Need to know
What is it? A comic that you play—and really, really care about.
Expect to pay $30/£25
Publisher Xbox Game Studios
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 1650, AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, 8 GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
On the face of it, this is a hard sell to the videogame crowd. There’s no direct control over an avatar. You complete QTEs and make choices, and… that’s about it, really. Yet the limitations of the format are (mostly) transformed into strengths here. You may initially mourn the loss of the ability to spin on the spot and jump around on tables during poignant dialogue, but once you’re playing? You’ll want little more than to see what happens next.
The story concerns two very different families brought crashing together during a small-town motel siege. The Walkers are moving house, with little more than prosaic family tensions to worry about; the Holts are after a large amount of cash for reasons that are soon made clear. To explain much more than that would run the risk of spoilers which, in a game like this, could tear holes through the experience.
As a motion comic, there’s almost no full animation present. Instead, what are essentially comic panels are presented one after the other with subtle fade-in transitions. I worried that this would break the atmosphere for me, but I got used to it almost straight away. A razor-sharp script and striking art, based on photography of real people acting out the scenes, certainly helps.
The acting, too, is terrific. Separate actors are used for the art and the voiceovers. For example, Vince Walker is the actor Oliver Britten visually, but he has the voice of Elias Toufexis (perhaps best known to the gamers as Deus Ex’s Adam Jensen). Toufexis does a stellar job; but his distinctive voice does mean that the dad sounds a bit like Batman.
Despite its limited nature, As Dusk Falls features multiplayer, which actually seems to be the developer’s preferred method of play. I, however, strongly believe that it’s best enjoyed as a solo experience. It can be played online by invite, or locally via an app. The idea is that player choices are voted on; drama by democracy. If that idea appeals to you, then brilliant—but it’s hard to deny that playing this way drains the experience of intimacy, and whisks away any control over pace from an individual.
Those are two words that constantly pumped through the heart of the game during my playthrough: intimacy and pace. Quality writing combined with quality acting meant that I quickly began to care about all of these people and what happened to them, and more than once I found myself agonising over a decision. I felt close to the people; close to the story; close to making a decision that I would regret. Similarly, with no possibility of the player becoming lost or distracted in the game world, the developers have enormous control over the pace of the story—and they nail it.
You know what? I didn’t even mind the QTEs. Hell, I liked them. It amuses me greatly that the game features not one, but two dishwashing QTEs, but other than that, their inclusion makes sense, and often even adds to a scene’s tension. Trying to escape a pursuer over rough terrain; hurriedly hotwiring a car; getting a stubborn bit of food off a plate; you know, that sort of thing.
It probably sounds like I love As Dusk Falls, and that’s because I do. However, when you love somebody, you have a duty to point out any important mistakes that they make. This is why I have to say that the ending is shit.
I’m so frustrated with it, it’s made me swear in a review for the first time in five years of freelancing. I’m talking specifically about the final scene; the scene that everybody gets regardless of any choices they made beforehand. The scene that plays out no matter who’s dead, arrested, divorced, or forgot to do the dishes. It’s cheap, it’s lazy, and I hate it. Sticking that scene on the end of As Dusk Falls is like supergluing a Funko Pop to the hood of a Rolls Royce.
Nonetheless. Nonetheless. I still liked the way that my first attempt at the story turned out (especially if I pretend that the final scene never happened). Events and relationships ended in a messy, realistic way that I wish I could share with you. As the credits rolled, I was already thinking about what I’d do differently next time, the ending I’d like to see, and how I might get there.
There were a few bumps in the road on the way to that final sequence, but they were more potholes providing brief shakes than landmines that sent the wheels flying off. For example, the main disadvantage of the visual presentation, and one that could not be sidestepped entirely, is that static faces simply cannot express emotion as effectively as faces in motion. Most of the time, this wasn’t an issue. But on a few occasions—usually when a character was caught mid-grimace in anger—expressions were unintentionally amusing.
There were also precisely two decisions that I feel could’ve done with a bit of work (which, of course, I can’t go into detail about). Still, considering the fact that you’re provided with a near-constant stream of decisions to make—including a higher number of significant ones than you might expect—the fact that there are just two that struck me as imperfect is pretty impressive.
It also has to be said that the handful of flashback sequences, while as excellently put together as the rest of the game, are robbed of a degree of tension simply because you already know that one or more of the characters don’t die. I’m pretty much scraping the bottom of the criticism barrel here though, because I’m running out of things I don’t like.
If you’re looking for a strong story that you’ll want to replay at least once, and/or something to tide you over until we get that AAA dishwashing simulator we’re all waiting for, this is very much your game.