When I first started As Dusk Falls, the new interactive movie/narrative adventure game from Interior Night, I confess I was unaware of its great – and initially shocking – visual quirkiness. After seeing the trailer and being impressed with their art style, which uses a technique similar to rotoscoping in which they shoot real actors, then effectively paint and digitally light them to give the whole thing a visually powerful look ( anyone remember A Scanner Darkly? Kind of like that). Sure, the trailer presented the gritty 90-set criminal caper largely through static footage, but I assumed that was just one of the studio’s video producers who was a little quirky and who left his creative mark on the trailer.
What I didn’t understand is that The whole game relies on these static images. Yes, there’s almost no animation for the game’s characters, with their movements expressed by fading from one static frame to another; it’s kind of like the stylization of Max Payne’s graphic novel, but with each installment (or… pay, tee-hee) occupying the entire screen and completely replacing the previous one. At first it was a little out of whack, as my plan to play through the game with my partner using her neat multiplayer system fell apart in five minutes as she bounced off the clean animation style, leaving me – wary but always ready to give unconventional artistic projects a chance – to start on my own. His instant dislike for the game’s lack of facial movements seemed to be reflected in many of the game’s editorials and reviews circulating the internet.
But after a bit of a slow start, the style of As Dusk Falls grew on me, and while there were certainly shortcomings, overall I found it to be a definite positive for the genre. game and the story it tells. Its carefully staged scenes and static character expressions are able to create an impact closer to photographs than games or movies, which proves to be a smart approach to take for a largely story-driven game. to evoke emotions and make choices.
To be clear, As Dusk Falls is far from being a “static” game. There are car chases, flashing horns, searchlights and laser sights from sniper rifles ominously sweeping over people’s heads. There’s an interesting, almost constant interplay between movement and stillness, and the bursts of high-octane action provide a nice counterpoint to the intense, dark expressions of the game’s characters. ‘there are no times when combining static faces with moving backgrounds can seem a bit absurd. For example, there are a few moments where you’re making non-urgent decisions while driving a car, which means the character looks like he’s suffered some sort of petrified shock at the wheel while out the window you can see the car is driving on a highway. Fuck off, man!
But beyond the occasional moment of comedic awkwardness, it really works. Every frame is infused with gravity because it feels so deliberate. If the game was entirely animated in this rotoscoped style, capturing the full performances of the actors, then the whole thing becomes more complex to piece together and it may not be easy to make those performances work for a game (from Quantum Break to Telling Lies, games often struggled to get fully compelling performances from actors). On the other hand, even the best 3D computer graphics can’t quite capture all the nuances of real human faces – in this case, enhanced via a rotoscoping-like technique to really bring out those frowns, grimaces and crow’s feet (usually expressions of pain rather than laughter).
When a certain character died during one of my runs, I was haunted by their cold, blank stare straight at the camera as the rhythmic flash of a nearby police car swung their faces between the red and blue. At another point, an admission of guilt by one character was emotionally reinforced by the static looks of shock on the other character’s face, which then faded until their heads dropped despondently in sadness and disbelief. Later, the immobility of the two figures lying in their bed, facing each other, their eyes wide open, frighteningly evoked this feeling that anyone who has been in a relationship on the brink will have experienced.
It might not be a style that would work for any game, and the stilted fight sequences here maybe show some of the limitations of that style, but in a game that relies on big emotions and big shocks to his head. characters, capturing them via heavily stylized still images is an original and largely successful approach that could well be iterated and evolved by future developers.
Minimal animation is almost certainly an economic decision as well, and there’s reason to think that the fact that developer Interior Night didn’t have to fully animate or direct entire branching scenes and parallel timelines gave them the ability to include more of them. At the end of each chapter, you can see all the key points not only where your choices led the story, but also empty boxes representing all the events that could have happened if you had made your choices differently, and even if I can’t stage -for-scene compare it with games from other key developers in the genre like Quantic Dream and Supermassive, it seems to be abundant.
Some may see the style of As Dusk Falls as a twist, but I see it more as a twist, showing a new way of doing things in the narrative adventure genre. The style may not be perfect, but it’s a good start.