I absolutely abhor cleaning, as many of my former roommates can tell you. It’s dull, repetitive, and absolutely lacking in civil wars and mysterious wealthy bachelors. Thankfully, I got to live out my dream of maintaining an apartment in a banana republic through Tale of Tales’ Sunset, which is now out on Steam.
Sunset is told through the eyes of one Angela Burnes, a recent African-American engineering graduate and immigrant to the fictional country of Anchuria in 1972, which is currently experiencing a civil war. She manages to get a job cleaning the apartment of Gabriel Ortega, a former museum curator who loses his job when the war starts. Each week she gets a list of tasks to perform an hour before sunset, hence the name.
The core mechanic of the game is completing these tasks, which can be done in one of two ways: efficiently and distant, represented by a blue circle, or carefully and warmly, represented by orange. As more and more tasks are completed your relationship with Mr. Ortega changes, although the only real indication of this is from bits of dialogue that Angela speaks while she’s cleaning, through her diary, or by notes that your employer leaves you, which can also be answered in different ways.
However, things aren’t all Lysol and sweeping, there is a war going on after all. Angela’s brother, Daniel, has gotten wrapped up with the rebel forces and even seems to be one of their leaders. Gabriel Ortega himself has been using his extensive contacts to save cultural items and documents that the new president would have destroyed. Over the course of the game the apartment fills up with many interesting artifacts, books, and music to find.
Music in a game is very important to setting the tone, and Sunset certainly doesn’t skimp on the soundtrack. Composer Austin Wintory, of Journey fame, has put together a very compelling selection of music, from fictional Anchurian folk songs to more esoteric, jazzy bits. Many records are left throughout the apartment which can be collected and played on the apartment’s stereo.
Visually, the game is quite impressive. It discards pure realism in favor of a stylized, early ’70s look. Unfortunately there are some areas that could have used a bit more polish before release, such as the city skyline that ends in a bottomless abyss if you look a bit too closely. Tale-of-Tales makes up for this lack of detail outside the apartment by putting an insane amount inside. Every artifact, book, magazine, and piece of furniture is beautifully textured, and I spent quite a while exploring the apartment, often forgetting some important task Angela was assigned to do.
And forgetting is okay. The developers say there is no ‘wrong’ way to play the game and there are no incorrect answers. The game is very forgiving of the player, but this makes it feel more like an interactive movie than anything else. There are no puzzles, no enemies, no health bar, no inventory, in fact there’s very little here that would be considered gameplay, other than the hunt-and-click tasks that are assigned every week.
Sunset starts fairly slowly before the story begins unfolding at a fast pace that keeps you coming back to the apartment again and again. Just who is Gabriel Ortega? What are his intentions? Will your stubborn brother succeed in his mission to overthrow the corrupt regime? Will Angela find meaning in her new life in Anchuria? It sounds like the conclusion of your typical soap opera, but that’s rather how Sunset feels as a whole. You start to feel like these are real people and you become very attached to them, even though you never actually meet any character other than Angela’s. All in all, if you’re looking for a great story with an impressive visual and musical style, this is the game for you. It’s certainly the most fun you’ll have while cleaning windows.