For me, Arizona is home. Yes, it’s got problems. Yes, it’s got obnoxious people I’d just as soon see plunging to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without mechanical assistance. But for all that, it’s got a lot to recommend it. It’s got a character you won’t find elsewhere, even in neighboring states like New Mexico or California. So, when a game comes out that features Arizona in some fashion, I want it to be good. I want to see if that game captures an aspect of that character the same way Breaking Bad captured aspects of New Mexico’s character. Imagine my surprise when As Dusk Falls came across my desk and turned out to do most of what I was hoping for.
Combining elements of visual novels and Telltale Games/Quantic Dream-style adventures, As Dusk Falls takes players on a sun-drenched journey through the heart of darkness. Across six chapters, organized into three act “books,” we follow the lives of two families whose chance encounter on Route 66 near the fictional town of Two Rock leads to a night of tragedy that echoes with repercussions for them and those around them for years. Naturally, your choices and your performance at quick time events will alter the course of the story: who lives, who dies, who’s hurt, and how badly the scars remain. At the end of each chapter, you’re given a quick summary of your actions, broken down into three categories of Values, Traits, and Play Style. And when you’ve reached the end of the game, you can explore and replay chapters, seeing what other choices lead to.
Visually, As Dusk Falls primarily uses a motion comic style of animation rather than the typical character meshes inside a 3D “set.” The exception to this are short animated sequences involving vehicles; useful for letting players know somebody has left or entered the area, but visually not in tune with the characters. All that said, the visual style is gripping. There’s no question of which character is which. Each area is visually distinct and feels consistent across different camera angles. The UI is appropriately minimalist and contextual. And, for the most part, they captured the general feel of different locales fairly well.
The only complaints visually are in fine details, little things that don’t seem like they should be noticeable. But they’re details which cause a subtle dissonance in the player’s willing suspension of disbelief. The biggest offender: green “running man” exit signs. These are distinctly European and not typically found in the southwestern US, certainly not in the late ’90s. Detroit: Become Human made the same error, and it’s harder to ignore here because it can’t be brushed off as “oh, it’s the future, stop nitpicking.” The only other nitpick is found in scenes in the forests of Northern Arizona. What the player sees are big deciduous forests splashed with color as fall starts to approach. In real life, they’re primarily coniferous, with small stretches of aspens scattered there and there. As for wildlife, you’re not likely to find wild hogs in that part of Northern Arizona, though javelina (also known as peccaries) can occasionally be seen up around the Flagstaff area. These visual details are vaguely irritating, but quickly pass. Still, a subtle sign that you’re seeing a part of America through a European lens.
Because of the visual style, music and voice acting have to carry a lot more weight, and the voice cast for As Dusk Falls is pretty solid. Elias Toufexis (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) delivers an almost-jarringly good performance as Vince Walker, a beaten down aircraft mechanic moving his family to St. Louis who gets caught up in the worst night of his life after a near-miss on Route 66. Meanwhile, Sasha Kane gives the right mix of deer-in-the-headlights bewilderment and “littlest brother” pathos to Jay Holt, the youngest of three brothers whose home invasion against the local sheriff puts them all on a collision course with tragedy. There’s not a bad performance in the entire cast. However, some characters’ visual sources don’t always match the voice actor portraying them. Vince is one example, with Toufexis handling the voice but Oliver Britten (The Limehouse Golem, Doc Martin) providing the visual model. Another is Sheriff Dante Romero, visually portrayed by Francisco Labbe (Children of Men, The Hustle), but voiced by Jason Hightower (“Jackie” from Cyberpunk 2077). One wonders why the actors who provided their likenesses couldn’t also provide their voices, but it’s a minor curiosity.
With regards to music, the scoring in various scenes is decent, though not incredible. It highlights tension and tone in the various scenes but doesn’t feel like it adds much to them. As for the soundtrack, it’s also decent, but missing nods to regional music icons like Stevie Nicks and Gin Blossoms (during the Arizona sections) or Story of The Year and Cavo (for the St. Louis sections). I’d hate to think they blew all their licensing money on a single track from Better Than Ezra.
Gameplay in As Dusk Falls is comparatively minimal, much like you’d expect with a visual novel or Telltale Games piece. It’s all about the story, and trying to pick your way through to what you believe to be the “best” ending. As such, it’s a fairly quick playthrough going solo. There is a multiplayer mechanic, similar to Until Dawn, where you can bring your buddies into the game and basically vote on the next course of action. Additionally, there’s a “Broadcast Mode” for streamers to get their viewers involved and vote on choices through Twitch. Most choices have a 15 second window to make, so you have a little bit of time, but it sometimes feels like they go faster than they should. A companion app for your phone allows you to control the game in that fashion, but I felt more comfortable just sticking to mouse and keyboard on the PC.
So, about that story…
The writing is really tight, no question, and that makes As Dusk Falls whip along pretty quickly. Think of your favorite one hour dramatic series and how it just moves from start to finish at a rate that leaves you wanting more while also dismaying you that an hour seems to have suddenly vanished. That’s pretty much how it goes, at least the first time through. But much like a visual novel, seeing the same fixed elements again shortly after your first playthrough tends to engender a sense of disconnection, a sort of mental “autopilot” which occasionally makes you forget which choices you didn’t make the first time around. At the same time, while the writing is tight overall, there’s some moments which seem like the characters have been given a hit of “plot stupidity,” and a couple seem to have it for a number of scenes.
Naturally, you have to go through again to see what you missed. Thankfully, there is a decision map to help you plot out your next moves, but you find yourself experiencing a weird form of ludonarrative dissonance. It’s as if you’re trying recall, “Were these characters this stupid/obnoxious/irritating the first time I went through?” There will undoubtedly be all manner of guides written about how to get 100% completion for all possible paths, but trying to tease them out at this point feels oddly painful. Having a contextual hint or indicator within the scenarios themselves about potential choices might have helped, though some choices are not always clear about whether you’re making a momentous decision in the story or if you’re just flavoring your character. I would have liked a better understanding within the storyline viewer about which choices help influence which designators of Values and Traits, and what percentage of QTEs you have to “fail” to get a different Play Style designator.
All that said, the storylines for As Dusk Falls in general do not have the sort of trite and superficial feel that Quantic Dream has turned out in recent memory. Shocks are genuinely shocking in an almost uniform fashion, not simply for shock value. You find yourself identifying with the viewpoint characters and (with a few exceptions) feel like the secondary characters are pretty well developed. A couple of the scenarios towards the end did have a faded feeling to them, as if the writers panicked about loose ends and tried to make sure they were tied up, with a corresponding sacrifice in heft being the result. Without giving any serious spoilers, my first playthrough reached a fairly good conclusion, all things considered, with a minimal amount of fatalities, though it did kind of feel like the writers (or somebody in the design staff) said, “There’s too much happy ending here. We need to whack somebody! Don’t worry, they’ll just think we’re setting up a sequel and/or DLC.” The second playthrough, definitely a bit bloodier, but also different enough at the end to be distinctive.
Considering the state of the genre, and the outsized influence that Quantic Dream has had on it recently, Interior/Night has managed to deliver a game of comparable quality in terms of production values and considerably better in terms of plot and character. As Dusk Falls isn’t perfect, but it’s sufficiently well done that players can forgive its minor flaws in the pursuit of the overall experience.
Axel reviewed As Dusk Falls on PC with a review code. As Dusk Falls is also available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X.