Prestige is a word thrown around to make a video game sound important.
In the case of As Dusk Falls, the first game from studio Interior/Night, it is used to compare itself to critically acclaimed television such as Fargo and Breaking Bad.
Games trying to emulate other mediums are not new. The Last of Us has long been praised for being cinematic, and God of War famously looked like a one-take movie. The difficulty in creating a game that tries to emulate movies and television is how it maintains a core of interactivity and play.
Underneath this desire to brand the game as something more than just an interactive story lies several unique mechanics that made my hands-on preview one of the most enjoyable communal gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
As Dusk Falls emulates graphic novels in a choice-based story about generational conflict.
Don’t judge a book by its cover — The 45-minute section of the game I played was set part way into the first of six chapters that make As Dusk Falls. Eight players were introduced to a man and his father being held up at a gunpoint in the lobby of a motel. It was our job as a communal body to make choices on how to react to the situation to get out with the best possible solution, and with no casualties, if it could be helped.
The overarching story of As Dusk Falls follows two families whose stories are intertwined over the course of three generations, all stemming from one chance encounter at a motel in Arizona. Interior/Night says the game aims to explore “love, loss, family, identity, sacrifice, and resilience.”
These are extremely vague and general ideas that many stories touch on. As Dusk Falls focuses on advertising itself as an “uncompromising crime drama”. Maybe it’s just me but I can barely keep up with all the uncompromising crime dramas I’ve been told I NEED to watch on tv, a game attempting to do the same thing does not sound super appealing. I’m not the only person who thinks that. On my way to the event, a colleague told me she hoped for my sake that As Dusk Falls played better than the trailer at the Xbox Bethesda Showcase made it look.
Coming out of the preview, I cannot stop thinking about the ways As Dusk Falls is pushing narrative games with new mechanics that lean into the communal fun of experiencing stories.
“I’d like [players] to be intensely engaged. Because the pace of decision-making is lifelike. The story never stops and there’s really no pause.” said Caroline Marchal, CEO of Interior/Night and Creative Director of As Dusk Falls.
As Dusk Falls builds on the genre of interactive cinematic narratives; think Life is Strange or Until Dawn. Marchal was the lead game designer at Quantic Dream where she worked on Heavy Rain and Beyond — Two Souls. When Marchal moved to London and founded Interior/Night she wanted to improve upon those past projects.
“I felt one of the things I really wanted to try and do was become even broader, being able to reach a really mainstream audience”. In order to do this Interior/Night has thrown out gameplay mechanics that could be barriers to entry. “3D navigation, game overs, anything that will get in the way of people connecting with the characters and enjoying the story.”
What remains in As Dusk Falls to stay true to the interactive part of an interactive narrative? Decision making. Marchal boasts that players will experience “a decision every 20 seconds” in As Dusk Falls. With an expected playtime of about six hours, my basic math skills tell me that a complete playthrough of As Dusk Falls could contain over one thousand decisions for players to make.
Game night meets movie night — These decisions are best experienced with a group of players. The game was designed from the ground up with multiplayer in mind. Playing with friends can be across platforms and online or local. To make this communal experience more approachable to players, Marchal and the team at Interior/Night looked to the most common piece of technology a person interacts with, a phone.
In the style of Jackbox party games, As Dusk Falls allows players to connect to the game via an app. The touch interface is incredibly intuitive and allows players to experience the joy of making decisions and arguing with friends over what path is best.
Players have a skill in reserve that adds a competitive element to As Dusk Falls: the override. If a player feels particularly strongly about a decision in the game, they can use an override (of which each player has three) to make an executive decision. Furthermore, another player can override an override. One moment in my preview lead to actual shrieks from the room as three players consecutively overrode each other's decision to get their way.
“We were unsure about people feeling like they had to follow the group, and not getting their way,” says Marchal about the inspiration for the override feature, “It was important to have this for moments when you are like ‘no, no guys, I want to take charge for a bit.”
At the end of my preview, a screen showed each player’s personality types based on how we made decisions during the playthrough. I learned I was loyal but also that I clashed with another player the most on every decision. This use of a player's choice to create a personality test is another unique addition to the game, but Interior/Night revealed there is more to it than just having a fun topic of conversation. “It surfaces the depth of the interactive narrative genre. Even if you think you roleplay or think you identify with a character it doesn't really matter. You put yourself into every decision you make.”
With each chapter set to last about an hour, I can envision myself inviting friends over to play As Dusk Falls at a party. No need to somehow collect eight controllers, we all have phones. The game provides the perfect synergy between a movie night with friends and a session of playing Jackbox. Interior/Night has put so much thought into the way players interact with the narrative, and it shows how unique the player experience is. Even with a story that checks all the boxes of an Oscar-bait movie, the palpable fun that I felt during my 45-minute preview is enough to make me look forward to the full release.
As Dusk Falls is coming to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Game Pass on July 19, 2022.