Like many one-trick ponies, branching path narrative adventures had a predictable commercial trajectory. They peaked in popularity in the middle of the last decade, primarily due to Telltale games’ relentless release schedule. The Walking Dead: The Game, their flagship series with several multi-episode spinoffs and sequels, was just the tip of the iceberg. Telltale put their spin on Batman, Sam & Max, Jurassic Park, Borderlands, and even Minecraft, creating “experiences “that often were sub-par compared to the source material. All that came to a screeching halt when Telltale closed the studio in 2018. The global interest in multi-choice adventures went down the drain with them.
Many of those games had no real value, to be perfectly honest. They were mostly pulp pseudo-art, aimed at a broad audience, piggybacking on the established franchises. Hyperproduction proved a double-edged sword, creating the illusion of healthy demand. The reality was somewhat different, and the oversaturated market finally decided against the bloat. Quantic Dream, on the other hand, had a much smaller portfolio of far superior games. Their approach was diametrically opposed to Telltale’s. They operated outside the franchise licensing realm, creating the original stories that drilled their way into the cultural mainstream.
Quality over Quantity
Quantic is not dead, but it’s silent, like Telltale, since 2018. Some people who worked there established Interior Night studio, determined to continue the legacy of quality over quantity in the non-linear narrative gaming sphere. As Dusk Falls is their first attempt in that noble endeavor. It’s probably the best game of that type in a really long time. If we discount the technical problems in the PC version and several narrative hiccups, it represents the very pinnacle this genre has to offer.
As Dusk Falls is the complex tale of two families on a literal collision course. The Walkers, Vince, his wife Michelle, six-year-old daughter Zoe, and father Jim, are a typical urban family moving house to St. Louis. Traveling through a small dusty town on Arizona’s section of Route 66, they almost had a fatal car accident. Holt brothers, Tyler, Dale, and Jay, local troublemaking boys, were on their way to the burglary that would forever change their lives for the worse. The near miss damaged the Walkers’ car, and the family had no choice but to get a room in a local motel. Holts, chased by the police after the supremely idiotic attempt to rob the local sheriff’s house, desperately needed a hiding place. They barricaded themself in the same motel, taking Walkers and a few others as hostages.
Botched Burglary (Spoilers Included)
It’s nearly impossible to avoid the spoilers while talking about the narrative-driven game, so I’m taking the gloves off. Though six chapters are divided into two “books, “the story of two families starts in 1998. and its consequences culminate in 2012, offering a conclusion long overdue for key people. During the game, the focus will wildly shift from Walkers to Holts, with plenty of flashbacks and fast-forwards starring people related to the story. The first part, the motel standoff, reminded me of Dog Day Afternoon, my favorite classic movie. People from various backgrounds under siege will provide their unique perspectives on the unfolding catastrophe, assisted by you as the main decider during the branching junctions.
You won’t be able to easily play the favorites, nudging the narrative into the predictable outcome. Nothing is black and white here, especially the tragic Holt brothers. Halfway between the victim of the circumstances and violent criminals, Holts are complex individuals. The story centers on Zoe and Jay, the youngest Holt, who unwillingly got thrust into the mayhem. The culmination of their shared destiny comes fourteen years after the motel standoff. Depending on your choices, the ending can be hopeful or hopeless, with many shades in between.
Game of (Meaningful) Choices
As Dusk Falls is the game of meaningful choices. They often have significant repercussions on characters and their relations. Few choices can lead to the death of important people, reshuffling the dynamics of the story. Branching will motivate you to revisit critical scenes over and over, experimenting with the outcomes. The emotional drain you might suffer from the “wrong” turn you took during the first pass can easily be remedied during the encore.
Some of the choices are tied to the Quick Time Events. I know what you are thinking, but I suppose there’s no escaping QTE in narrative adventures. Those timed choices offer enough time for the average person to react. If you struggle, you can select extended timers in the options.
Speck of Dust in the Smooth Finish
Being Microsoft platform exclusive, As Dusk Falls is available on Xbox Game Pass. The initial launch version was somewhat buggy on PC, limiting resolution to 1080p in 30 fps, so Xbox was a better choice. Thankfully, they patched the problem, so you won’t need to resort to complicated workarounds.
If forced to nitpick, I would like to point out several plot moments that went over the top of the plausibility curve, diluting the whole experience. In the fervent desire to enrich the behavioral spectrum of each individual, they oversaturated their histories with unnecessary baggage. At some point, they almost, unwillingly, went Tarantino, which is clearly evident in the case of Dante, corrupted Sheriff of Two Rock. That guy’s antics require firm suspension of disbelief, to say the least, casting the shadow on otherwise top-notch crime drama.
But that’s only a speck of dust in the smooth finish. The experience offered by As Dusk Falls is unique. The acting is top-notch, the visual style is elegant, and the consequences of your choices are meaningful. This is a story you won’t forget any time soon.
- Superb story, full of meaningful consequences of your choices.
- Top-notch voice acting and production.
- Initial bugs in the PC version (now patched).
- Some characters are less nuanced than others.