Conceptually, As Dusk Falls is quite interesting. Leaving aside the central question about the nature of a video game, As Dusk Falls’ primary focus is the story that it’s trying to tell, and interestingly, it’s one of those rare narrative games where the story really couldn’t have been told in a different medium; As Dusk Falls can only really be done as a video game. Does it make full use of the interactive nature of its medium? It hardly scratches the surface. But the aspect of player choice is what sets As Dusk Falls apart. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Before we get into the thick of it, let’s talk about As Dusk Falls from a surface level.
Developed by Interior Night, As Dusk Falls is a story about two families with their histories converging around a botched robbery in 1998. In the present day, the surviving members of both families have to reconcile with their histories, and maybe figure out where life goes from them, despite all the trauma and hardships they faced in 1998. That’s a purely surface-level look at the story, though.
"Just about every shot is beautifully framed, and clever uses of the camera are able to enhance the story quite a bit."
As Dusk Falls’ most important aspect is the story it’s trying to tell, and the characters it puts you in the shoes of, so let’s start out by talking about the story. As Dusk Falls is trying to tell a rather tense story, told through a series of vignettes that revolve around the 1998 botched robbery. Considering the narrative-heavy nature of the game, there are going to be a few minor spoilers here and there. I’ll largely keep it to things that happen early on in the game, and hopefully, the divergence in the story because of player choice mitigates the impact of these spoilers. Don’t worry, though, I won’t spoil any big moment.
Right from the beginning, As Dusk Falls displays a fair bit of competence in its ability to frame and direct its scenes. Just about every shot is beautifully framed, and clever uses of the camera are able to enhance the story quite a bit. An early example is a tense scene in the motel where, while being held hostage, you have to maintain your composure in front of a policeman while the hostage-takers hold a person at gunpoint. The clever shot composition makes you constantly look for angles from where the bad guys might see you talking to the cop, and this might inform your next decisions.
As Dusk Falls excels largely in its quieter moments. Some of the best scenes in the entire game often involve little more than a couple of characters having simple conversations.
That’s not to say that the story is perfect. Despite focusing on a grounded story about two families, As Dusk Falls has its moments and plot twists that feel like they were added in just for the sake of having some heavy twists. While the quieter moments and one-on-one conversations are great, some of the plot beats feel rather contrived, and there are a fair number of moments where I started questioning the motivations of these otherwise well-defined characters because the choice they made felt quite out of character.
"As Dusk Falls excels largely in its quieter moments. Some of the best scenes in the entire game often involve little more than a couple of characters having simple conversations."
Stylistically, As Dusk Falls has a cool look going for it. Featuring what look like fully-modeled 3D spaces, As Dusk Falls features characters that are completely 2D. In a way, the characters of the game bear a striking resemblance to well-detailed concept art works that video games usually get in early production stages. The look works quite well for As Dusk Falls, and the contrast between the 3D spaces and 2D characters actually looks pretty great.
The down side, however, is that As Dusk Falls’ art style doesn’t really work outside of its quiet, tense moments. Because of the sparse animations for the characters, all sense of good pacing goes out of the window when it’s an action scene. Ultimately, As Dusk Falls is one of those games that looks way better in screenshots than it does in action.
What really sets As Dusk Falls apart from other narrative adventure games is the strength of its acting. Of course, you’re not going to get much in the way of animated facial expressions owing to the art style, but the voice acting, on the other hand, is downright phenomenal. The skill of the voice actors on display is fantastic, and that, more than anything else, carries the heavy weight of As Dusk Falls’ narrative.
When it comes to actually playing As Dusk Falls, however, one thing becomes clear: Interior Nights wants anyone who plays the game to be able to finish it. Allowing for quite a few control options while playing the game, As Dusk Falls can be played with a keyboard, a mouse, a controller, or if you’re playing multiplayer, even a smartphone. Having played through the game with just the mouse, the whole game is playable with one hand.
As for gameplay, As Dusk Falls is an evolution of Telltale’s classic point-and-click formula from games like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. Interestingly, there aren’t even any sections where you’re allowed to walk around and explore your surroundings. The most you actually get in terms of gameplay is more akin to a point-and-click hidden-object game, with some quick-time events for actions that look like they might actually take some modicum of effort.
"As Dusk Falls’ art style doesn’t really work outside of its quiet, tense moments. Because of the sparse animations for the characters, all sense of good pacing goes out of the window when it’s an action scene. Ultimately, As Dusk Falls is one of those games that looks way better in screenshots than it does in action."
Generally speaking, As Dusk Falls—at least while playing with a mouse—is played with only one hand. There isn’t much in the way of complexity here; you can click on choices, click on dialogue options, click on objects, and during quick-time events, you spin your mouse clockwise or counter-clockwise, you mash the left clicks, and you swipe in certain directions.
It is worth noting that player choice is a pretty big deal in As Dusk Falls. You’re constantly making choices for all the different characters you play, and the choices you make in one bit of the story ends up having tangible effects in another bit. The choices aspect has been done quite well, and there’s even a fair bit of replayability encouraged thanks to the branching paths the story can take. Between its chapters, As Dusk Falls even shows you a flow chart of the choices you made, and how your choices stacked up against other players who were on the same path. Thankfully, the flow chart doesn’t show any spoilers.
Honestly, As Dusk Falls is a pretty tough sell. It’s priced quite higher than the typical indie narrative adventure game, and while the production values are definitely there when it comes to some aspects, other aspects, like some of the action scenes and gameplay, don’t quite manage the job of holding up the game on their shoulders. As Dusk Falls feels like one of those games that ends up being the perfect argument in favor of a subscription service like Xbox Game Pass. It’s going to be difficult to convince people to buy into a game that most would only play through once, especially with the game’s $30 price tag. With Game Pass, however, it becomes an easy recommendation, owing to its interesting narrative, well thought out characters, and phenomenal pacing. I just wish the gameplay involved more than simplistic quick-time events.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Interesting story; Great, relatable characters; Phenomenal voice acting.
Some plot beats feel contrived; Art style can be hit or miss; The actual gameplay is incredibly dull.