Part of the allure of narrative, choice-based video games is the chance to steer the story towards a particular outcome. Whether it’s a good one or not depends on the big and small decisions a player makes. Developer Interior/Night’s newest game As Dusk Falls takes the best of the narrative choice-based genre to create a sophisticated and surprising storytelling experience.
The story focuses on two families, the Walkers and the Holts, whose lives become irrevocably intertwined when they meet at the Desert Dream hotel. You get to play the game from the perspective of two characters representing both sides of the family: Vince Walker and Jay Holt.
Vince, his wife Michelle, their six-year-old daughter Zoe, and Vince’s elderly father Jim are on their way to start a new life in St. Louis, Missouri. They check in at the Desert Dream hotel in Arizona as an overnight stop before they continue on their way to their new home. However, things get messy really quickly when the Holt brothers Tyler, Dale, and youngest brother Jay burst into the same hotel the Walkers check into, desperate and cornered by law enforcement after a heist at the sheriff’s own home, and decide to take the Walkers, hotel owner Joyce, and handyman Paul as hostages. How the showdown between the Holt brothers and Sheriff Romero plays out depends on all the decisions you make as either Vince or Jay, which will have a ripple effect over the lives of a grownup Zoe and Jay years later in the aftermath of Desert Dream.
The game is divided into parts or books with each section always leaving you at the edge of your seat after the end of each one. Thankfully, all books are available to play at once without interruption. You get a recap of all the decisions you have made as Vince or Jay through a very visual and extensive decision branch that shows you how one choice led to the events that have unfolded so far. The game even tells you what your core values are throughout your playthrough in each book, as in, if you made decisions based on honor, peace, family, safety, etc.
For those who often get frustrated with choice-based games that can feel as if the decisions you make really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, I feel like that isn’t the case for As Dusk Falls. What newcomer Interior/Night has done here with their first game is highly complex with a decision tree that can really go in so many different directions. A player will never get the exact same ending or outcome for the Walkers and Holts with every playthrough.
The game has surprised me in very good ways and deciding what to do as Vince, Jay, and later Zoe was never easy or obvious. None of the choices felt like the “right” or “wrong” one. There’s a level of ambiguity which makes playing As Dusk Falls feel as if you’re navigating in the dark. You often won’t know if the decision you made was the right or wrong call until the next scene plays, especially how it effects the fate of the character you’re in control of at the moment or those around you. The voice acting is top notch, and despite the game’s visuals being more like a comic book with very little motion going on, the actors do a good job of pulling you into the story so you stay invested in what happens to everyone in the game. As Dusk Falls also has a multiplayer component, though I didn’t try this one out, where people who join you can vote on what decision you should make before making it.
I was happy with the ending and outcomes I got for most of my characters except Vince. One decision I made as Jay led to an unexpected and grim conclusion for Vince, which was unfortunate. But I think that’s the beauty of this game—you really don’t know how this is going to go even if you think you do. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes, and the decisions have a lot of weight to them that maybe games with a choice element like the series Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, or Life is Strange doesn’t quite have.
If you enjoy narrative heavy video games with choices that aren’t at all predictable or meaningless, I highly recommend picking up As Dusk Falls.
Reviewer Rating: 10/10