Choose-your-own-adventure games are a unique section of the video game world, often pulling heavily from other mediums like books and film in more overt ways than other game types. Telltale, Quantic Dream, and Supermassive Games are just a handful of the studios that have tackled these interactive adventures, telling tales across a range of genres. Now, a new team is taking a stab at this genre, with perhaps the most grounded approach yet.
With As Dusk Falls, developer INTERIOR/NIGHT aims to tell a story about Americana’s ugly side. It weaves a pattern, and like any complicated pattern, the individual threads may have a small impact. But if you step back, there’s a clear tale of what corruption, greed, bribery, desperation, and love drive people to do.
Not every decision works perfectly, and in particular, the pacing in the second half of this story is a bit rough. But all of that pales in comparison to the total sum of the journey taken. These characters ring true, and the choices you make determine how two families collide and then try to pick up the pieces.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Xbox Game Studios. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
As Dusk Falls: What I Liked
Set in 1998, As Dusk Falls tells a story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with two families clashing at an unsuspecting motel. Because the story and the characters at its heart are so central to the game, I’ll be avoiding most of the plot points, but note that there’s one very early beat central to the game that we’ll discuss.
You’ll primarily be controlling two characters, one from each family: Vince, a weary father who is moving his family after being fired from his job, and Jay Holt, the youngest of three brothers that’s about to be drawn into a life of crime . After a simple robbery goes wrong, Vince and his family end up at the same motel where the three brothers are also taking shelter. From here, tensions flare as both sides try to get away unscathed and protect their families.
The acting here is on point, and despite the actions you choose to take, I grew to care for almost everyone involved. Things aren’t always as simple as they seem, and it’s a testament to the writing that simple decisions like concealing a “small” lie end up having the weight of pulling the trigger on a gun. By pitting the characters you play against each other, As Dusk Falls can constantly build tension because you understand where both sides are coming from.
|Category||As Dusk Falls|
|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|
|Xbox version||Xbox Series X|
|Play time||6+ hours|
|Players||Single-player, multiplayer (2-8)|
|Xbox Game Pass||Yes|
Like in other adventure games of this genre, you’ll swap control between different characters, make dialogue choices and other kinds of decisions, examine your surroundings for items or items, and complete quick-time events in more action-oriented sections. There’s a range of accessibility options available so that these quick-time events can be customized alongside the game’s subtitles.
The story of As Dusk Falls is divided into two “Books” with each book containing three chapters. At the end of each chapter, you’ll get to see the path you took in the story, as well as what percentage of other players chose the same path as you and what other possible paths exist (though these are completely grayed out with no details).
As Dusk Falls will probably take around 6-7 hours to play, though that number will naturally fluctuate based on what decisions are being made and if someone is playing in a group or not. You see, As Dusk Falls features multiplayer support. Up to eight players can jump in a game together, either on the same console, across Xbox Live, or even using a dedicated phone app to vote on decisions.
The game also tells you the themes of your choices at the end of each chapter, telling you if you value sticking by family members or trusting strangers, made decisions slowly or quickly, and were compassionate or selfish. In practice, I found this a little generic, but it’s still interesting and can potentially help you roleplay a certain kind of character. I imagine that’s only more true if you’re playing in a multiplayer setting where decision-making gets more chaotic, as everyone gets to vote on what actions are being taken by each character.
Instead of having different players control different characters, things are balanced out, with everyone getting a vote for what action is being taken. It’s majority rule, though each player gets a limited number of overrides, but this can also be customized if you’d prefer there be no exceptions. It’s a good way to play if you want to experience the story alongside others, but it’s also perfectly valid to enjoy it by yourself.
The stylized art direction is striking. While it takes a bit to get used to the unusual animation style, I grew to appreciate it. It helps the game to keep a fairly realistic presentation, while still allowing for slightly exaggerated color to convey the mood of a scene or character. It’s quite gorgeous at times and wouldn’t be out of place at all in a graphic novel.
The soundtrack is also great, featuring a bevy of licensed music that fits the rundown small-town America vibe that’s present for most of the game. Much like its characters, it somehow feels both hopeful and defeated.
As Dusk Falls: What I disliked
While I think that As Dusk Falls, broadly speaking, is paced fairly well, the second half of the story feels a bit more inconsistent. Without going into any spoilers, while the first book is extremely Tight, telling a complicated story where every character’s action is bouncing off of someone else, the second book suffers a bit in comparison. It jumps around in the timeline more, and the time between the remaining characters is divided far more unevenly.
I understand and respect using carefully doled-out flashbacks to reveal portions of a story in a way that can introduce cliffhangers or build tension, but in the second book, it sometimes comes at the expense of another element that’s equally important.
More than once, I left a character or two in a heated situation, only to not see them again for a long time, if at all, leaving a couple of threads unfinished. This harsh and realistic tone is fairly true to life, and for people to not feel relevant again is sort of the point, but it still felt more than a little strange considering the game’s emphasis is on the characters.
As Dusk Falls: Should you play?
Much like its central cast at the end of the story, not everything in As Dusk Falls ends up being a winner. But like its cast, there are more secrets buried inside than you’d ever guess at first glance — good, bad, and everything possibly in-between — and that means it’s well worth the experience. It’s also only $30, half (or less than half) the price of many new games, which is worth considering as well.
You might not agree with why they these people make the choices they do, but sometimes victims of circumstance have their hands forced. What do they choose to do after a tough decision? That’s what says more about them. This is just the reality of being in morally gray situations, and that’s something that As Dusk Falls conveys consistently throughout its runtime.
If you’re a fan of these kinds of interactive dramas, As Dusk Falls is one of the best games to play this year, and I can’t wait to see where INTERIOR/NIGHT goes from here.
As Dusk Falls is slated to launch on July 19, 2022, for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and PC. It’s also available one day in Xbox Game Pass.