Pacing can make or break any narrative. This is a common struggle in all writing – authors have keep their audiences interested. With limited gameplay and little interaction, everything in Sunset hinges on the story and its next move. For such a fresh and intriguing concept, the unexciting gameplay and snail pace of this first-person exploration title don't do the subject matter any favors, bringing down the entire experience.
Everything about Sunset's concept seems novel and engrossing. The year is 1972, and you play as a housekeeper named Angela – a smart woman from New York. She's paid to clean a swanky penthouse apartment owned by Gabriel Ortega. She's never met Ortega, but discovers things about him through tidying his place and conversing with him through notes. Your entire experience is exploring Ortega's luxurious penthouse; you never see Angela outside of it, and only learn about the world through the lens of this two-story structure.
The game takes place in the fictional Anchuria, located in Latin America. This tropical paradise is becoming a brutal warzone due to a military coup, and both Angela and Ortega are affected in different ways. You slowly learn more about the events by the objects in Ortega's pad, such as newspapers, art, and business documents. The world outside the windows gets grimmer as time passes, with unexpected explosions and smoke seen from the penthouse's stellar view.
The main narrative tackles a slew of complex issues: race, war, politics, socioeconomic status, and gender. It makes you see these from different perspectives, especially through Angela, an African-American woman. I enjoyed the intelligent and thought-provoking subject matter, and it got me thinking about war, freedom, and life in general. Angela's monologues and her journal writings are a highlight, as they all bring these topics to the forefront. Even Angela's relationship with Ortega becomes intriguing; the war is affecting them both, allowing them to form an unlikely bond.
While all these threads are extremely interesting, they're brought down by the slow pacing and dull gameplay. I had to force myself to trudge forward, especially in the first few hours; you're just getting to know the characters, so the more engaging and reflective subject matter isn't present in this phase. I spent more time bored than excited about the next reveal. You're essentially visiting the same place, doing a few chores, and searching for one or two new things every time you clean Ortega's apartment. You can only click on a few items to interact with, such as those required for the chores Ortega requests like mopping and doing laundry. The few clickable items change every visit.
The repetition gets tiresome, especially with such insignificant changes and very minor reveals each time you visit the penthouse. The game took me around seven hours to complete, but it was spread too thin and didn't have enough story content to fill those hours. Some of my days felt throwaway, with very little information. Multiple trips in a row leave you without much plot development at all.
You have freedom over how you spend your time, choosing how much you're going to snoop and making some other decisions. For instance, you can pick what you want to cook, what color to paint walls, or if you want to get flirty in your notes to Ortega. However, the game never makes it very clear how (or if) any of this is impacting anything, making them feel like empty choices.
My enjoyment was also brought down by the number of technical hiccups I encountered. I didn't have one play session where I didn't have a glitch or the game crash. Sometimes, my character couldn't walk. Other times, I couldn't click on anything. Restarting the game fixed it every time, but I grew frustrated having to do this numerous times. I even tried a different computer and still ran into the same issues. It breaks the immersion every time you have to stop to reload the game for something that shouldn't be an issue in the first place. If it was only a few times, it wouldn't bother me as much, but this happened regularly.
Sunset has some great elements, especially in terms of diverse characters and intriguing subject matter, but that doesn't excuse its shortcomings. As beautiful and contemplative as the writing is, I spent too much of the game frustrated by glitches and bored by exploring the same surroundings. Sunset is at its best when it's surprising you with its bigger reveals and focusing on the things that make us all human. I felt like I understood Angela and she got me thinking. If only it didn't take such a drawn-out process to get there.
See a war unfold through the eyes of a housekeeper in 1972.