I generally love video games for the ways in which that they can tell stories that can take advantage of a medium that allows for player agency and decisions to guide an outcome.
Things like Bioshock’s “Would you Kindly” moment or that moment in Brothers: A Tale of two Sons feel incredible, and only work because it’s a video game. So naturally, I’m fairly sceptical of games that are fundamentally just trying to be movies, and potentially ignore what makes the medium so great.
As Dusk Falls, the debut title game from studio Interior/Night might initially seem to be wanting to go that route, with there being little traditional ‘gameplay’ beyond QTE’s and conversation options as you play through it, but all is not as it seems. There’s a bit of a grown up party game hiding in here, and depending on your social appetites, you might find you’ll have a really good time with it – especially with friends.
Note: This review and video is spoiler free.
A Tale of Two Families
As Dusk Falls is an interactive drama, weaving the stories of two different families across a time period of 30 or so years. Starting in 1998, the tale is laid out across 6 chapters, each approximately an hour or so long. As the player, you’ll make choices, both conversational and decision based with wildly different outcomes.
For the purposes of this review, I decided to treat As Dusk Falls a little like a TV show, and rather than binging the game over a couple of nights, played a chapter or so every two nights instead. Doing it this way, I did find myself wishing they’d put it in some sort of “recap” of the previous chapters events, but thankfully, I have a pretty good memory.
The game is displayed with a pretty unique visual art style, with painted stills of the actors being digitally rendered into the game, fading on top of each other, with occasional animated elements to bring life to a scene. It’s a bit like watching a really fancy graphic novel. I wasn’t a big fan at first, but it really does grow on you. Whilst you never control the characters directly, there are a number of QTE’s for moment to moment actions, from simple things like washing up to avoiding the glare of a sniper’s searchlight.
The game does start slow as we’re introduced to our key characters, from everyman Vince Walker and his family, to quiet and good-hearted Jay Holt, who’s family is far less…typical. Following a robbery-gone-wrong, the story is quickly propelled into all sorts of drama, and while some of it follows some very typical tropes, I was surprised at how quickly the game and it’s characters grabbed me.
In a truly unique twist, while the game can be played entirely solo, it’s actually a far more entertaining experience with friends. In fact, it was actually designed to be played in multiplayer and the developer supports this in a number of unique ways. As well as online play, you can play with up to 8 friends all gathered around the sofa if you wish, with a combination of controllers and phones in hand. That’s right, not everyone has 4 or more controllers, and thankfully the game actually supports your phone or tablet via a companion app, much like the Jackbox Party games. Simply download the app (available on iOS and Android) and you can get in on the action, swiping and mashing your phone for QTE’s or guiding your finger around to select conversation options.
This communal approach is pretty unique, in that the group gets to decide what happens or what decision is made, with the choice that gets the most votes winning out. However, in a spot of truly genius design, each player has 3 ‘overrides’, so if they felt particularly strongly about a decision, they could slap down an override and cancel out everyone else’s choice – but then it gets even more interesting, because you can then override an override…so yes, it gets quite entertaining indeed. Expect plenty of hollering and shouting during multiplayer sessions.
The use of a phone as part of the supported control schemes is pretty fantastic, as the game immediately becomes far more inclusive as a result. It’s a great way to bring people who perhaps “don’t do video games” in on the action, and introducing them into something that can be potentially for everyone – though worth noting, this game isn’t for kids.
I’ve played As Dusk Falls on PC with the mouse being used to make gestures, a controller on my Xbox Series X, and on the same console using my phone. One small critique is while the phone app is seemingly okay enough, it did seem to misread my gestures on occasion – indeed, it was most unfortunate that it refused to recognise a downwards swipe at a pivotal moment, resulting in the demise of one of my favourite characters. They really didn’t deserve to die like that, and I was more than a little cheesed off by it.
One element I really liked is at the end of each chapter, a decision tree for each story thread is shown, and displays in remarkable detail not only the options you did take, but all the other paths you could have gone down instead. There are a lot of decisions and outcomes that can change, and big fans of the genre will enjoy some good replayability here.
There is a great effort here from the developers to be as accessible as possible to all kinds of gamers, and they should be applauded for it. The options are numerous, from text to speech settings, on-screen UI options and additional helpful gameplay adaptions where things like QTE and choice timers can be extended, as well as great subtitle options and controller remapping. In short, it’s clear they want to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the game.
The Sun Rises
I had a pretty good time with As Dusk Falls.
The cast did a mostly great job overall, from gruff bad-ass moms, to saccharine young’uns, and I actually really liked seeing average-looking people in game, on my screen as opposed to the usual anatomically-exaggerated avatars of perfection that lead most video games.
As a big fan of cinema and storytelling, I enjoyed the attempt at a mostly well told, if somewhat predictable yarn, full of plot twists and surprises, particularly with friends in tow.
For those of us out there that like a little more traditional gameplay in our games, you may find yourselves wanting, but as it releases straight on to Xbox Game Pass at launch, I expect As Dusk Falls to surprise and delight more than few naysayers out there – myself included.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox Series S | X, Xbox One, Windows PC, Steam|
|Release Date||July 19th, 2022|
|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|
|Rated||M for Mature|