Tale of Tales
Tale of Tales
21st May 2015
Slow, immersive games may be one of my favourite types to play. Something character driven with an engaging story, and a level of immersion that makes me forget who I am for a while. When I first saw the trailer for Sunset, a game set during the 1970’s rebellion in Central America, I was beyond excited. The game had the interesting premise of being set in one apartment; you’re a housekeeper overlooking the destruction of your home from the penthouse of a socialite. Some may dislike these types of games, but I would argue that narrative-focused games like Gone Home can be a low-cost and effective means to telling a story, and living an alternate life.
However, my experience with this game ranged from being downright bored, to slamming my head in frustration.
The game follows the day to day work of housekeeper Angela Burnes, a young African-American woman living in Central America, inside the wealthy home of Gabriel Ortega. Gabriel is never home, and asks Angela to come by every scheduled night right before sunset to complete a chores list. You have one hour a night to get in, complete the list, and maybe find some spare time to write in your journal. As the game progress, so does the revolution inside of the country, one that can be seen from all sides of the high-rise apartment.
The premise seemed interesting to me, and perhaps it did on paper as well- however playing this experience turned out being much more of a chore than I anticipated, even knowing I would be a housekeeper. Nothing about the game engages- there are very few exciting incidents, huge revelations or even puzzles to solve or challenges to complete.
Doing chores is simply a matter of walking over and pushing a button; the camera pans to a shot of the city, and then back with less time and the chore completed. I get that participating, or even watching as you complete these chores would’ve been boring, but cutting away and showing nothing completely undermines the whole nature of trading shoes. Even though I hated how unengaged we were with her profession, sometimes her boss leaves her requests like “stamp and mail letter” or “hang picture”, leaving you running around the house looking for where this task is. After starting a new day, when a task says ‘water plants’, and you complete it in five seconds, it really undermines the wait between new information.
Obviously, the chores don’t matter- it’s the story that you’ve came for, but unfortunately it’s just not very interesting. You start out the first few days with barely any interaction; just you walking over to boxes, clicking the button, and then seeing the completed work. When you do start to gets mysterious notes from the boss, they’re mind boggling simple- just something for Angela to write a semi-flirtatious message back on. This is the majority of character building you experience.
Sure, there’s also inner monologue delivered, but even that’s fumbled. The main character speaks out loud thoughts to herself, but then some are restricted to just lettering on the screen. Sunset is rife with poor grammar, so those sensitive to that should run for the hills. If two forms of narration wasn’t already enough, we also have a diary that fills in any gaps- but there won’t be many considering how condensed the story is. Instead, you’ll get moments of her writing about The Doors, Jim Morrison’s death and describing the origin of blues; you waiting for the slow transition between handwritten passages to finish so you can move on.
I don’t even understand why the diary is needed in this story. On your ride up to the penthouse, she fills you in on what’s happened since her last visit. Because of this, the diary is filled in with time filling fluff that makes me like Angela less as she exposes boring ideas and thoughts that could only impress kids in a lunchroom. Her vapidness is on full display here, with thoughts like “mobs frighten me,” or talking about “the absurdity of explosions”.
Hector is an interesting character as well. Like Angela, this curiosity comes from how they fail to act like real human beings in normal situations. Hector leaves notes lying around, saying the most random things. They’re usually presented as a thought he had, and not a direct note to anyone in particular. Later he stages a war room right in the middle of his living room, after having the place ransacked by government agents. His complete disregard for his or Angela’s safety makes him look incredibly foolish, and makes her seem all the worst because of it.
There is some smart game design going on though. The apartment does feel alive, changing through the years, more so than any of the characters. Plants grow, special events leave messes and billboards outside of the windows change. The apartment feels used, and arcs in its own right, almost feeling more like a character than either of the two. It’s genuinely disheartening to come into a mess, and gaining satisfaction from making it right.
The experience is a slow one, but the game does start to get interesting towards the middle. Hector is unable to get back into the country, Angela’s brother is being held as a terrorist and the back patio needs its weeds pulled. There was one moment of sheer heart stopping fear I experienced, when a window was broken, as gunfire filled the neighbourhood. After that, the game forgets what a climax is, and the game just starts drifting; lazily and to the left. I think I went several months, certain I was at the end of a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion, but it just kept going. The game wouldn’t end- and when it finally did, it was so upsettingly bad, I threw my headphones off and decided I would give it some time before I started writing.
I wish I could say this was the end of my complaints, but it isn’t. I had severe frame rate issues and graphical hiccups that I had to contend with. The game froze on me several times, and reading through forums, this isn’t an isolated incident. Angela’s voice actress is beyond awful- she sounds like she read her lines in between sips of tea, washing down handfuls of Xanax. I’ve never heard someone talk about war atrocities like it were a bad customer service experience.
In fact, some of the pleasure I did take out of the game was making huge boxes in the house dance by constantly zooming in and out, which for some reasons caused every box in the house to rotate or move for no apparent reason. This became distractingly enjoyable as Angela would sit in the only chair she can journal in, comparing herself to Thing from The Addams Family. Overall, this is a boring war story, a bad interactive narrative and one of the buggier games I’ve played in a while, and I would suggest fans of this genre move onto greener pastures.
Visually it captures Central America in the 70’s very well.
The premise of watching a war from an ivory tower is awesome.
I really cared about my performance as a housekeeper.
Angela is a boring and uninspiring character with no personality.
The story ranges from the ludicrous to sleep-inducing annoyance.
An overall lack of finesse when it comes to the small details.