As Dusk Falls Preview

No Deed Goes Unpunished

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One completely unexpected highlight of attending the live-viewing of the 2022 Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase in Toronto two weeks ago was seeing the latest gameplay trailer for As Dusk Falls. This is the Microsoft-published interactive drama from the mind of Caroline Marchal, former Sony and Quantic Dream Lead Game Designer and founder of independent studio INTERIOR/NIGHT.

Not having seen anything new about the game since its initial reveal at the Xbox Showcase all the way back in July 2020, it was inspiring to see evidence of Microsoft’s continued confidence in the project, not to mention witnessing it displayed on a large theatrical screen in front of a packed house of Xbox FanFest fans. The following week, I was presented with the opportunity to preview the first two chapters of the game courtesy of Xbox Game Studios, and obviously I leapt at the chance, eager for a sneak peek at what INTERIOR/NIGHT has planned.

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As Dusk Falls is a game that is taking a huge creative risk by just about every metric, and it’s questionable as to how large an audience it will ultimately be able to attract. It features an art style inspired heavily by graphic novels and motion comics as well as taking a hard lean into the episodic television aesthetic trail blazed by games like Remedy’s Xbox 360 and Xbox One-era titles Alan Wake and Quantum Break.

As Dusk Falls is a game that is taking a huge creative risk by just about every metric…”

If there was ever a time for Xbox to make a wager on a game like this, it’s definitely right now, with the popularity of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service continuing its upward trajectory and its unofficial “Netflix of Games” status offering the perfect test platform for As Dusk Falls’ “bingeable” six-episode structure.

The story centres around a cross-generational, interracial family and a trio of delinquents whose fates become intertwined following a near car-collision on an interstate road in 1999 Arizona. This chance encounter ultimately leads both parties to cross paths once again at the nearby Desert Dream Motel, with the family seeking overnight lodging and repairs for their vehicle, and the robbers, soon revealed to be an infamous brotherly trio of criminals known as the Holt Boys.

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They are looking for a place to lie low from the police following a violent armed robbery they just committed against the town Sheriff. The Boys hold both the family and motel staff at gunpoint with the intent to slip away once the heat blows over, but inevitably the police are tipped off to their location and a potentially deadly hostage situation ensues.

During the first two hours of the game, players will primarily assume the role of Vince, the family patriarch whose simple goal of getting his wife, young daughter, father, and pet dog safely to St. Louis to start a new life has rapidly transformed into a desperate struggle to get himself and his loved ones out of the Desert Dream Motel alive. In addition, players will also control Jay, the youngest, kindest and most criminally inexperienced Holt brother during the initial robbery, as well as flashback scenes once again featuring Vince and as he, his wife Michelle and daughter Zoe prepare to make the move to Missouri two days earlier.

Naturally, the flashback scenes starring Vince don’t affect elements of the narrative that are already set in stone (there’s no avoiding the hostage situation at the motel, for example). That said, many if not all the decisions players will make as Vince and Jay in the early scenes of the game serve to flesh out their characters, backstories and core motivations, the latter of which the game’s excellent writing and dialogue never betrays. By the time the hostage standoff occurs at the motel, players will have already developed a strong empathy for Vince and Jay’s characters and have a very clear sense of the kind of people they both are.

As Dusk Falls Preview

Having just recently reviewed another compelling but more-logically flawed multi-branching narrative in The Quarry, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how tight the writing, dialogue and pathing all were in this demo. With each of the first two episodes weighing in at around an hour’s length, the more condensed nature of this dramatic thriller felt far more logically consistent and completely in step with the motivations of the various characters. Additionally, the “near-reaching” consequences of every action and decision are felt very quickly and the outcomes are often difficult to predict.

“No deed in As Dusk Falls goes unpunished, and with many of the game’s key decisions attached to a timer, players will have to make their choices quickly and be prepared for the imminent outcome.”

Being caught in a lie that you have just recently made, for example, can severely affect how other characters. This includes your loved ones, regard your character, and in the worst-case scenario, they can even get Vince, someone he cares about or even a total stranger injured or killed. No deed in As Dusk Falls goes unpunished, and with many of the game’s key decisions attached to a timer, players will have to make their choices quickly and be prepared for the imminent outcome. Letting the timer run out and having Vince or Jay respond with silence is another option too, if you’re curious as to what situation the AI thinks should unfold next.

Making decisions in As Dusk Falls may be complex, but the controls are simple. When prompted, inputs are mostly of the point-and-click variety, where players guide the cursor with an analog stick to the labelled object they wish to interact with, or alternatively, the action or dialog choice they wish to select, and press the Action button (“A” on Xbox) to execute it. Basic QTEs like tapping the A Button to fill a meter or performing a motion on the analog stick are also common, but rarely ever are these trials designed to unduly challenge or frustrate the player.

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Of course, the time limit under which players must often make decisions is an intended source of stress on INTERIOR/NIGHT’s part, and the time it takes to drag the cursor (which feels rather heavy in my opinion) over to the action and click-to-confirm it must also be factored in. It should be noted however that players can opt to use a smartphone as their controller via a dedicated As Dusk Falls app, and that the finished game will allow up to eight players to co-operatively play through the story together, either locally, online, or via a mix of both modes.

The one collective elephant in the room for many will be the painterly art direction and animation style, which audiences will either have to take or leave. Fans of comic books, graphic novels, motion comics, visual novels and the like should feel right at home with As Dusk Falls. Even if they aren’t at first, the animation style, which creatively combines seemingly tens of hundreds of intricately drawn, two-dimensional character stills with moving backgrounds and occasional 3-D splashes, gradually grows on the player and the “framey-ness” is eventually forgotten about.

The game’s artwork itself and the characters look amazing in both design and consistency across the game, which I’m all about. My recommendation to anyone who finds the style off-putting (as I initially did for a minute back in 2020) is to wait for the game to launch on Xbox Game Pass on day one and give the first chapter an honest shot before dismissing it.

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Quite honestly, even after two demo playthroughs and experiencing two of the “potential” bombshells players may encounter within the first couple of hours, I’m still excitedly looking forward to being able to push beyond the second chapter and binge-play As Dusk Falls via Xbox Game Pass when it launches on July 19th. I have so many burning questions. Will anyone in Zoe’s family aside from her make it out? What’s the real connection between the Sheriff and the Holts, and what’s his obsession with a missing “black book” all about? What infamous crime did the Holt Boys’ father commit (or not commit)? What challenges lie ahead for the survivors? And how many ways can Vince possibly die?

All I know is, if anything happens to Zeus (Jim’s adorable Jack Russel Terrier), and I mean ANYTHING, I am going to LOSE…MY…SH**.

Khari Taylor
Khari Taylor

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