Review: As Dusk Falls is an engaging story let down by its mechanics
Strong character performances and an interesting story are undercut by terrible controls and an ill-fitting art style
- Creative director
- Caroline Marchal
- Key Credits
- Brad Kane (Lead writer), Phil Jackson (Writer)
There’s a constant frustration in As Dusk Falls where it feels like it could have been so much more.
For every well-developed moment of story interaction, for every revelation that took us by surprise, and for every interesting piece of art, it’s undercut by dialogue that vacillates between contemporary drama and first-year uni project, and an art style that benefits the quiet moments, but utterly wrenches any momentum of action from the piece.
As Dusk Falls is a crime drama that unfolds across two different time periods. The game begins in the late 90s. You follow an ensemble of characters before eventually meeting in a motel, where a hostage situation develops.
Vince and his wife, daughter and father are all just trying to repair their car, when a group of teenagers on the run from a sheriff they just robbed, take them hostage.
As Dusk Falls - trailer
It’s a great set-up and injects a lot of drama straight away. We think that these early scenes are mostly well realised, even if the tension occasionally gets ratcheted up at light speed rather than a slow build. It can feel like nothing happens for ages and then suddenly half the cast is dead. Or survive.
Because at its heart As Dusk Falls is a choice-based interactive narrative. Every chapter you complete spills out a long web of choices that you could have made, some of them veering off in five different directions.
There’s a sense that most of the time it comes back to land in a similar situation, but it does encourage further playthroughs to see just how different the story can be.
Your interaction with the game is basically limited to moving a cursor over a conversation option, and occasionally pressing the A button when a QTE asks for it. It’s limited by design.
“Your interaction with the game is basically limited to moving a cursor over a conversation option, and occasionally pressing the A button when a QTE asks for it. It’s limited by design.”
The developer clearly looks to capitalise on the growing trend of big groups of friends, or a streamer and their audience, playing it together, so making it too input-heavy would be a mistake, but we feel like it’s way too limited, and the controls themselves make it a pain.
There is an utterly inexplicable lag in the movement of the cursor, which we weren’t able to rectify no matter how we adjusted the sensitivity. This means that a meta-game develops wherein the game becomes an FPS of trying to line up your cursor on the answer you want to give while it tries its best to shoot off the side of the screen.
You can use the directional buttons, but it’s clumsy when you should be able to just easily select choices with a normal cursor. There are also some events which require you to mash the A button (or press it once if you turn this off) which are mostly fine, but the amount of mashing required in each sequence is inconsistent, meaning before we turned it off, it would go from a few taps to breaking the controller to pieces. It’s a game that’s absolutely riddled with frustrating control decisions.
Another frustration with the game is the time it takes for the decisions you make to be acted on by the characters. Every interaction grinds to a halt while you labour over to your choice, select it, wait a few seconds, and then the action begins. There is a count-down timer for most interactions but it’s too long for it to feel meaningful.
The game’s art style will divide opinion. While the backgrounds in the game are 3D, the characters themselves are still images that change every few words. This gives the game a storyboard-like approach. It’s a bold choice and absolutely sets it apart from other games in its class, but for us, it’s for the wrong reasons.
While quiet moments of dialogue work well enough in this framework, as soon as any action sequence, or high-speed chase starts, it becomes farcical. The quick changes in emotion don’t feel impactful, they’re often absurd.
“The quick changes in emotion don’t feel impactful, they’re often absurd.”
There’s a sequence early in the game where you can warn a character about something that’s about to happen that will seal their fate. Instead of this being a tense moment with emotion flooding the face of every character, it feels unfinished.
The storyboard style works against it because it feels like a placeholder for where the action will be. This kind of motion-comic art style has been used in the past in games, but it looks especially weak in comparison to genre-mate The Quarry’s recent photo-realistic style.
We also think As Dusk Fall’s art style will put off people who don’t typically play games from sitting down and watching it because it’s hard to engage with. It becomes more audiobook with visual aids than an immersive interactive story.
As Dusk Falls is an often engaging story that’s let down by its mechanics and, in some cases, its art style. This exact same story told in a traditional graphical style may not have been as visually unique, but we feel it would have held the action together more successfully, and ratcheted up the tension, which as it stands is very weak.
That could mostly be powered through if it weren’t for the controls. Controls so inconsistent, so antithetical to being able to actually play the game that we were convinced it was a bug.
In a game with such little interaction, it’s unbelievable that actually doing the little that you’re tasked with is such a chore. A chore that gets worse as the game progresses.
Good characters, strong performances and well-engineered dual timeline storytelling are let down by pacing that’s utterly arhythmic and gameplay that’s fighting you at every step.
- Strong character performances
- Dual timeline story works well
- Terrible, sluggish controls
- Art style ruins the action
- Inconsistent pacing
- Some melodramatic dialogue