As Dusk Falls is a new interactive visual novel game published by Xbox Game Studios. Much like a choose-your-own-adventure in graphic novel form, the game is presented through a series of art stills with full voice-over dialogue and some moving backgrounds and objects. It has a number of interesting and unexpected parts to its whole. But it features some disquieting ones as well.
The key part of the story takes place in the little blip-on-a-map town of Two Rock, Arizona. This backwater burg—sporting tumbleweeds, broken-down row houses and trouble—is where members of two different families cross paths.
One is the straining-at-the-minivan-seams Walker family. Husband and wife Vince and Michelle are in the process of transplanting their family—including young daughter Zoe and Vince’s estranged dad, Jim—from Sacramento to St. Louis. They literally run across the three Holt brothers—young toughs in a truck who hail from a troublemaking local clan. The Holts sideswipe the Walkers, running them off the road.
The main players then meet again at the Desert Dream Motel. The Walkers are there waiting for their van to be repaired and the Holt boys choose it as a place to lay low after stealing a satchel of cash. A standoff with the police ensues. And then the rest of the game plays out as we see how this hostages-at-gunpoint tragedy impacts and changes the players’ lives over the next several decades.
How each life plays out (or doesn’t) all comes down to your choices. The characters and their motivations can change dramatically based on the actions you choose. And those choices aren’t always as logically leaning as you might imagine. (For example, deciding whether to quiet a barking dog or calm a frightened woman can be the difference between someone’s life or death in one scene.)
There are in-game warnings of a “Crossroad Moment” that pop up from time to time, and they let you know when your choice will alter the story’s trajectory. There are 48 possible endings for 13 major and secondary characters as this movie-like tale plays out its moral tug-of-war. And eight characters can die based on your choices.
Gameplay is straightforward and simple. Players choose from a list of dialogue and action choices at regular intervals, and they have a few quick-time-event interactions as well. As Dusk Falls also offers the option of playing with up to eight gamers, making it something of a party-style game interaction. (Though the game’s seven-hour total length, along with other things, makes it less party friendly.)
We see people trying to hold their family together, willing to sacrifice themselves for a loved one and wanting to make the right choice. (Though we encounter opportunity for lots of the opposite as well.)
The game itself is very replayable since some key choices can take the story in very different directions. Finding a happy ending for nearly every character is possible (but one individual dies no matter what).
Your story choices can end in some very negative and deadly ways. People may be killed by up-close gun blasts and sniper bullets to the forehead; two different people can be saved or left to commit suicide; someone can be strangled; choices can lead to murder, imprisonment and a public execution. (Because of the art styling, the deaths are sometimes bloody without being gory. But they can still be very disturbing and triggering.)
Some crude sexual comments are made. Someone finds a foot fetish magazine (with no sexual imagery). And in a moment of infidelity, a fully dressed couple are spotted in a reclined embrace while breathing heavily and moaning. People smoke cigarettes and marijuana. A teen drinks beer. And someone inhales spray-can fumes to get high.
The fully voiced dialogue is often raw, peppered with f- and s-words, and uses of “h—,” “a–hole” and “b–tard.” God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused.
As Dusk Falls can be entertaining in an interactive B-movie way. And its visual style is creative. But the game’s M-rated rough edges and sometimes sluggish writing will prompt some gamers to look elsewhere for their story-game fun.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.