If you’re only touching the buttons on your controller once a minute and the still images put you off, you’re going to hate it. As Dusk Falls, and that’s a pity. Because the debut feature from the INTERIOR/NIGHT studio is mind-blowing, with putative artistic choices, a masterfully directed narrative and a sophisticated multiplayer component.
Posted at 9:00 am
Right off the bat, we’re pretty emphatically warned: As dusk falls exclusive to the Xbox Series and PC, features scenes of intense violence, family feuds, mental health, suicide and “other mature issues.” However, we noticed another aspect: there is practically no animation in the action scenes, only a superimposition of still images with transitions. The images are beautiful, with faded colors and a disturbing realism, but this artistic choice then surprises and then irritates. It takes a few hours of gameplay not to stop there.
One desert, two families
To say As Dusk Falls has some good arguments to overshadow this aspect. The screenplay is worthy of the best Quentin Tarantino – but without the humor – or the Cohen brothers, those films where the darkest sides of the American soul meet the brightest. On the one hand we have the three Holt brothers, the eldest two of whom are real villains who abuse the youngest, Jay. On the other hand, the Walker family, who left Sacramento, California, after an apparent mistake by their father Vince, an aviation mechanic.
No spoilers here, the preamble is in the trailer. In 1998, the Holt brothers attempt to break into Sheriff Dante’s home and are about to be caught. After a breakdown on Route 66, the Walker family finds refuge at a motel in a remote village, Two Rocks. The Holts arrive and take everyone hostage. This is the starting point of a six chapter story divided into two “books” Collision and Expansion. Virtually every character has shameful secrets. None are as pure or evil as they first appear, apart from six-year-old Zoe. The dialogues are fine, hard, often surprising and the story keeps you in suspense for a good ten hours, the time to bring the story to an end for the first time.
The interactions are essentially twofold. You have like fifteen seconds from time to time to decide on the reaction of a character lie? To make fun of? Be silent? – and this choice will guide the development of the story.
Your other major interaction during certain action scenes is to quickly press the joystick or button to flee, jump, dodge, or kick.
At the end of each chapter, a branching map shows you which paths you followed and what percentage of players made the same choices. Junctions you didn’t take are invisible until you decide to restart a specific segment by changing your selection. Obviously we find that thousands of different progressions are possible, but that the variants for the endings are fewer, up to four.
Your choices also help define your personality. It assesses your ability to empathize, bond with your family or honesty, your speed in making decisions.
The other important part of the game mechanics is that we introduced the possibility to invite up to seven other players in local mode or with a mobile application who can also participate in the selection. What prevails is simply the majority vote. Since we tried the game before its official release, we couldn’t test this multiplayer mode.
The relationship between As Dusk Falls and story-driven games like Beyond two souls and heavy rain, developed by the studio Quantic Dream, is no coincidence. We had the intuition, a quick trip to LinkedIn confirmed it: INTERIOR/NIGHT CEO and Creative Director Caroline Marchal worked at Quantic Dream for 11 years.
We find with As Dusk Falls this remarkable narrative quality that shaped Quantic Dreams and from which Mme Marchal is one of the managers. We added a harshness and that haunting atmosphere of the lost corners of the United States, all in a very daring graphic choice.
Candy, because we value good scenarios. And that you agree to leave your controller alone for any length of time.
As Dusk Falls
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
For Xbox Series X and S, PC
Released on July 19, 2022
Tested on an Xbox Series X with a copy provided by Xbox Game Studios