As Dusk Falls Review

A couple of years ago, Microsoft revealed the interactive drama As Dusk Falls to the world. The game’s emotional trailers, intense music score, and unique art style have all helped it stand out in the increasingly crowded space of similar titles like Supermassive’s games, the Life is Strange series, and Telltale’s various projects. Unfortunately, As Dusk Falls fails to live up to the high bar set by others in its genre, and it will likely leave players more frustrated than anything else by the time the credits roll.

As Dusk Falls is split into two distinct “Books,” with Book 1 all about a hostage situation at a roadside motel in Arizona, and Book 2 dealing with the aftermath of that event. In Book 1, As Dusk Falls players are introduced to the key cast of characters, themselves split into two different factions. There’s the troubled Holt family, with players taking on the role of the youngest brother, Jay, and then there’s the Walker family, represented by player character Vince.

At the start of the game, Jay and his brothers Dale and Tyler botch a robbery, so they hide from the cops at the Desert Dreams Motel. The Walker family and the employees of the motel are taken hostage, but what happens next is up to player choice. As Jay and Vince, players make choices that shape the narrative, deciding the fates of the characters and the ultimate outcome of the whole ordeal. Other characters become playable in later chapters, but the first half of the game is squarely focused on Jay and Vince.

Two characters talk in a pick-up truck

As Dusk Falls is like an interactive TV drama, with tight writing (besides a moment at the end of the game that requires a sizable leap in logic) and impressive voice acting going a long way in bringing the story to life. It’s full of twists and turns that will keep players on the edge of their seats, though things start to stumble in Book 1 Chapter 3. It’s at this point where pacing becomes a big issue in As Dusk Falls, and it’s a problem that lingers throughout the rest of the experience.

The pacing in As Dusk Falls Book 1 Chapter 3 is sluggish for a couple of different reasons. One of the problems is a trigger warning that the game displays before the episode that lets players know of a specific event that will potentially occur. This makes it so players will be waiting for the incident to happen for the duration of the chapter and ruins its potential emotional impact. Including trigger warnings is never a bad thing, but its placement is the issue, as it spoils when the event is going to happen. It would have been better off being placed at the beginning of Book 1, so players wouldn’t know the exact chapter it would take place. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 did something similar with the infamous No Russian mission, letting players know something horrific is going to happen and giving them the option to skip it, without providing too much detail that it almost becomes a spoiler.

The other problem is that Book 1 Chapter 3 constantly pulls players away from the action at the motel to show flashbacks. These flashbacks interrupt the flow of the story, robbing the motel scenes of their tension. They are also significantly less interesting than what’s happening at the motel, so it makes for a frustrating viewing experience.

As Dusk Falls is Launching Next Month With Co-Op Support

As Dusk Falls never really fixes its pacing issues after Book 1 Chapter 3, with subsequent chapters failing to capture the magic of the first two chapters of Book 1. There’s an especially head-scratching flashback story in Book 2 that is practically pointless depending on choices players make, and so it comes across as filler to pad out the runtime. As Dusk Falls’ story would have been better serviced by trimming out some of these scenes and keeping things more focused on the motel.

As Dusk Falls Book 2 is not nearly as interesting as the events of Book 1. It shows what happens to the characters after the incident at the motel, but it feels unnecessary. The end of the hostage situation at the motel is the climax of the story, and everything that comes after is lengthy falling action that marches everyone to a rather unsatisfying conclusion. While the main story wraps up, the game still ends on an abrupt cliffhanger, possibly to set up a Book 3, though the consequence is that those who invested six hours into the story will likely come away frustrated. It is possible that answers about this cliffhanger could be found if players make different choices, but we were unable to find any in our time with the game.

After players complete any chapter of As Dusk Falls, they are shown a flowchart of how their choices could have changed the course of the story. While many games like this put the focus on choices, As Dusk Falls deserves credit for ensuring that the player’s decisions have a huge impact on how each scene plays out. Those curious to see how the story could have been different had they made other choices can easily jump back through the timeline and start from specific scenes without ruining the “canon” choices they have made in their main playthrough, which is a greatly appreciated feature.

Manipulating As Dusk Falls’ story is the main way players engage with it as an actual “game.” It’s otherwise fairly low on interactivity, even for games in its genre. There are a handful of instances where players are able to search a room point-and-click style, but for the most part, the As Dusk Falls experience boils down to watching scenes, making dialogue choices, and sometimes pressing buttons or rotating sticks to complete incredibly easy QTE sequences.

Besides using a controller to play As Dusk Falls, there’s also a companion app that lets players join the game in a manner not unlike the Jackbox Party Pack titles. Up to eight players can play As Dusk Falls, voting on choices and dialogue options and working together to complete QTEs, and while the feature is appreciated, the game doesn’t work as a party game. As Dusk Falls’ slow-burning drama and serious subject matter don’t lend themselves well to a party game environment in the same way that Supermassive’s horror games do with their “Movie Night” co-op feature.

It may also be difficult to convince friends to play As Dusk Falls multiplayer because of its art style. The game looks like a graphic novel, with some minor animation here and there to make things a bit livelier. Some will find As Dusk Falls’ unique art style charming, but others may dismiss it as looking “cheap” compared to other games in the genre.

As Dusk Falls has a strong start and players will find the game hard to put down for the first two chapters, like a great binge-worthy TV show. Unfortunately, its pacing issues become apparent by the end of Book 1, and it never recovers in Book 2. Those wanting to check it out for themselves should note that As Dusk Falls is a day one Xbox Game Pass game, and so anyone still curious can try it out without making a financial commitment beyond what they already pay for their subscription.

As Dusk Falls launches July 19 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Today Technology was provided with an Xbox Series X code for this review.

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