As Dusk Falls looks and plays unlike anything Xbox Game Studios has published before. Because this game, Pentiment, and Grounded are currently Xbox Game Studios’ only titles slated to release this year, a lot of pressure is on As Dusk Falls to impress. But trailers haven’t done a fantastic job at showing just what As Dusk Falls’ narrative and image-based presentation have in store for players.
As such, I was really interested in going hands-on and seeing where As Dusk Falls fell on the narrative game spectrum. Is it a long and very involved choice-driven game like Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human? Does it hew closer to Telltale’s classic narrative adventure game style? Ultimately, As Dusk Falls feels more like an interactive show like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, with occasional quick-time events pushing the boundaries of what exactly an interactive game can be.
As Dusk Falls is a choice-driven adventure about a hostage situation in a small Arizona town in 1998 and how the people involved had to live with their actions. I played the first two chapters of the game, which take place during the hostage situation. Vince, a former airplane mechanic whi’s embroiled in marriage problems and a lawsuit after the airline blamed him for a work accident, has to stop at an Arizona motel with his father, wife, and daughter after their car is run off the road during a move to St. Louis. Unfortunately, three brothers desperate for money steal from the sheriff of the small town near the hotel and ultimately hold Vince, his family, and other people at the motel hostage so they can negotiate with the cops and escape.
While that’s the baseline of the adventure no matter what, how exactly the events transpire, the character relationships, and even who lives and dies can change depending on the choices you make as a player. Some of these had real palpable effect during the first two chapters, especially the choices that result in people getting injured or killed. It’s a serious, grounded story that feels like a TV show brought to life in interactive form. It calls back to interactive show like Bandersnatch, or even the live-action segments of the video game Quantum Break, although choices are a lot more frequent here. Also, As Dusk Falls isn’t live-action or even animated like a TV show.
Rather, as you can see in the trailers, As Dusk Falls presents itself via a series of images with voice-over, like a motion comic. It’s certainly an unusual presentation for a narrative video game, but does have its advantages. As the player, I can fill in the blanks of what the images don’t show, just like I could while reading a comic or novel. It also means when choices pop up, the game can naturally stop and let you choose without making the pause seem awkward within the game’s world. Dialogue choices that branch the narrative in various ways are the crux of As Dusk Falls’ gameplay, although button mashing or swiping quick-time events will occasionally pop up during action-heavy scenes.
The quick-time events are pretty basic, and I could see As Dusk Falls working with a mode that doesn’t include them at all. Still, they push the experience over the edge to still be a “game” and will provide opportunities for more interaction in the game’s multiplayer mode that lets players vote on dialogue choices and actions. Because of the limited interaction by the player outside of the occasional choice, the comparison to something like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch becomes much more accurate than even a Telltale video game. Playing As Dusk Falls feels like you’re watching a good TV show or experiencing a choice-based motion comic or audiobook.
As Dusk Falls’ style is definitely not for everyone, but if it does click with you, the odd presentation will become charming. It definitely helps that the art, voice acting, and script are up to the challenge in the game’s first two chapters because As Dusk Falls will live or die on the strength of its script. It’s a lot more grounded than something like Bandersnatch was in terms of story, but if you enjoyed that attempt at an interactive show, you’ll like what As Dusk Falls has to offer. It pushes the boundaries of what an interactive game can be, and it’s certainly one of the most experimental titles to come out of Xbox in recent years.
As Dusk Falls launches for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on July 19. Like all Xbox Game Studios-published titles, it will be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.
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