'Sunset' Is a Game About War That Happens Somewhere Else
Tale of Tales releases its war game about a cleaning lady.
All images: Tale of Tales
Sunset looks and feels like a first-person shooter, but it represents war in the way that most people who have the luxury to play video games actually experience war. It's something that happens over there, far away.
Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn of developer Tale of Tales are releasing Sunset today after raising more than $67,000 in a Kickstarter campaign and almost a year in development.
"There's a hero guy out there somewhere, but it's not you," Harvey told me. "There is someone who worries about that guy. He has a mother, he has a sister, and this is her story."
For most of us, war is something that happens in the news. For Angela, the protagonist of Sunset, it happens in the changing skyline and in the streets below the penthouse apartment in the fake South American nation of Anchuria. For an hour a day, just before sunset, Angela shows up to clean up after Gabriel Ortega. He's rich, he loves art, and he has ties to a government that's fighting a growing violent revolution.
Tale of Tales was making "walking simulators" long before some gamers used the term to dismiss indie darling Gone Home, a game about a college student coming home for a visit only to discover an empty house and family secrets.
For example, Tale of Tales made The Graveyard, in which you walk through a graveyard, Bientôt l'été, in which you walk on a beach (inside of a holodeck), and six other games that are just vague and weird as these sound, but are also wonderful if you're willing to slow down and experience something different.
At first it's just riots below, maybe a gunshot or two, then explosions, jets, and entire skyscrapers on fire
Sunset is still unlike any other game, and those without patience will probably dismiss it as another boring walking simulator, but it's also Tale of Tales's most grounded project to date. In a way, it directly addresses the developer's approach to interactivity, which too often in games is equated with violence.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is quite literal in that it lets you play soldier, firing machine guns and calling in airstrikes in all of their explosive splendor. Sunset is also about modern warfare, but it's about a person who still has to dust, and do the laundry while jets roar in the skies above.
You never see Ortega, but you get to know him through his possessions: the books he reads, the art he collects, the music he listens to, and the clothes he leaves strewn about the house. Eventually, through notes, gifts, and other sweet gestures made in absence, a relationship develops.
In the background, war heats up and is shaped by choices you make about how to help Ortega (or not). At first it's just riots below, maybe a gunshot or two, then explosions, jets, and entire skyscrapers on fire.
This war feels more real and impactful than any Call of Duty because you're watching it from the relative comfort of something you've come to know as a second home. You don't want to see it destroyed along with everything it represents.
Harvey said that the themes for Sunset emerged when they decided to directly engage with the real-world issues that distracted them from their work—riots, war, and other nasty things you'd rather not think about.
By making a game that keeps players at a relatively familiar distance instead of making you an action hero, Tale of Tales hopes Sunset can helps people better understand how they really feel about these issues. It's a role-play game, really, but more in the way it's used in therapy than Dungeon & Dragons.
"That doesn't mean we have a didactic mission or some treatise about what you should be thinking," Harvey said. "It's more that while you're there, you're going to think about certain things. It's what we needed and we thought other people might need it too."