As Dusk Falls is a thrilling narrative adventure with no right choices

As Dusk Falls is a thrilling narrative adventure with no right choices

Collision is the central theme of As Dusk Falls, the first game from brand-new studio Interior/Night. Worlds, backgrounds, families, and priorities all collide in a maelstrom of emotions and consequences, spilling blood and bullets, tears and sweat, within a meaty narrative that never provides clean answers. With fantastic performances, a clever art style that mixes motion comics and 3D animation, a wide range of accessibility options, and excellent writing, As Dusk Falls is a promising start for a new studio and yet another great entry in the Xbox Game Pass catalog.

This is a narrative adventure in which story and cutscenes dominate a playthrough. It begins in Arizona, in 1998, with the Walker family moving between states. After an accident puts their car out of commission, they are forced to stop at a dingy motel while it gets repaired. At the same time, the Holt family is robbing a local house, but is caught in the act and has to flee. The Holts end up crashing at the same motel as the Walkers, and the robbers take everyone captive. So begins a nail-biting hostage situation, with a desperate family trying to manage an innocent one, and each gradually becoming a worse version of itself — latent issues and unsaid grievances the byproduct of this collision of lives.

But things didn’t end in 1998. The opening of As Dusk Falls, set in 2012, makes it clear that the ramifications of that one night had ripple effects for decades.

The game puts players, interchangeably, in control of one member of each family. This makes for interesting challenges, since you sometimes are in conflict with a character you were just playing as. Whose priorities do you favor? Will you make a bad choice because you prefer another character? I absolutely love it when games do this, and I wish more of them did.

Image: Interior/Night/Xbox Game Studios

As in all such narrative-centric games, you are given dialogue choices and action choices, leading to discrete narrative branches that spill into and entwine with one another — all of it displayed as a summary, with charts and connecting paths showing the outcome of your choices after each chapter. And as in games from Quantic Dream and Supermassive Games, there are also occasional quick-time events; in this case, you can adjust them to your play style. (I extended the reaction time in the accessibility menu, because I felt it was occasionally unfair; however, failing is also part of play for games like this, so take that as you will.)

The aforementioned summary screen makes it easy to go back and play specific scenes to reveal paths you did not take. And there are entire story arcs and secrets you will miss the first time around. For instance, I didn’t encounter a massive reveal that seemed central to explaining several “plot holes.” (They were only plot holes in my playthrough; if I had made different choices, it would have all made sense.) This increases the replay value, yes, but beware the lack of a “skip dialogue” button — in the year of our lord 2022 — which, as in any game, is borderline unforgivable.

While I did not have time to test it, As Dusk Falls is also designed with multiplayer and cross-platform play in mind. You can have friends and family play with you, voting on decisions, eliciting banter, and generating arguments that make it an entertaining shared Game Pass experience.

Despite this being a debut title from a new studio, the game’s voice cast includes video game veterans: Elias Toufexis (modern Deus Ex’s Adam Jensen), Jane Perry (Hitman’s Diana Burnwood and Returnal’s Selene), and Sam Douglas (Heavy Rain’s Scott Shelby). But even those performers I didn’t recognize, such as the elder Zoe Walker (Alex Jarrett), are excellent. Combined with wonderful sound design, everything feels like it’s in motion, authentic and real, even if it consists mostly of static images. As Dusk Falls makes Quantic Dream games feel like immature works from a rowdy teenager. This feels like mature, prime-time TV watching. That’s not a slight on it as an interactive experience, but praise for its excellent script.

a character wearing a backpack and a red jacket stands in the woods during golden hour in As Dusk Falls

Image: Interior/Night/Xbox Game Studios

The play experience does suffer from some technical nuisances. In addition to long loading screens (I played on my Xbox Series X) and the strange requirement of having to sign into a profile each time, the game repeatedly showed “How to play” messages even when I was loading a saved game hours in.

And one element of the plot rings false: that the robbers, a bunch of T-shirted country boys with no exceptional armor or powerful weapons, manage to keep an entire police force at bay. While this helps perpetuate the sense of frustration and the inability to escape the situation — for both families — it feels like an implausible storytelling conceit. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes whenever the Holts managed to fight off waves of police, often with no injuries.

As Dusk Falls is a story about how there are no good people, only those trying their best while the world grinds them down. The robbers have a good reason for robbing; the Walker family is running from a mistake. In a world of devils, all that seems to matter is who carries the bigger pitchfork. While there’s nothing unique about the gameplay, Interior/Night’s effort demonstrates that the studio is a bold new voice within a genre that can easily become stale, standing up even to juggernauts like Until Dawn and The Quarry. With its ability to constantly pull the rug out from under you, As Dusk Falls doesn’t fade into a forgettable narrative experience we’ve seen a thousand times. Instead, it leaves its mark, with a long shadow cast by its sad but understandable characters’ hardships drawn across threads seemingly made of jagged wire. What will haunt you is whether the thread you chose really was the best one at the time. As in life, the answer will likely be: probably not.

As Dusk Falls will be released July 19 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a pre-release download code provided by Xbox Game Studios. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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