Cinematic adventure games are maturing at a rapid pace. While titles like Heavy Rain set the stage for this method of storytelling back in 2010, only recently are we seeing a rush of the highest quality choose-your-own-adventure movies. As Dusk Falls is no exception, following swiftly on the heels of The Quarry, a horror movie-esque escapade following a group of camp counselors in lovably cliche fashion. In contrast to its monstrous companion, As Dusk Falls plants itself firmly in reality with a slower-paced, thoughtful tale.
In As Dusk Falls, players go through six chapters separated by two “books,” each chapter lasting an hour or so. While the focal point bounces around throughout the story, there are certain key characters who set the stage, namely Vince and Jay. Vince is a down-on-his-luck father who was scapegoated by his former employer, while Jay is the youngest of three brothers who gets caught up in a whirlwind of crime he has little control over. Although their paths have little in common, the world works in mysterious ways, and soon both of their lives — and families — are changed forever.
As Dusk Falls is striking because it plays the storytelling incredibly straight. No larger-than-life feats or magic to be had here. Truly, As Dusk Falls could take place on the big screen, except for the fact that video games offer a unique storytelling device that movies and books rarely ever do: player agency. People fuss and fuss endlessly about how much a “choices matter” game actually does to create a unique player experience. Folks will do that here, as well, but for those enthusiastically embracing what’s offered, each playthrough will feel catered to their individual playstyles.
This is in no small part thanks to the chapter ending results page, which clearly and distinctly outlines each central character’s path throughout that chapter. Told someone off? Not only do you get to see how many other players did that, but you can see where that tree led and how the opportunities for a different course entirely changed as a result. Oftentimes when playing a “choices matter” game, we are left to assume that our decisions had a big impact and on occasion get an ending screen that says what we did and how it made a certain character feel. As Dusk Falls offers transparency. In fact, several blank boxes were left during my playthrough that made me wonder what I could have missed. At times, I found a character’s story ended abruptly early because I made a certain decision, but if I had done something differently, I could have experienced five more scenes with choices. This sort of observation whets the palate for another playthrough.
So the choices clearly matter, though a general skeletal structure is expected for the plot. How about the quality of the choices? Consistent with the script, several decisions left me wondering what to do; I rarely ever instantly clicked an option, which was more the result of my own strong feelings than poor binary choices. I played most of the game with my wife. We had clear disagreements over some of the decisions, but we also had a lot of fun hashing out what to do, why we felt a certain way, and what we thought might happen with the various options. This is indicative of good writing, and these sorts of forks in the road occurred frequently.
Of course, the stakes get higher over the course of the game, which is typical of any narrative, but rest assured that things get going fairly quickly. Those expecting an action-fueled gorefest may be left wanting, but tense situations occur throughout. Stealth, persuasion, betrayal — all tools used by the game to create a rich storytelling experience controlled by you, the player.
Upon booting up As Dusk Falls, you’re immediately struck by the distinct visual style. I can’t think of any other game that boasts oil painting-esque still images that animate the way they do here. When a character moves, talks, or gestures, a new still image will pop up every few seconds, which ably conveys a sense of motion while maintaining a high caliber of artistry. While the game mostly lacks music, what is there, especially at the main menu, is phenomenal. Similarly, the voice acting is well done and suits each character fantastically, including the more benign characters, of which there are few. Everyone has a unique voice and feels like a distinct individual.
Regarding controls, I turned on the option for extended quick-time-events. In some recent reviews, I’ve commented about how QTEs actually enhanced my experience, but I have to admit that they’re ultimately a tired mechanic that I’m glad I could mostly ignore. That said, all of the prompts are clearly indicated, with little confusion about what is expected each time. Before a prompt showed up, I could see a blank circle for a second or two, so I knew I had to get ready — as opposed to being completely caught off guard and annoyed when I’d rather just sit back and enjoy the story. If you are more open-minded about QTEs than I am, know that the developers appear to respect the player.
As Dusk Falls is a gripping tale of fate, chaos, and a storm of desire from several strong characters; everyone wants something, and not everyone is going to get what they want. Fortunately, you have the ability to steer the ship, but the thing about storms and ships is that sometimes the laws of nature have more sway. That’s how life goes — a reality which is expertly communicated in this solemn story.