As Dusk Falls revels in being pulled apart. As Interior Night’s debut interactive drama about an ill-fated family road trip plays out, you can feel the tension at every moment before, agonizingly, a messy saga about morality unfurls.
As Dusk Falls is split into two arcs – called books – and follows two families: the middle-class Walker clan, on a cross-country trip toward their new life, and the poverty-stricken Holts – three brothers pushed into a heist by the hand that life dealt. In the beginning, both families look vastly different – until their paths cross at Two Rocks ’Desert Dream Hotel, where the gun-toting Holts take the Walkers hostage in the aftermath of a daring burglary. And then the police get involved.
Down the barrel of a gun, both families start to share a few similarities. Family man Vince Walker has weathered plenty of life’s punches, and will do anything to protect his wife and daughter. It’s not such a far cry from Tyler, the oldest of the Holt brothers, who is trapped in a nightmarish police standoff because he’s willing to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. Interior Night uses flashbacks to weave each character’s backstory into the hostage situation, and the (often dramatic) exposition means the cast feels like living, breathing people. Everyone has their own motivations, own desires, own fears – and although As Dusk Falls begins by painting morality in black and white strokes, it takes the scorching Arizona sun minutes to melt that down to a compelling shade of gray.
As Dusk Falls thrives in this moral gray zone. As you get to know Two Rocks’ cast, villains will become empathetic victims of circumstance and even the loveliest goodie two-shoes can hide a sun-bleached skeleton or two in the closet. This nuanced approach to life means that As Dusk Falls is able to thoughtfully tackle several tough themes, including domestic violence and the long-reaching effects of generational trauma.
Impressively, As Dusk Falls explores these topics without losing sight of itself along the way. The darker story beats usually unfold through flashbacks, but don’t overshadow the Desert Dream Motel’s ongoing events. Instead, each character’s motivations feel richer and more compelling for the added exposition. Jay Holt, the youngest of the brothers, is the most interesting to follow: Jay isn’t as keen to commit crime as Tyler, and doesn’t have the same distaste for society as his violent middle brother Dean. Despite his circumstances Jay remains kind and empathetic, which means his personality clashes with everything he’s been dragged into. For the player in charge of making decisions for him, Jay’s compassion means you’ll want to do everything you can to stop his environment dragging him down.
However, As Dusk Falls will not tell every player the same story. As players are frequently tasked with making major decisions for the game’s characters, there can be rippling effects on the story. There are a wide range of choices to make – sometimes players may be debating whether to try grabbing a gun, or lie to a mobster, but other choices might entail keeping secrets or trying to calm an excitable dog down. Some of these decisions can be chosen in a heartbeat, but others are gut-wrenching choices that will leave you agonizing over a single button-press.
From one playthrough, it became obvious that many of As Dusk Falls choices that seemed fairly inconsequential were actually hugely influential on the plot. On the other hand sometimes that illusion of choice faltered and it felt like no matter what option is picked a certain decision is coming, regardless of how high-stakes the choice might seem.
With that said, As Dusk Falls has a plethora of impactful decisions – at the end of each chapter, players are shown a sweeping narrative tree with all the alternate timelines and scenes visible, and each tree has a host of branches. Albeit, they all have their details covered up – which means As Dusk Falls has a fair bit of replayability to offer, as several playthroughs are required to see how everything could go down.
On one hand, it feels fantastic to know that you’ve spun your own unique story from the wreckage of the families ’explosive collision – but on the other hand, it can be a bit frustrating to feel like you’ve missed something big. Seconds before the credits rolled on, a wildly dramatic twist alluded to an entire sub-plot that had never been fully uncovered – the mystery in question is compelling enough to justify a return to Two Rocks, but the scene in question came as a punch to the throat. It was disappointing to have seemingly missed such a big part of the game, but As Dusk Falls is all about dealing with life’s messy imperfections – so perhaps a tidy, happy ending was never really on the cards.
One such imperfection is the game’s second half, which isn’t quite as arresting as the first. The game’s second book has a smaller cast and lower stakes for most characters, and that costs a lot of the game’s tension when characters from all corners of life are no longer forced to share a room under duress. The slower-burn drama doesn’t manage to sink its hooks in as far as that bombastic first act does, but that’s not to say it’s bad – this is where some brilliant storylines kicks in, and player-made decisions become weightier than ever.
As Dusk Falls launches on July 19 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S. This review was played on Xbox Series S.
As Dusk Falls is a breathtaking story that explores life lived in the margins. An intricately plotted story means that most decisions feel consequential, and fantastic writing ekes out empathy from the unlikeliest of places. Although the story loses some steam in the latter half, getting to the end of As Dusk Falls will reward players with 100 ‘what if’s’ and an itch to race back to the beginning to do it all over again.
- A gripping plot that thoughtfully tackles sensitive themes
- Throwing black-and-white morality out of the window makes for an incredibly compelling cast
- The player’s decisions feel genuinely influential
- The art style can take a moment to grow on you
- The second act suffers from lower stakes