Xbox Series X/S
Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Xbox Game Studios
Decisions have unforeseen consequences. If one were to look for the thematic idea that links the story of As Dusk Falls with its gameplay structure, it’s hard to avoid that statement as a driving message. Life is filled with decisions big and small that shape the future, and we don’t always know how an errant word or turn down a different road might eventually conclude. Interior/Night’s emotionally rich and risky debut game isn’t interested in giving you the choice of how the character’s lives turn out; like in real life, that’s impossible to predict. Instead, the studio has crafted an intricate series of character portraits, linked them together by shared trauma, and asked the players to decide how to proceed. The nuanced narrative that unfolds is rewarding, often painful, and frequently gripping.
As Dusk Falls is a crime tale primarily focused on two families linked together by a burglary gone wrong and the subsequent hostage situation that follows, along with its involved and lengthy aftermath. Two sympathetic point-of-view characters lead the charge – a down-on-his-luck middle-aged father and a conflicted young man torn by his family bonds – but the broader cast of characters is universally believable and memorable.
Dramatic scenes play out in smaller intimate moments and larger high-energy action scenes, like car chases or police raids. In both cases, conversations come across as natural, thoughtfully written and acted, and emotionally fraught. Sometimes, situations are heavy-handed in tone, but even those moments feel in keeping with the type of TV stories that were probable inspirations, like Breaking Bad, Justified, or Fargo.
While it takes a bit to get used to, the unique art style does a lot to emphasize key moments and keep the many pauses for decision-making from feeling jarring. Live-action actors played out the scenes, after which paused motion art was overlaid on top. The continuous flow of dialogue juxtaposed with the lightly animated frames of visuals lend some of the best traits of both film and comics.
Through a combination of controller usage, mobile apps, and even Twitch chat while broadcasting, As Dusk Falls features a robust approach to multiplayer. The majority rules as choices play out, leading to an intriguing set of often unexpected outcomes and likely many conversations that start something like: “I can’t believe you selected…”
While multiplayer is handled well, it’s undeniably odd subject matter for a shared experience and certainly not played for laughs. The story is unflinching in its approach to content. It includes weighty issues like marriages in trouble, child endangerment, post-traumatic stress and depression, and even suicide – though the last of those is given a content warning ahead of time with the option to skip. If you choose to play with friends, expect a captivating narrative, but not a lighthearted one. With that said, thanks to the ability to play on a phone and the grounded subject matter, As Dusk Falls is an excellent game to share with the non-gamers in your life, illustrating the potential for interactive drama.
I also appreciate the system that plays out in the background to contextualize and navigate the story. A branching tree of narrative choices is visible at any point, and an intelligent approach to game saves and exploration of decisions lets you see the path not taken if desired. When a key character dies, you’re likely to be tempted to go back and take a different way – even if that might go contrary to the message the game is trying to relay. I also love how your choices and approach to play are tracked and fed back to you upon chapter completion, providing critical insights into both the characters as you’ve shaped them, and perhaps even your inclinations.
As Dusk Falls hides many secrets down the winding paths of its story web, and by its nature, you won’t get the full picture in any single playthrough, encouraging replayability. But you may also be tempted to play through one take on the story and then step away, content that you’ve seen “your” version play out. Either way, this is a weighty and gratifying excursion into interactive drama, confident enough in its writing to not rely on superpowers or fantasy. For players interested in the progress of interactive narrative frameworks, it’s a laudable success. But even for someone who never plays games, it works. That’s because good characters and storytelling make for a universal experience, and this is a project that has both.