Quantic Dream’s two-plus decades of pioneering interactive storytelling has undoubtedly served as inspiration for studios like Telltale, Int. Night, and others, to place the story first while empowering the player with enough agency to go their own way, making difficult choices that help to shape the stories told.
While I felt titles like Beyond and Detroit: Become Human were rooted heavily in sci-fi and seemed rather elevated, As Dusk Falls feels far more grounded and steeped in a mysterious and intoxicating Americana that’s far more engaging than I ever expected it to be. In a story spanning both decades and state lines, As Dusk Falls feels like ‘Fargo meets Boyhood’. What begins as a routine burglary devolves into the hostile takeover of the Desert Dream motel that’ll change the lives of two families forever, while cracking open a can of worms that might upend the power hierarchy of Two Rock, Arizona for good.
At the heart of As Dusk Falls is the chance, unfortunate collision course the Walker and Holt families find themselves on. The former are on a cross-country odyssey to relocate and sow new seeds, while the latter are in search of a fresh start of their own as they try to wrestle free from their father’s debt. The weaving narrative does a beautiful job of fleshing out each of the characters and making even the most despicable shit heels like Dale, the middle Holt brother, likeable.
As Dusk Falls deals with all of life’s heaviness like few games tackle—loss, grief, and trauma are all central to the story as what’s left of these families after their fateful encounter drag the weight around. The way it tackles the cause and effect of choices is tremendous—the first act is set up while the fallout is earned and truly felt through the game’s writing. Although I’m sure there are countless permutations I’ve not seen—and my mind is racing considering the what ifs I opted against—my particular journey through As Dusk Falls was great. Although it didn’t wrap up absolutely every thread, As Dusk Falls felt complete and so wholly considered front to back like an unforgettable limited series. And then the cliffhanger left things on an uncertain note, somewhat diminishing the sense of finality I’d felt. It seems there’s still a history to Two Rock that the team longs to explore, but even if they don’t, I believe the story told has the legs to really stand on its own.
Like contemporary efforts like Detroit: Become Human, As Dusk Falls is a myriad of narrative tendrils that, despite branching off in several directions, ultimately come to rest at the same resolution time and again. Although the details might differ, they’re woven deftly into the larger narrative so that you could discuss it with a friend despite having starkly different experiences.
It’s going to be an undertaking and a half to try and see everything in As Dusk Falls, but they do try to make it easier by picking key story beats that precede branches to let players drop in and “explore” other possibilities, or even overwrite their master save entirely. While not exactly a new idea, it’s a pretty key one for a game like this and I’m thankful it is present.
The UI, which ties most of the “game” aspects—dialogue trees and quick-time events—together in As Dusk Falls, is simple, stripped back and, honestly, kind of ugly. Whether due to budget restraints or not, the game’s menus and in-game prompts scream placeholder assets. And while I expect the game’s presentation at large will be divisive, with its animated storyboard aesthetic, I found it quaint. We’re so used to seeing performances rendered in high fidelity, where every pore and wrinkle is recreated faithfully, that I worry Int. Night’s earnest approach to deliver drama through gorgeous, digitally-painted slides might go unappreciated. It’s a style that sells the sombre, contemplative moments but struggles to hammer home the dynamicity of anything remotely pulsating, it’s just the unfortunate trade-off that occurs with something akin to a breathing graphic novel.
It’s unsurprising that a game like As Dusk Falls, which is driven by the relationships and stories of its characters, would live and die by its performances. Thankfully, most of them are pretty good. If you can look past a few of the more suspect line readings that crop up from time to time, you’ll find some terrific performances from actors who, until now, I’d call relative unknowns. Ryan Nolan steals the show as Jay, the more kind-hearted Holt boy, and while most of the performance bleeds through the largely static comic-like panels, I do feel some of the nuance of each performance is lost in translation somewhere.
If the aim of As Dusk Falls is to deliver an engrossing narrative about the strain and sacrifice of family then I’d say it succeeds. It’s understandable that the game’s presentation isn’t perfect, but it’s a match for the folksy setting and sensibilities. What ultimately amounts to a story about two people–Jay and Zoe–being chased by ghosts gave me a nice sense of closure.
But if Int. Night wants to explore the deeper, darker history of Two Rock, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to ride shotgun on that one.
As it ran its course, I realised I quite adored As Dusk Falls. As a decades-spanning crime thriller throughout America’s western plains, it’s well acted and admirably realised. Although the cliffhanger beckons another chapter, my journey through As Dusk Falls felt whole, though I can’t wait to explore all of the possibilities on offer.
A wonderful tapestry of storytelling
Ryan Nolan stars, although the performances are all pretty great
A lot of excuse to go back and explore other narrative branches
A pretty lacklustre and ugly UI
Nuances of the visual performance can get lost due to the art style
Cliffhanger kind of ruins the feeling of closure the main story brought