The game that made Tale of Tales leave game development forever. I knew Sunset
had been a commercial flop (even though its Kickstarter campaign
was an unquestionable success), but I was totally unaware of the drama that surrounded ToT throwing the towel.
Anyway, I had been enjoying some fast and mindless action with Broforce
for a couple of hours so I wanted something calm and thought provoking for a change, and Sunset
seemed like the perfect choice. It's a narrative-heavy game with an original and interesting premise: you play the role of Angela Burnes, a young black woman from Baltimore (or is it New York? Both cities are mentioned during the game) who somehow ends up living in San Bavón, the capital of the fictitious South American republic of Anchuria. The country has recently suffered a coup which instaurated an autoritarian and culture-loathing military regime, but some revolutionary groups are increasingly opposing it. Amidst all the turmoil, and despite having an engineering degree, Angela is working as a house cleaner for a rich businessman, and she'll inevitably get involved in the local politics.
I wanted to like this game, I really wanted. But even when facing it with a positive attitude like I was, it's impossible not to notice its many shortcomings right from the start. Technical problems aside (it runs at a much lower framerate than what you can expect by its graphics, and the controls are clunky at best), I felt like the creators weren't exactly sure about what kind of game they wanted to do. At first it seems very goal-oriented: clean this, arrange that, fix those things... And you better do it quickly, because the time you've got to do it is limited: 1 in-game hour. The 'main quest' actions can be completed either in a careful/loving way or in a fast/detached fashion, so it's not uncommon to run out of time if you always choose the former, or if you get distracted with 'side quest' actions.
However, as a few days go by and the plot starts to unfold, there are fewer and fewer things to do. It's right at this point when the player runs the risk of entering a sort of an 'automatic mode' and start doing the chores mindlessly and skipping to the next day, without paying attention to the subtle clues in the environment about what's going on in Anchuria. And that's what I would have done if I hadn't found out that Angela could speak her mind to the player by writing a personal diary if you make her seat at the easy chair. So for a good while I spent most of my in-game days listening to what she had to say about recent events, which greatly helped me better understand what was exactly going on in San Bavón and in Anchuria.
But then, I began to get angry at the game. First, because sometimes Angela started rambling in her diary entries and talked endlessly about things that didn't seem to have anything to do with the events in the game. In these occasions I wished there was a button to skip a line, but there isn't: either you wait patiently, or give up entirely on the entry by standing up. But second, and most important, because I began to feel rushed again: most of the days there literally was not enough time to do the requested chores and listen to Angela's thoughts. And since I tended to leave the latter for last, in too many occasions the game literally kicked me off the appartment in the middle of that day's diary entry. What's the point of that? If narrative is the main focus of your game, why do you allow its mechanics to get in the way of the player discovering and enjoying the story you want to tell?
So this is where I thought 'fuck it' and I limited myself to doing the chores and going home immediately afterwards every day. I probably missed some details and insights, but so be it. Plus, there's no guarantee I could have learned them in their entirety anyway...
I think my final assessment of this game has to be a good opportunity lost
: if done right, it could have been a pretty good first-person narrative experience. It probably wouldn't have been a huge commercial success anyway, because the potential audience for this kind of games is not that big to begin with, but it wouldn't have disappointed said audience. Or, at the very least, me. My list of finished games in 2016