It’s quite telling that developer Interior Night describes As Dusk Falls as an “interactive drama.” That’s an important distinction, as it refers to the fact that this isn’t really a game in the traditional sense.
Led by Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls veteran Caroline Marchal, the London-based studio’s debut title is a choice-based, narrative-driven experience in the vein of such Quantic Dream works. However, it’s even less gameplay-intensive than those titles, so if the lack of deep mechanics — or even much interactivity at all — is an issue, then As Dusk Falls absolutely won’t be your thing. This is definitely more an interactive movie. Those who are fine with that, though, will find As Dusk Falls to a be thoroughly entertaining and unique experience.
An engrossing story full of twists and turns
As Dusk Falls tells the story of two families whose lives become inextricably linked after a harrowing incident in small-town Arizona. Desperate for cash, the Holt brothers attempt to rob the sheriff, only to wind up pinned down at the Desert Dreams Motel. It’s here that Vince Walker and his family has stopped while on a cross-country trip, which results in them becoming hostages as the Holts scramble to hatch an escape plan. But the narrative doesn’t stop there; over the course of 30 years, you get to see more of these characters both before and after the events at the motel.
It’s a strong setup, as it really gives you time to get to know and care about the cast, and it’s through this cast that As Dusk Falls’ greatest narrative strength can be found: empathy. Each character has their own flaws, some much more than others, but the game never condemns any of them for it. Take the Holts; I initially found them to be insufferable but soon discovered that they had a surprisingly sympathetic backstory. Jay, in particular, is easy to root for, as he’s torn between duty to his family and a desire to not hurt anyone. I quickly took a liking to the soft-spoken and kind teen, which made his journey to escape his abusive family and start a new life extremely compelling. Similarly, my early contempt for Vince’s estranged father Jim — no doubt mirroring how I feel towards my own — later softened as I saw how he was consoling his traumatized granddaughter Zoe many years after the motel hostage situation.
Having a group of likable, well-rounded and three-dimensional characters that you’re invested in makes the decisions in As Dusk Falls often genuinely challenging. At times, I would pause to consider my next course of action — something I don’t often do for games like this. For example, after a desperate Jay turns to a friend to help him out of a bind, he finds out that someone did something awful to her. Do you confront him and risk drawing dangerous attention to her and you, or begrudgingly let it slide? Similarly, how should Vince behave during the hostage situation? Are there risks you think he’d take to protect his family? Should he trust those offering him help during all of this? There are no “wrong” responses here; merely those that you feel are reflective of how your Jay and Vince would react. On the flip side, not intervening when people are about to get what they (arguably) deserve could actually lead to undesirable consequences. Thankfully, As Dusk Falls telegraphs “Crossroads” moments to let you know when you’ve arrived at a key decision that will greatly impact the trajectory of the story.
And boy, does the story branch out. At the end of each chapter, you’re shown a ‘Story Free’ that will show a flow chart of all the possible outcomes of each decision. Each and every time, I was stunned to see how many deviations there were if I had done something different — not just characters living or dying, mind you, but also where they start or end off or who may be accompanying them. On the whole, I was impressed at just how much replay value this adds. The game’s structure comprising of six hour-long chapters with recaps in between makes it ripe for smaller nightly play sessions, as well.
The only real shortcoming with the narrative, however, is that it doesn’t quite manage to balance its rather large cast. In one instance, a decision I made as Vince inadvertently resulted in something horrible happening to one person, but the game oddly never revisited this beat to show how that affected either character. Likewise, there are some story threads that don’t get meaningful resolution, even when both of the involved characters survived in my playthrough. These issues certainly weren’t significant enough to drag down the entire experience, although the game likely would have benefited from being a bit longer to afford them more time to breathe.
Fun for the whole family
It can’t be understated that the actual gameplay of As Dusk Falls is quite minimal. Where titles like Heavy Rain allow you to at least walk around, As Dusk Falls is ostensibly a “choose-your-own-adventure” movie à la Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. In addition to action sequences being relegated to quick time events (QTEs), the bulk of the game is presented via dialogue choices and the occasional instance in which you can hover the cursor across a static environment, point-and-click adventure style. The game’s presentation is also quite minimalist; in place of actual cutscenes, As Dusk Falls adopts a distinct aesthetic that blends still images together to effectively create a motion comic.
Admittedly, this took some getting used to, even as someone who regularly enjoys these types of “interactive dramas,” but I eventually came to appreciate the uniqueness of this visual style. Impressively, Interior Night has rendered the performances of actors into these stills, giving them a sort of timeless, painterly vibe that’s refreshingly different from the photorealism or retro-inspired graphical styles that we so often get nowadays. As Dusk Falls’ excellent voiceovers and solid writing only enhance the cinematic feel. All in all, this approach is a smart and effective way to keep the game easy to pick up and play. Interior Night has been clear about wanting to appeal to non-gamers, like those who regularly consume streaming content, and that really shows. The gameplay — consisting of the occasional button tap or mash — is not at all complex, making it remarkably approachable to newcomers.
In fact, you don’t even have to use a controller or keyboard/mouse. Taking a cue from the popular Jackbox party games, As Dusk Falls lets you connect via your phone using the As Dusk Falls Companion App on Android or iOS. In this way, up to eight people can play together in person or online in one of the most clever approaches to multiplayer I’ve ever seen. How it works is that players must vote for which decision they’d like to make, and the game will go with whatever got the most votes. (A choice will be randomly made should there be a vote.) Adding a fascinating — and hilarious — wrinkle to the mix is the ability to override decisions. Each player gets a limited number of overrides as determined by the host, which they can use at any point, including to counter someone else’s. It’s a brilliant way to engage the whole group, as you can choose whether to work with or against people at will.
(Note: Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to try this during my playthrough, but I have had a similar experience in games like this. Last year, some friends and I played The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, which has a “pass-the-controller-around” approach to multiplayer. My buddies and I had a blast making decisions with our characters to try to let the others get killed, and so As Dusk Falls‘ override system should only greatly enhance that thrilling back-and-forth dynamic.)
A new kind of movie night
As Dusk Falls is a fascinating game. On the one hand, it likely won’t have an audience among subsects of hardcore gamers, and it certainly won’t win over those who don’t like Quantic Dream-esque titles. But on the other, it’s commendably been designed to be easily playable for pretty much anyone, especially through innovative multiplayer features. Even those who play alone like I did will find themselves drawn into a well-written and often gripping story about two struggling families. As Dusk Falls is a splendid take on the narrative adventure genre, and one that’s easy to recommend to many.
As Dusk Falls will launch on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC on July 19th. The game will also be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.