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Sunset Review

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[su_highlight background=”#3b88ff” color=”#ffffff”]Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux | Developer/Publisher: Tale of Tales | ESRB: N/A | Controls: Keyboard/Controller[/su_highlight]

If you look around the video game world today, there are plenty of examples of what I call the “classical” approach to player involvement: being the one who is carrying the weapon and firing it at opposing forces. Think Call of Duty, Battlefield, Resident Evil, Medal of Honor, Halo…the list goes on and on and on. Very few, however, place the player in the shoes of the people most affected by a combat and/or war situation: civilians. This is the premise of, and the foundation of what I love about, Tale of Tales’ first-person narrative-driven game, Sunset.

Players take on the role of Angela Burnes, a native of Baltimore, who is hired as a housekeeper of a penthouse in San Bavon, a city in the fictional South American country of Anchuria. As Angela, players are given one hour until sunset (hence the title), one day a week, to complete the tasks that Gabriel Ortega, the tenant of the San Bavon penthouse, assigns her. Without spoiling too much, Angela soon learns that Ortega has great power and influence in the country and can do great good with it if he chooses to.

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How each level is played is cute and very much like Gone Home, but became a little repetitive since there are 40+ levels that all take place in the same penthouse with minor variations from the previous week. Each day that Angela comes in is flashed on the screen before starting, along with a biblical figure or event that always has a meaning or connection with the events of that day and what Angela sees, reads, and writes. Players are presented with an elevator panel, on which there is an “up” button to go to the penthouse, along with buttons to go back down when sunset comes, view Angela’s diary, view instructions, resume the game when you pause it by pressing the tab button, and exit the game.

When you press up to go to the penthouse, you can hear Angela thinking out loud about her diary entry for that day while going up. This can be annoyingly in the way when I wanted to maximize what I could do in the hour I had, since the caption bar that you can’t turn off stays up until finished scrolling, preventing me from seeing the options available for certain actions and choosing a specific button.

Sunset uses multiple control schemes, but I chose to go with the standard point-and-click system: move the mouse to look around, and use W-A-S-D to move in the desired direction. Players can make Angela crouch by holding down the C button, useful on many occasions in the game to better read text on a book, magazine, or letter. Holding down the space bar makes the camera zoom in on the area in view. This system became very tricky and annoying late in the game because of objects in the apartment that obstructed player movement, requiring patience and a lot of moving back and forth and trial-and-error testing to overcome. In addition, players can hold down the tab button to view the current time, as well as the task list.

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Giving context to the story of Sunset is that Anchuria is already on the brink of civil war at the start of the story in the 1970s. The dictatorial president of the country, already unpopular with the people, loses more and more public favor as time goes by in the game.

It is up to the player to decide whether, and how, to perform tasks assigned to her in order to influence her relationship with Ortega and sway his decision-making in terms of how he will direct the fate of the country.

These are the aspects I loved the most about Sunset: free choice and time management. Let’s start with free choice. The vast majority of actions players can take have two sides to them: choosing the “red circle” side influences Angela and Gabriel’s relationship towards the romantic, while choosing the “blue circle” side influences their relationship as purely business. Players choose which side by pointing the camera at the side or object corresponding to that side and clicking it. There are other options for selecting which side, but I’ll leave that to you to find out for yourself. What Angela does and how she does it is usually clear thanks to a horizontal black bar that pops up from the bottom of the screen. I genuinely enjoyed playing the romantic side, and there’s even a twist in the story that I loved that’s related to Angela’s brother: I urge you to play it yourselves to find out.

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A final aspect of free choice I wanted to highlight is the occasional sticky note that Ortega leaves around the penthouse. These notes show his state of mind and thoughts, and can be replied to by Angela. Again, players choose how and what to reply to him, either being romantic or neutral. For my playthrough, I chose nearly all romantic, but I admit there were a few I just couldn’t bear to not be romantic on, and you must see for yourselves.

The time management side of Sunset is tricky to master. Every action you perform usually has a time penalty to complete. Depending on whether you choose to complete it on the romantic or neutral side, the time penalty they take varies, from 5 minutes or less than 20 minutes or longer. Remember that you only have an hour to complete everything on the task list, and that hour goes by fast for most levels! For many of the actions with choices, I chose the romantic side, making completing everything in time a little harder, but there is a reward for it that comes later that I don’t think would have been there had I chose all neutral actions. I did not take the chance of seeing what happens if I don’t do anything on the task list and instead just lounge around and play music, both of which you are free to do.

Last but not least, a quirky but relevant feature in Sunset is the ability to hear yourself as Angela, and see her in mirrors in the game, usually in dressing rooms or bathrooms, but also in the elevator. This feature becomes surprisingly-realistic when the chaos of civil war and bombs and explosions and much more in the streets below and beyond the penthouse make Angela, when facing a mirror and seeing her reflection, gasp and look worried and saddened about San Bavon, and Anchuria as a whole.

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This human side of war from a civilian viewpoint is rarely told, and when it is, rarely given justice. It is this that makes Sunset a finer work of art than are most video games depicting a war or etc. armed conflict.

All in all, despite a few quirks and annoying hiccups, Tale of Tales’ Sunset is a solid video game rooted in telling an epic player-driven narrative that is absolutely worth your money.

Sunset is out now on PC, Mac, and Linux.

Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by the developer.

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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