Watching…er, playing the first two episodes
If there is one surefire way to get my attention during a video game reveal stream, it’s to show me something that looks far different from the norm. Gimmie something unusual, something that every other developer isn’t out there trying to make. I love the big franchises and AAA games as much as the next person. But, when I see something like Lake or Season: A letter to the future or that dinosaur high school game that’ll probably never release, I really start to focus and obsess about what that game might turn out to be. And I have been obsessing about As Dusk Falls for quite some time.
From developer INTERIOR/NIGHT, As Dusk Falls is an episodic narrative adventure game focusing on two families connected through tragedy. It features a graphic novel-style art direction, which is one of the reasons I latched onto it as quickly as I did. The game launches in a couple of weeks on Xbox and PC, but this past week, I was given access to the first two episodes of As Dusk Falls to preview what the developers have managed to cook up.
Please note that there are minor story spoilers ahead.
You down with QTEs?
The game’s first two episodes primarily take place in 1998 at the Desert Dreams Motel, a shabby little lodge in Two Rock County, Arizona. The focus of these episodes is on the Walkers and the Holts. Vince Walker, who is most prominently featured in these opening hours, is traveling with his wife, daughter, and dad to start a new life in St. Louis when they get stranded at the motel. Jay Holt, who you’ll also control at certain points, also finds himself stuck at the motel when his older brothers take Vince, his family, and the hotel staff hostage following a robbery.
It’s a pretty dire situation, though one we have seen portrayed in film and television a multitude of times before. The hostage situation quickly escalates to a police stand-off and you’re left trying to keep everyone alive as conditions deteriorate. While this isn’t exactly breaking new grounds in terms of concept, the way INTERIOR/NIGHT keeps the tension ratcheted up to 11 makes the experience exhilarating. With limited time to make every choice in the game and some light quick-time events to keep you on your toes, I had to get rid of all distractions around me during this preview session lest I miss some important action that winds up getting a character killed. Just note that if you fail a QTE, it doesn’t automatically mean Game Over, which is good because the “Press Left on the Control Stick” actions are very demanding in their precision.
Speed is key to making decisions to completing the QTEs, but patience can be a virtue in certain situations. Every time you’re able to make a choice, you’ll have a few options right off the bat. But, if you hold out, other options might become available that’ll prove far more attractive to the situation at hand. With Vince, the late-arrival option would often be a quick and deeply unfunny joke to break the stress of the moment.
There’s a history here
The unfunny jokes aside, the majority of the writing for these first two episodes is pretty top-notch. Some lines, much like the characters who spout them, are cliche, but overall, the dialogue only helps add to the tension brought by the situation these characters find themselves in. A large facet of that tension is trying to predict the outcome of your decided action. When options for lying are added to the mix, the stress of these choice moments is only heightened.
That’s not to say all two hours of this game is some edge-of-your-seat experience. There are slower moments in the time before the hostage situation and in the playable flashbacks that give you a look at the Walkers before they set out on their cross-country road trip. While nothing you do here will affect the core storyline for As Dusk Falls, your decisions in these flashbacks can give you unexpected insight into the characters and their relationships.
Outside of these flashbacks, the decisions you make will affect the story going forward, sometimes in cheeky minor ways and sometimes with unfortunate consequences. Because of how episode two ends, I’m left to wonder how some of my decisions will play out going forward. For some, I know I made the right choice. But when I look back at the story map for both chapters, I can’t help but question if I missed an option that would have amicably ended things before whatever tragedy is about to befall the Walkers and the Holts happens.
Experience the story alone or with friends
I’ll find out when the game launches next month, but in the meantime, there are plenty of little morsels for me to ruminate on. As with many prestige shows, characters in As Dusk Falls are absolutely drowning in secrets. Most everyone seems to have their own little mystery, and I’m very much looking forward to digging in further to find out what their deal is.
With these two chapters behind me, my I’m already sold on the concept. And while I think the art direction is absolutely solid — after all, it’s what brought As Dusk Falls to my attention in the first place — I know not everyone will feel the same way.
Still, if you’re looking for a great story to play through, it’s probably worth giving a shot. As Dusk Falls will be available from day one on Xbox Game Pass when it launches on July 19. Plus, you don’t have to go through it alone. The game will launch with a companion app that’ll turn this single-player story into a group activity, allowing up to eight players to vote on each option presented in the game. More on multiplayer and the app can be found on the As Dusk Falls FAQ page.