As Dusk Falls contains playable situations relating to intense violence, family conflict, mental health, suicide and other mature themes. Player disgression is advised.
Then, in 2020, seemingly out of comparatively nowhere, The Last Of Us Part II came along, blowing previous efforts out of the water in comparison (even with its flaws), such as they are.
After that, as a gamer without sight myself, though accessibility moved forward, nothing really came along to keep me playing new mainstream releases under my own steam, with even Forza Horizon 5 (much lorded and acclaimed for what it achieves for accessibility for many other groups and individuals) still requiring assistance to get through integral elements like map navigation.
When I first heard about As Dusk Falls at an Xbox Games Showcase event, though I was mildly curious, not only did it not seem like my kind of game, but I wasn't necessarily sure that it would be accessible, much like similar choice-based titles from telltale games, as well as Until Dawn and The Quarry to name a few.
However, given Xbox Games Studios emphasis has been on accessibility recently moreso than ever before and the fact that I'm always willing to be pleasantly surprised, let's see just how playable this latest Xbox Games Studios release is as a gamer without sight.
When starting the game, after the logos appeared, I was thinking narration might not have been included. Then after waiting for a not insignificant period of time, I heard the immortal words "press A to start" and obediently complied, being pleasantly surprise.
It gets better though, as accessibility settings are able to be accessed immediately on entering the main menu via pressing X.
The great news here is that everything does read, even if there are a couple of small bugs (like moving up to the top of the menu then down one putting you on "accessibility" instead of "new story", or how the "apply" button in settings screens doesn't seem to read when you try and move downwards over it, instead having to be found when you move back up the list of items.
The amount of customisability here is great too, even if the choice timer cannot be disabled mid-game, as I discovered during testing. Though there is no narration speed option, even when the timers were active I felt pressured, but not by so much that I would freeze up with intimidation.
That being said, being told to use a cursor to explore the scene is a daunting prospect when you've had no luck with cursor-based navigation before, especially if it can lead to hidden game elements. I'm not sure if I actually found any such element during my time with the game, but even if I did, it was not announced as such.
With the current narration reading title cards and important elements like signage, as well as the choices and QTE prompts, AD could potentially be scripted in as part of a future patch, though it might be more suited to a "movie mode" similar to that featured in The Quarry or other titles in related genres.
Such modes allow the game to essentially play itself, sometimes permitting selection of predefined parameters (like character traits), whether all characters live or die etc, though with the game's subject matter being a more realistic and grounded experience than the horror movie vibe of Until Dawn and similar titles, this may not work. As to why AD could work better in a mode like this, it would allow QTE prompt narration to be absent, as opposed to having description and QTE prompts fighting for prominence for example.
Moreover, it would be useful to know who you are playing as in each section or even sub choice if a character switch occurs, as sometimes I felt it difficult to know who precisely I was choosing on behalf of. AD or modifications to the current narration could accomplish this with relatively little difficulty, as the character name could be optionally spoken before the choice itself.
It turns out that if a QTE said swipe left and I tried to swipe right, I couldn't trigger a fail state. The only way I could force the game to let me fail was by waiting the timer out. Having both as an option in order to challenge yourself would be a better alternative here, as dynamically seeing things happen because you've failed is preferable to having to just wait for a timer.
I discovered this while using the explore story options and attempting to replay chapters, thinking they would work like collectables in other games (i.e. the collectables are maintained but your save is not overwritten. Sadly this is not the case, meaning you'd have to play through the entire experience over again just to see a specific choice set.
Instead of showing the levels of the various elements (like a treeview in Windows), the game puts them into what seem to be rows that correspond to storylines or specific sections. However, this makes it rather more complicated to follow as it doesn't seem to be possible to see what correlates to what in terms of choices, impacts and the like if you were just to look at these in isolation.
Having played through the entire game once for my review period, I can safely say that other than the menu or UI issues highlighted above, as a gamer without sight you should have no issues with playing through the entire game multiple different ways, even if it's hard to interpret what you might have to do to unlock certain elements on subsequent re-runs.
Years ago I thought that Microsoft would win the accessibility race and though their competitors have lept ahead with titles like The Last Of Us Part II and with more (God Of War Ragnarok and The Last Of Us Part I) on the horizon, it seems like this is the time where Xbox Games Studios puts their cards on the table, shows their hand and proves that they might just have more aces up their sleeve. If this trend continues, who knows what we'll see next in terms of accessible output from the first-party division... and I'm all here for it. Here's to the future of accessibility, not just on one platform, but multiple ones!
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