Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X
July 19, 2022
Xbox Game Studios
Story branching games are not new to the scene, and it’s no surprise to hear that your choices have consequences. But games rarely, if ever, touch on the mental trauma of the consequences, and how that affects the characters involved. As Dusk Falls presents a branching crime drama that is not just engaging, but gives a unique insight into the ramifications of the consequences.
As Dusk Falls puts you in the shoes of several characters throughout the story, each having their own impact on how the story unfolds. The major characters get a short introductory piece as you learn how to play and see the depths of each character. All parties meet at the Desert Dream Motel, which kicks off the game’s events and changes the lives of everyone involved.
While you can enjoy the story on your own, sharing the experience with multiple players puts your decisions and choices to a vote, with the decision getting the most votes being chosen as the character response. You can participate in the dialogue choices and quick time events (QTEs), with every success/fail being a group effort. Players don’t have to have a copy themselves to participate; they can join with their own controllers or using the As Dusk Falls companion app on smartphones, which makes the experience accessible for every player.
Fostering discussion about the story is something the developers wanted to encourage, and experiencing the story with additional players does that job brilliantly. There are very few black-and-white decisions, with everyone having their own opinion about what the correct response should be. While the final choice will be driven by majority vote, you can still pause the game to talk with your friends or vote with your gut feeling to try and influence the direction of the story in the way that you would like to see. Having that level of interaction and discussion makes the story more enjoyable, and each player will keep thinking about its thought provoking premises even after they walk away.
The narrative takes place over multiple time periods, but mainly focuses on 1998 and 2012. 1998 is the year when the “big crime” happens, and covers the events before and after the event. 2012 takes a look at how some of the characters are coping with the events years later, which will affect them differently depending on how things played out in the past. While it might look like 2012 is set in stone, you will be in control of the events in 1998. You get to decide how each character reacts to the events, the actions they take, and the knowledge that they gain. As Dusk Falls avoids the foregone conclusion trope by letting you decide how events pan out and how the characters react.
The story is not told in strict chronological order, though; you will be jumping around different time periods within 1998 and 2012. This helps to provide you with new information that will not only give you more exposition regarding past events and behaviours, but also influence the actions you will take. One of the biggest strengths of As Dusk Falls is that it takes the time to flesh out the characters and their relationships to each other. The main cast isn’t very large, and while there are a few additions, the majority of the time is spent on relationships and how characters interpret different events with one another.
“What you choose to do and how you treat others is more impactful than the actual result that occurs.”
In terms of gameplay, this is where your choices start shaping the character and start affecting their relationships with others. Your previous actions will influence character behaviour in the future, even if you seemingly get the same outcome as another person. For example, Vince can choose to lie to protect his family, but this will erode trust for some characters and make them trust Vince less, even if telling the truth would have resulted in the same situation. That eroded trust will impact future events, making it easier or harder to trust Vince later on.
Every player can make a different choice, which is then summarised at the end of a chapter. Players can see what kind of personality their choices represent, even if their choice wasn’t the one used in-game. It’s a fun way of seeing what kind of person you are and sharing that knowledge with other players around you.
The relationship focus ensures that the game’s choices have greater impact. Do you want to continue supporting someone who is lying to you, or do you want to be honest at the cost of your relationship? Even if your choices lead to the same outcome, you never know how your character relationships could help you in the future, which does a good job in making players think about how they want their characters to act.
As Dusk Falls takes the idea of every choice having a consequence further than other games in the genre. While it’s not unusual for characters to think you are untrustworthy because you betrayed them before, the game takes all of your actions into account instead of just a few key moments. This really makes you think about what choices you will make, as well as how a character would perceive your choices based on what you did previously.
There is nothing supernatural or mysterious in As Dusk Falls; all the characters are regular individuals who have been thrust into unusual circumstances, which are more exciting but still in the realm of the mundane. This is where the game taps into another one of its strengths, which is their focus on the mental health of characters, their feelings, and their attempts to deal with the situations they encounter.
The game takes the time to highlight the impact of consequences long after game events have concluded. There are many story branching games that have characters no worse for wear after certain events, but they never take a look at how a character would handle that trauma afterwards. As Dusk Falls takes that a step further, with characters potentially feeling the ramifications of your choices 14 years later.
The conflicts in the game aren’t really centered around being antagonistic with each other (though that is present). Instead, they are centered on feelings of identity, dealing with trauma, and the bonds that tie people together. This presents a unique story where problems aren’t easily talked out or pushed aside, and has every major character asking themselves key questions that drive the story.
The focus on mental health and other mature themes can result in some uncomfortable scenes for players, but it does produce a thought provoking story that has you thinking about your choices long after you have stepped away. It’s great to see a game tackle complex issues with no easy answers, which is best shown when playing with other people and seeing everyone’s different (but not necessarily incorrect) responses to events.
As Dusk Falls is a story told to you through a series of still pictures. Very few events in the game are actually shown as constantly moving graphics (such as cars moving). Instead, the pictures help to convey the emotions and feelings of the characters, rather than the actions. While it does make the game feel like a graphic/visual novel, it works to its advantage. Instead of focusing on the action, you can see the emotions clearly expressed on a character’s face or pay more attention to their words, which has far more meaning than what a character might be doing in that scene.
While it can be tempting to try and change your choices if you feel they resulted in less-than-optimal outcomes, it’s recommended that you stay the course for your first playthrough and experience the story even if you didn’t like how events played out. This helps you to feel the impact of your choices, and relate to the characters as you make decisions based on what you feel is appropriate. If you do want to make different choices, there is a decision tree that helps you see which actions lead to certain outcomes, but it can be a slog reaching those outcomes.
“…you can see the emotions clearly expressed on a character’s face or pay more attention to their words…”
For better or for worse, there is no way to skip scenes. While this has the benefit of preventing you from missing crucial moments (which you do not want to do in your first playthrough), it also makes repeat playthroughs more of a tough grind than an enjoyable experience. You will have to play the game again fully to see different outcomes, and you can’t speed up the text or jump to a decision. You can move directly to certain moments in the decision tree once you have unlocked them, but you need to do that after it has been saved on your profile, and you can easily overwrite your previous actions if you start from the beginning.
Having to go through the entire story again might be alright the second time (especially if you plan on making very different decisions), but it does hurt the replay value of the game, since any budding completionists would have to play the game multiple times to get all the achievements. It doesn’t help that some choices are not initially shown for some events, meaning you might have to replay a scene and deliberately stall for time just to get certain outcomes.
Playing the game with others can be a blast, especially as players can have different ideas about what the right choice is. Unfortunately, the game’s focus on every choice mattering becomes a double-edged sword in multiplayer. Not only do you have to go along with the majority decision, but the majority decision will also impact future events. This means that if you didn’t agree with the group, you have to deal with events that you didn’t necessarily want to deal with, but don’t have a choice.
- Complex issues are discussed properly
- Great storytelling based on sacrifice vs. survival
- Playing with others is easy can foster discussion about your choices
- Characters are fleshed out and are relatable
- A majority of your choices will have an impact on future events
- You can't skip scenes even if you already watched them
- 100% completion can be a chore to achieve
- If others choose choices you don't like, it's harder to reverse later on
As Dusk Falls tells a wonderful story that is not only thought provoking, but willing to discuss difficult subjects that aren’t often talked about. With every decision having an impact and putting the focus on characters, the story themes are effectively communicated and make you interested in seeing what happens next. Experiencing the game with your friends is also enjoyable, fostering discussions of your choices and what kind of decisions you make. While getting 100% completion for the game can be a tough journey, you are rewarded with story details that open up character motivations and keep you thinking about the characters long after you put down the game.