tions and all that sort of stuff.

“We were try­ing to think, how can two peo­ple fall in love if they never meet? We think this is a re­ally ro­man­tic sit­u­a­tion, but that’s prob­a­bly just us.”

No, it’s how “Sun­set,” though set in a war in a nonex­is­tent Latin Amer­i­can land, hits even closer to home.

Tale of Tales

AN­GELA BURNES, an en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate from the U.S., cleans the swanky pad of a mem­ber of the South Amer­i­can rul­ing class.

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