This review contains no story spoilers for As Dusk Falls. Thanks to Microsoft for providing Gaming Digest with an Xbox Series X copy of the game for review.
Movie night with your friends just got much more exciting as the original interactive drama from INTERIOR/NIGHT, As Dusk Falls, comes firing on Game Pass for Xbox consoles and Windows platforms and Steam. A debut game from the newly formed studio, As Dusk Falls is an immense interactive story game, one that can take you and your friends through a thrilling journey of high emotions and higher dramas; the richly textured characters, the brilliant melodramatic storytelling, the decisively morally grey world of As Dusk Falls will all have your game night exploding with intense discussions and debates as your group try to weave their way through an exhausting journey where every decision counts.
For a debut title As Dusk Falls confidently takes some big swings with its story, topic, and themes, and how layered and vast the branching narrative goes, and to INT/NIGHT’s credit it impressively lands nearly all of them with a deft finesse.
An Epic Journey of Many Routes
As Dusk Falls is an intense crime drama miniseries, only instead of being your Saturday night box set pick while you eat dinner the story and the drama is instead controlled by you. Broken into 2 books (“Collision” and “Expansion”) comprising 3 chapters each, As Dusk Falls charts the story of a small town in Arizona and two families whose lives become inextricably entangled over a 30-year period. What began as a house robbery gone wrong soon spurns out into a nightmarish night for both the Holt and the Walker families where both the past and future come to a deadly head, and where no one leaves unscathed.
While the story plays out it will be your job, either alone or with friends, to make character choices from time to time, deciding how they respond in conversations or what decisions they make in a moment, or even how successful they are in tackling actions. Your decisions will then have a huge influence on how the next part of the story plays out with there being tonnes of possibilities for how the narrative goes. If you’ve played an interactive story game before then you’ll mostly know what to expect.
As far as interactive games go (think Telltale’s The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, etc, or Until Dawn and the recently released The Quarry) As Dusk Falls is one of the more impressively extensive that I have seen. The game casts a huge branching web of story possibilities, creating a huge variation in how your game might play out, even if it always gets to (more or less) the same destination. Your decisions play a hugely tangible part in where character’s stories go with even the most seemingly minute decision being able to spurn you off into an entirely different direction and change up your story massively.
After each chapter you get a timeline screen that shows every one of your decisions and how it influenced the story. This screen ended up being one of my favourite parts of the game; it is a huge sprawling web of many branches and you can track exactly where every decision could have turned another way and how many other players across the community also made the same choices. One decision not taken might have 3,4,5 further branches coming off it meaning that something as simple as a dialogue option may have you missing out on an entirely different scene that could also go in multiple directions. There are so many inflection points for change across every chapter that it could take a bunch of playthroughs to even be able to work out how to access all of them.
With interactive games there tends to be a thinly veiled illusion that choices can switch the game up a lot, when in reality the furthest a lot of them go is having one character be in the next scene as opposed to another. Having played through As Dusk Falls twice fully and explored some early chapters further I can however say that this game can throw up some pretty drastic changes. Whole scenes or pieces of information completely changed depending on my decisions, and each of those also came with their own web of choices. While of course there is a golden path that the game always returns to (simply because it still has to get from A to B to cover the general story), the route to your final destination can weave all over with huge differences. For example, without spoiling anything specific, at a point where in my first playthrough I ended up in a trucker bar trying to hitch a ride my next playthrough had me sitting under arrest in a police station at that time instead. I could go back into each of these two scenes again too and have a different time through them since they also possess their own variety of narrative options too. It is genuinely impressive how sprawling the narrative can be.
A nice addition for if you do want to delve into specific scenes or chapters to see how they can play differently is the inclusion of an exploration mode. For every chapter you can look across the timeline tree and jump in at specific points to immediately start playing from any checkpoint in the game. When doing this you can choose the exploration mode meaning you can make different decisions to unlock other parts to the timeline without affecting your progress overall; you’ll get to see the changes without them then becoming canon within your current playthrough. Or, if you do want those changes to stick then you can also resume at any point and start a new save or overwrite another, meaning you can set yourself up nicely with multiple save options to see how earlier decisions affect the longer story in the long term. It is immensely extensive and very nicely set up to be able to see everything if you want.
Craft Your Story With Friends
Where As Dusk Falls differs from other interactive story games is in its approach to making the game mostly focused on being a group experience. While you can play on your own the game is fully intended to be played in a group, either locally or online. In any given scene you are all playing from the point of view of one character together. Dialogue options and character decisions are voted on by your group, with the majority choice becoming your response unless there is an equal split at which point the game will randomly pick who wins. From time to time there will be quick time events for either a group of players or just one to succeed on to complete an action too.
To make your game night even more divisive each player also has a limited number of “overrides” per chapter, allowing you at any time to override the vote and put the decision solely in your hands. However, when you override another player can also trump your pick by overriding themselves, putting control solely back in their hands. You can continue to do this for as many overrides as each of you have which can lead to some hilarious moments of top trumps, battling back and forth with your friend as you each stubbornly burn your overrides for the glory of getting your decision.
The story of As Dusk Falls deals with some pretty heady themes, and the choices that characters are able to make are largely designed to allow for particular personalities or moral principles to come out from your group. While playing in a group you will be learning as much about your friends as you do these characters since the choices each of you vote for will then be tallied up at the end to give each player a rundown of their motivating principles. For example one player’s decisions might generally be motivated by a family first principle, while the game will tell another that their decisions are largely motivated by sole survival. The game also shows where the wider online community who have played fall too by percentages, so you can really see which of your friends are outliers*.
*read: are terrible people.
This group approach for the game makes it hugely fun to play in a room together. Up to eight can play at once through a combination of controllers and a mobile app (which was not available during the review period for IOS, so I can’t speak to its quality unfortunately). It is easy enough for players to drop in and out at any time too without impeding the story at all since there are constant checkpoints to let you load back into. Each player can also create their own profile so that the badges they earn for their decisions are held in record.
I found myself very impressed by the multiplayer options and the ease at which the game makes running a game night with the options both locally and online to bring in a group of players. While it is perfectly fun to play on your own too there is no denying that this is an experience best enjoyed with others since everything comes geared that way.
As Good a Drama As Any Boxset Series
On INT/NIGHT’s site you’ll find that their mission statement suggests an intended craftsmanship that sits “at the crossroads of prestige television and video games”. With As Dusk Falls that philosophy is extremely evident; the story works like a prime time tv drama both in how its narrative plays out and in how the whole piece is crafted. The writing, the character work, the intriguing art style, the incredible soundtrack, the murky aesthetic that sits across the whole world of As Dusk Falls – all of it comes together to create an immense piece that wouldn’t look out of place on a Netflix streaming queue.
The story is of course the first thing you come to for an interactive piece like this, and As Dusk Falls delivers a melodramatic crime narrative with rich characters and plenty of intrigue. The story is a heightened one, approaching over the top at times, but of course to keep an interactive piece like this interesting I would argue it is generally better to go over-cranked rather than underplaying it and ending up with a dull game.
Plus, even though there are different beats to the story it tends to survive simply through the strength of the characters. Though formed of tropes the characters all have enough about them to keep you guessing; every character has a mystique and presence to them to keep you intrigued, often surprising your initial expectations of them, and manage to carry the load of the heady themes that As Dusk Falls is playing in. Where the world of As Dusk Falls plays in all the moral greys of reality, the story requires that each of these characters has a principled perspective that drives them, one that, even when seemingly at odds with all that you might view as right, still allows you to understand and potentially back them. Helping to texture these characters further is the immense voice work of a top cast of actors from across both tv and gaming. Their stellar work brings each character to life, helping them to jump from their still frames and feel more like an actual realised tv cast.
As for the graphic novel art style: when As Dusk Falls was shown earlier this year at Summer Game Fest the still picture art style didn’t really grab me. My worry was that not having characters actually animated on screen would keep me feeling disconnected both from them and therefore the story. However, those fears gradually dissipated as I played; before long I barely noticed the lack of 3D character models. The still image art style actually ends up working really well with the aesthetic of the world and the overall story of the game – the picture book style like fleeting memories half remembered and forgotten. The only issue it does run into is that it doesn’t quite work for the quicker, more action focused sequences where a lot of fast motion has to be relayed. Characters running, for example, looks a tad goofy, but in the still, pensive scenes that the game primarily wants to draw you to anyway the art style works incredibly well.
A Benchmark for Future Interactive Story Games
As Dusk Falls, for me, is now the measuring point for interactive story games. Its options for branching narratives is immense, and being able to resume at any point along the story just to explore is a very nice addition. You can have a tonne of fun just experimenting with different choices and seeing where you could have gone. The tools for multiplayer are excellent as well with how flexible it allows your play sessions to be. Come awards season I wouldn’t be surprised to see As Dusk Falls walking away with more than a few writing awards, and I am now looking forward to whatever comes next from the story.
Final Score: 9/10