One moment can change the course of your life. A car accident can transform a cross-country road trip into the nexus point tying two disparate families together forever. As the past unravels into the present (and even into the future), Interior Night’s debut game As Dusk Falls tasks players with doing their best to survive the aftermath of their decisions. What happens to Vince and his family, Jay and his brothers, even Paul and his cousin the Sheriff, all rest on what you believe is the best course of action.
The game starts by mashing together clichés: a family moving cross country gets held hostage by three down-on-their-luck brothers who decided it was a good idea to rob from their local Sheriff. Your goal is to keep everyone alive throughout the night while slowly learning the root causes that led to this armed predicament in the first place. Desperate times and all, right? The main characters—a family man focused on protecting his loved ones and an odd-ball unsure of his place in his blue-collar family—are tropes tried and true. You shouldn’t care.
But that’s what’s so odd about As Dusk Falls is that you do care. You’ve seen everything it does before, but somehow you can’t stop playing until you reach the end. We know the characters with emotional baggage portrayed by sometimes questionable voice actors, the tools of Quick-Time Events (QTEs) and dialogue choices that help keep the player immersed, and the confrontational ending where the characters reminisce about the true nature of humanity. It should be a dime a dozen narrative adventure, and in many cases it falls into the exact same pitfalls you’ve seen before, but it somehow continually rises above its station.
From start to end, As Dusk Falls is all about moments—small interactions full of humanity that ground the flawed ambition of the experience and make the sum of the parts almost greater than the whole. The cliffhanger that the first half ends on—the narrative is charmingly divided into two books, Collision and Expansion—will be burned into my memory for a long time, both for its sheer audacity and how it pushes everything into new directions. It’s not a perfect package, but it’s one that will engross you for its entire seven hour playtime while dangling its many loose threads to entice you into yet another playthrough.
As Dusk Falls was developed by Interior Night and published by Xbox Game Studios. Our review is based on the…
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about choices.
The game’s director and studio founder Caroline Marchal worked at Quantic Dream, leading gameplay design for both Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. Although Quantic Dream’s reputation is at an all time low, the studio successfully popularized interactive cinematic narratives by creating Hollywood-caliber stories where players control the outcome.
Where Quantic Dream games presented choices as inflection points (a major moment where you can zig or zag) or foreshadowing (actions whose outcomes affect the story in some ominous and foreboding way that only makes sense in retrospect), in As Dusk Falls, almost everything you say and do can, and probably will, matter. Off-handedly telling your armed captor he needs a girlfriend gives him enough courage to call the girl he likes and set up a date. Or, more drastically, keeping someone locked in a car because you fear for their safety might lead to their death. Everything can change on a dime because of actions you made hours before, small variations that lead to entirely different outcomes ensuring no two playthroughs will be identical.
The choice tree at the end of each chapter is a sight to behold, an intricate web operating on two time frames, where events in the past inform repercussions in the narrative’s present. This approach allows the story to break from the single day of its main story to deepen the character’s backstories and relationships, but it’s also a convenient way to finish character arcs that don’t fit within the main story anymore.
It felt affirming when I was informed many of the reviewers made the same big choices as me, just as it felt isolating when I was the outlier. The gray lines of paths not traveled revel in their mysteries, taunting you to play again—either from the start or from specific points presented via a pseudo-chapter select—to uncover the information just outside of your grasp. It’s an experience where your choices matter, making each playthrough unique enough that you begin to feel ownership over the adventure and everyone in it.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about sacrifice.
Instead of trying to emulate cinematic realism through intricate motion capture and Hollywood stars, As Dusk Falls never lets you forget it isn’t reality. 3D models encase the bright watercolor portraits of the actors, the dissonance between dimensions painfully noticeable at first before fading into accepted fact. The characters move in a stuttery slideshow; the immovable nature of some acts (pointing a gun at someone) empower this decision, while others (smiling during angry dialogue) dilute it.
On a narrative level, every character sacrifices something to get through their various ordeals. What these sacrifices are, mind you, is completely up to each individual player. At one point, I accidentally saved a marriage, and during another I had a “let’s fuck shit up” mentally that got dangerously close to derailing the “happy” ending I was aiming for. The various struggles and difficulties are generally relatable, imbuing each character’s story with just enough empathy to make choices difficult.
The player also makes sacrifices, as your actions that lead you down one path bar you from dozens of others, each with their own revelations and dialogue. Following a playthrough to the end, which is required to unlock the replay function, means always being acutely aware that the path you’ve chosen may not be the right one. Seconds before credits rolled, I witnessed a murder that drastically made me rethink my entire adventure; there is always more to learn hiding just beyond the bounds of what you have decided to know.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about family.
Family can be blood, or they can be inexorably tied to us by situations that smashed us together. They can choose us, or they can choose not to be with us, or their choices don’t matter because fate had other plans. Family can be a name, a burden you’re desperately trying to shrug off, a promise that you’ve never fully been able to fulfill.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about trauma.
I mean, shit, when you have your main events revolve around a hostage situation and murder, it’s hard not to have trauma. The resolution attempts to illustrate the steps people take to heal themselves after such an event, but the game runs out of time too quickly for anything to feel greater than a half-hearted suggestion.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about doing the right thing.
Or, at least trying to do what you feel is the right thing at the current moment.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about how cops suck.
What else do you expect when the main villain is quite literally a conniving and thoroughly prickish Sheriff?
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about embracing the nihilistic urge to throw your hands up, shout “nothing matters!” and move on with your life.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about learning through repetition.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about finding your true self.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is all about learning to live with regret.
CROSSROAD RECHOSEN: As Dusk Falls is about telling this story your way.
And, while the final product might be imperfect, there’s something to celebrate in the simple fact that Interior Night had the skill to pull it all off well enough in the first place.
As Dusk Falls was developed by Interior Night and published by Xbox Game Studios. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X version. It is also available for PC and Xbox One.
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.