There’s a lot to love about As Dusk Falls, the Xbox console exclusive interactive drama from Int./Night. But there’s also quite a bit that gives us pause.
Primarily, this is the story of two families. There’s six-year old Zoe, her parents and her grandfather; they’re moving across the country in the hopes of starting a new life. Then there’s the Holts: three grown-up sons and their troubled parents. As Dusk Falls brings both families crashing together in the most harrowing of ways: the Holt boys wind up keeping Zoe and her family hostage at a motel they’re crashing at for the night.
And so unfolds a night of tragic and scary events that could end in many different ways. You see, this is a choice-led drama where the decisions and actions you take as the player will impact the outcome of the story. Do you try to grab the gun off one of the Holt boys keeping you hostage? Or do you comply and try to get on their good side? And do you help the corrupt Sheriff when he wants you to be his ‘man on the inside’? You’ll have to make every decision carefully, because lives are in your hands.
You’ll play from a number of different perspectives, which change as you progress through As Dusk Falls. Early on, you’ll witness events through the eyes of Vince, Zoe’s father. You’ll also make choices as Jay, the youngest of the Holt boys – who has seemingly been dragged into his family’s mess against his will. There’s also the workers of the motel to consider and, as time passes, you’ll take control of a grown-up Zoe, too.
As Dusk Falls is a rather ambitious title, all told, with a story spanning multiple characters and multiple years. It’s split across two books, each with three chapters in. The first book is largely concerned with the events at the motel, with the odd flashback for context. The second book is largely the aftermath: how each character deals with, and has been affected by, what happened that night.
There really is a lot to like here. Voice actors do a fantastic job across the board, making each character believable and, in some cases, likeable. This isn’t a simple tale of good versus bad, either; as you learn more about the Holts you’ll discover that not everything is so black and white and the villains of the story aren’t necessarily who you think they’re going to be. It’s a narrative that keeps you invested throughout its eight-or-so hour running time, for sure, but you’ll also likely be left with lots of questions.
As the credits rolled on the second chapter of As Dusk Falls, we couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. There are numerous gaps in its story; pages left unturned, endings left untied and a core story arc that doesn’t really make a great deal of sense. There are also other, smaller, narrative strands that are hinted at, but never expanded on. Despite focusing on multiple members of both families at the beginning, the second book is mostly concerned with Jay and a grown-up Zoe. It leaves other people’s stories to be rushed and unfinished, and the focus on Zoe doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
It’s difficult to delve into As Dusk Falls‘ issues too much without ruining the story – and despite those issues, it really is still a story worth experiencing. But the latter part of the narrative deals a lot with trauma, specifically how Zoe’s adult life has been affected by what happened to her that night at the motel. The trouble is, depending on what choices you made, she wouldn’t have experienced enough for her level of trauma to add up. We even see her have a flashback of something she would not have witnessed based on our choices. It seems her path is set in stone no matter how you play, which is a little disappointing. Had you made choices that led to the death of a family member, for example, it would have made more sense. But in a playthrough that protects Zoe from seeing anything bad, it doesn’t quite add up.
Do As Dusk Fall‘s problems come from poor narrative planning? Would more story elements add up if you made different choices? Or is it a case of a game that’s been rushed to the finish line? Look at the game’s official website and it describes it as a story that spans thirty years. Yet, its events take place in 1998 and 2012. Have key elements been cut to get the game finished on time? It’s hard to know.
As Dusk Falls is also let down by clunky and cheap-looking menus that feel out of place in what is otherwise a premium experience. The game itself sports gorgeous moving comic book-style visuals, but the menus you’ll have to go through before you can get there – particularly if you’re playing with others – let it down somewhat. The controls also aren’t great; you’ll have to drag a cursor around the screen fairly often, which can be laborious. You can choose to play with a smart phone (there’s a companion app) which some players might find easier.
The controls are somewhat forgivable, however, when you consider As Dusk Falls’ approach to multiplayer. Up to eight people can join in, all experiencing the story at the same time. Every player can make their own decision regarding dialogue choices, and if players can’t decide between themselves, the game will make a decision for you. It’s a novel way to play, but ultimately it is just as enjoyable to experience the story by yourself.
We have a lot of gripes about As Dusk Falls, but we’ve still very much enjoyed our time with it. Its story will keep you hooked from start to finish, but some of its narrative gaps will leave you with questions. Should that keep you from playing? No – ultimately, this is a very well-executed narrative drama complete with excellent voice acting and a unique art style. Yes, it could have been better in many ways, but it’s still worthy of your time.