As much as I hated the man, I didn’t have the stomach to watch him die.
My friends felt differently. The votes quickly tallied up on-screen, and I was immediately outnumbered three-to-one. The conclave of gods had spoken, between gales of cackling laughter and swigs of wine. The man died. I vowed revenge at the next life-or-death decision, and I didn’t have to wait long.
As Dusk Falls inhabits an unlikely nexus between Life Is Strange and Jackbox, where a solo player or group decides the fate of two families over the course of several decades. With a rapid-fire barrage of high-stakes decisions, developer Interior/Night’s branching narrative adventure is rarely as profound as it would like to be. That said, it’s a truly gripping – if unintentionally funny — experience that’s best shared with family and friends.
Soapy but captivating
For its opening chapters, As Dusk Falls places you in the shoes of two men thrown together by a terrible event in rural Two Rock, Arizona. Vince Walker is a schlubby former airline mechanic who’s been done dirty by his former employer. The story begins as he’s road-tripping across country with his wife, their young daughter, and his prickly estranged father. Even in the opening moments, there are some intriguing hints of the cracks beneath this happy family facade.
Soon after, we meet Jay Holt, the pensive youngest son of a family that’s in desperate need of cash. After a hare-brained robbery goes pear-shaped, Jay and his two instantly hateable older brothers hole up in the Desert Dream Motel. There, they take the staff — and Vince’s family — as hostages. The tense standoff between the Walkers, the Holts, and the local police is the focus of much of the first half of the game.
As Dusk Falls has been marketed as a kind of interactive Emmy-bait experience in the vein of Breaking Bad. In practice, the rapid succession of quick plot and character turns feels more akin to a Lifetime Original Movie. Say the wrong thing and someone gets a bullet between the eyes. Ask a perfectly reasonable question, and that person hates you forever. And this is totally fine! Maybe even preferable, actually!
That said, those highbrow expectations hampered my initial experience with the game. I played through the first chapter and a bit of the second on my own, and quickly grew frustrated when a hostage doesn’t seize several obvious chances to escape, when every policeman on the force has worse aim than a Star Wars Stormtrooper, and when — most offensive of all — the armed robbers demand vegetarian pizza. (You’ll consider murder, but pepperoni is a hard no?!) But it’s easier to overlook all that stuff when you’re playing with other people — if anything, the bonkers drama becomes part of the fun.
Although I embraced As Dusk Falls on a far more light-hearted and flippant level than its developers likely intended, it’s worth noting that the game does deal with very serious topics — there are references to violence, family conflict, trauma, suicide, and drug use. (One particularly upsetting moment is telegraphed well in advance, and you’re given the option to opt out and skip the scene entirely, which is a considerate touch on the part of the developers.) All of that is to say, this is not one for the kiddos, or folks who strongly prefer to avoid these topics in their entertainment.
As a branching narrative adventure, As Dusk Falls does not require the kind of precise, rapid-fire timing of a Street Fighter 6 or God of War. Most of your interactions with the game will take the form of simply advancing text or selecting responses. Occasional quicktime events require rapid inputs or directional swipes on the left analog stick. These can only be controlled by the “host” player, but can be turned off in favor of a simple button press at any time in the accessibility menu.
If you’re playing with a group at home, you can use multiple controllers or even mobile phones with the companion app downloaded. In multiplayer, each participant can vote for their preferred response to a given prompt — majority wins. Each player has a set number of override votes per chapter — the default is three, but it’s adjustable — which can make for some pretty wild reversals and adds a fun element of randomness to the melodrama.
Each of the game’s six chapters takes roughly an hour to complete, though plan for a little extra time if you’re playing with a group. That said, As Dusk Falls offers up such a variety of outcomes for each character, you’ll likely be tempted to go back for a second round once everything wraps up. I went back to revisit a couple of pivotal moments after my co-op playthrough. That said, the replay value is stymied pretty significantly without the option to skip or rapidly advance dialogue you’ve already seen.
As Dusk Falls isn’t quite the arty thinkpiece it aspires to be. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun nonetheless. This is a perfect Game Pass experience for a mellow weekend, and probably best enjoyed with an adult beverage in hand — and the company of your favorite like-minded sickos.
As Dusk Falls comes to Xbox and PC on July 19. Inverse reviewed the Xbox version.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.