As Dusk Falls - Choose Your Own Crime Drama
There have been many attempts at bringing the classic “choose your own adventure” style of story into the world of video games. Some have been great, some not so much, but they almost all feel like there is a very thin layer between player choice and story outcome. There is always this sense of the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. That looks to have changed with As Dusk Falls, a game where not only do choices matter but they impart a feeling of control to the player, a feeling that their choices have led to a truly personalised playthrough.
As Dusk Falls starts with a family moving to a new home after an issue with the father’s previous job. There is some clear tension, but things appear reasonably harmonious. Fate strikes in the form of a minor car accident which forces the family to find shelter at a Route 66 hotel, the same hotel that a group of robbers decide to hide in after robbing the, clearly crooked, local sheriff. From there, things take some serious twists and turns all based on the player’s choices and while I won’t go any further to avoid spoilers, I will say that once I reached the end, I felt both satisfied and like I was in charge of my whole journey.
The game is structured into two books of 3 chapters each, with each chapter following two stories that intersect through time or location. These two stories, be they flashbacks or in the present time, have genuine emotional weight. There are some heavy moments and themes explored, with one particular section prompting a content warning from the developers. There is no fear of tackling themes of grief, PTSD, trauma and regret here and while sometimes these intense feelings are presented with broad strokes, it always feel like they were approached with care and respect.
Gameplay wise there is very little to actually do here. This is a game about navigating a story, broken up with the occasional (very easy) quicktime event or narrative choice. Each chapter finishes with a flowchart of the choices you made and it is here that players will truly realise how far the narrative path can diverge. It paints a picture that there is a lot of this game to discover, even after your original playthrough is complete. The only problem there is, I am not sure I want to explore it further. I am happy with how my story went, based on the choices I made as they came about. To go back and purposely take a different narrative path feels a little like blasphemy and it would take away from my original playthrough where everything is a surprise. Of course, that is simply my personal feelings on the matter and many out there will want to explore every story possibility there is and that is more than fine too.
The presentation aspects of the game were some of its weakest moments. I wasn’t a huge fan of the motion comic style of the game. At times I found it an impediment to losing myself in the story as opposed to the cool stylistic choice the developers clearly intended it to be. I also found the voice acting to be a little hamfisted and wooden at times, with characters sounding flat or disinterested during some intense story moments. It was nice to hear Deus Ex’s Adam Jensen again (Elias Toufexis), though as a massive Deus Ex fan, it was hard for me to reconcile this cool voice with the slightly chubby middle-aged father he portrays. When all is said and done, these are relatively minor quibbles when viewed as part of the whole, but they still present enough to have jarred me on more than one occasion.
As Dusk Falls also does some rather interesting things with both control schemes and multiplayer. On the control front, players can use the traditional controller, a mouse and keyboard (on PC) or an app on their phone. This makes the game incredibly accessible to everyone, even those that struggle with traditional twin-stick controllers. It also allows for multiple people to play through the story, with each selecting their choice at key moments and the game randomly picking which choice wins out. Further to this there is a streamer mode which allows players to link with their Twitch streaming community and let the viewers have their say in how things turn out. In all, these are fun additions to the game but I strongly recommend getting to the end of your story before experimenting with them, just to keep that feeling of responsibility over the story that I enjoyed so much.
As Dusk Falls is, for mine, one of the best in class for this type of experience. To call it a game is a bit of a misnomer as it is really more of an interactive story, but that shouldn’t lessen your opinion of it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring this piece of fiction, guiding and moulding it towards an ending that was surprising and fulfilling. It has a few weaknesses on the presentation side of things but otherwise, it was an engaging experience from start to finish. I strongly encourage anyone who has enjoyed a “choose your own adventure” story, be it in game or novel form, to take a chance with As Dusk Falls because, for me, it is this particular type of storytelling at its best.
As Dusk Falls was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Xbox ANZ.