Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Review Context: This is my first interactive horror game, however I have played similar interactive games, such as Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two souls, Life is Strange, The Wolf Among Us, and Tales From The Borderlands.
Date of Playthrough: August 25, 2015
Upon announcement, I was very excited for Until Dawn. I am a huge fan of both horror flicks and interactive games, so needless to say, this game’s premise was music to my ears. My only worry was with this game’s execution; would the folks at Supermassive Games be able to conjure up a good plot, interesting characters, memorable performances, spooky environments, and a solid accompanying soundtrack? These are all essential elements needed to produce a complete interactive horror game, and seeing as I knew little to nothing about the developer’s catalog or credibility, I was not sure if they were up to the challenge. As far as AAA exclusives for consoles go, it’s real dry out here in these gaming streets, and we are all waiting for that next big exclusive to save us from dehydration. So is Until Dawn that next big Playstation hit, or will we have to wait next year for the likes of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Horizon: Zero Dawn?
So what exactly is Until Dawn? It’s an interactive horror game, which plays similar to the very popular Heavy Rain, and pays tribute to modern horror and teen slasher flicks, such as Evil Dead and Cabin In the Woods. In Until Dawn, eight teenage friends reunite at the Blackwood Pines Lodge on Mount Washington to find closure after a tragic accident that befell two friends the year prior. What was supposed to be a safe and friendly getaway, quickly turns to something far more sinister, as there is a psycho killer on the loose and disturbing secrets surrounding Mount Washington. It’s up to you, the player, to take contro and decide if all the teenagers make it out in one piece, who lives and dies, or if none of them escape this nightmare alive. See, that’s the most amazing thing about Until Dawn; it fully allows the player to craft their own story based on the choices they make and the actions they take. This is all made possible by the very effective Butterfly-effect system, which keeps track of all the choices you make, big or small, and the consequences that come with them. While some choices are superficial and do not have dire consequences, most are very important and can mean the difference between life or death.
If you have watched a teen slasher film before, you know what to expect as far as characters and dialogue go. You have the pretty boy, the brave girl, the annoying girl no one likes, the boy and girl who really like each other but keep dancing around it, and of course, that one random African American guy, which I immediately wanted to save by default, since I’m also one of color. The dialogue is cheesy by design, and while there were some cringeworthy lines, it worked for the most part, and I actually found myself laughing quite a bit. Also I appreciated how the dialogue got more serious as the plot twists were established and as the story opened up more. This allowed for much better writing overall, and it showed that the developer can rely on more than just cheesy dialogue and character cliches to carry the story. While the gameplay is noticeably not as demanding as other more action oriented games, I couldn’t help but drool over just how beautiful this game looks. The characters are well designed, all the locations and environments are intricately detailed and appropriately designed to complement Until Dawn’s dark and mysterious vibe. My only problem with the game’s presentation is with the facial expressions; they are very awkward, and too many times it looked like the character was laughing, when they were actually crying or shouting obscenities. Being able to explore various locations in Mount Washington was a nice touch. These locations range from isolated cabins, creepy mines, snowy mountains, fire towers, and a mansion. All these environments/locations are really immersive and add some much needed flare.
This game was not necessarily scary, but it was certainly creepy, thanks to it’s outstanding score. I found my heart was racing constantly, thanks largely to the disturbing sounds, such as howling winds, whispering, and growling. Also all eight teenagers are designed around real life actors, who bring them to life with stellar performances all around. The most notable actors in the game are Hayden Panettiere (Samantha) and Peter Stormare (Dr. Hill). For a heightened experience, I definitely recommend playing with a high quality headset. I consider myself brave, so my entire playthrough was during nighttime, in complete darkness, with my headset on, and oh boy, was it an exhilarating experience. Until Dawn has a lot going on in the gameplay department. You bounce back between characters, and you will explore various locations, engage in dialogue, collect important clues, and play through quick time events. This game utilizes an interesting RPG-like character trait system. By pressing start and navigating the menu you can examine the current playable character’s stats. Their strength and weaknesses are calculated, giving you a fairly good idea what kind of person they are. For example one character might be really brave but not too intelligent, while another might be charitable but not too honest.
The RPG elements kick in when these traits increase or decrease in stats depending on the dialogue choices you make. Should you choose to lie with an honest character, their honesty trait will decrease. This mechanic works well and really makes the game feel more personal. Keeping characters alive can be a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, there are totems lying around which give you a glimpse of a possible future event. These range from fortune totems, which show a favorable future, to death totems, which foretells a certain character’s death. It’s up to you, the player, whether or not you want these events to become reality. The quick time events are very simple, but breathtaking because of what’s at stake should you press the wrong button. These mostly consist of the timely press of one button, but the command inputs disappear fairly quickly, and should you fail, that could very well mean an unfavorable outcome, and even death. This is all intensified by the fact that you can’t retry until you finish the chapter. There are also some segments where you have to aim your reticule to the desired spot in order to hit your target before time runs out. These segments are not always exciting, as they will sometimes involve simple activities, such as a gun range or snowball fights, but it gets far more interesting when you are in a desperate situation because missing your target could lead to dire consequences. I love this design choice because it stresses careful observation, thinking, and execution in order to achieve the desired outcome. The replay value for this game is through the roof! There are multiple endings to unlock, and for all of you completionists, there are a solid amount of clues, totems, and trophies to unlock. Also for those interested in behind the scenes footage, those are unlocked as you play and can be accessed from the main menu.
Because of it’s episodic structure, Until Dawn actually plays more like a tv show than a movie, with the next episode highlighting the major events from the episode prior. This did not bother me at all, since it allowed me to play in short bursts and at my own pace. Overall, I wasn’t too afraid during my playthrough, but there were few moments during the latter half that were fairly frightening. There were some standout, terrifying moments where you had to stay still while not moving your controller an inch. Those moments are heart wrenching and satisfyingly thrilling. I found this mechanic to be somewhat inconsistent however, as the game would sometimes indicate that I moved when I was completely still. This actually lead to one of the main leads dying during a pivotal moment towards the end, and you could only imagine the amount of rage that brought out of me. If you are one to be easily frightened you will definitely find this game to be scary, thanks to it’s creepy music, intense encounters, and dark environments. For me this game relied on too many jump scares at first to truly scare me, though I will admit, the second half had had some pretty unsettling moments.
So did I enjoy Until Dawn? Very much so. There are some minor flaws, such as the slow pacing during the first three or so chapters, ineffective jump scares, and awkward facial expressions. Those flaws however, are easily overshadowed by everything else this game does right. I’m currently nearing the the end of my second playthrough, and I’m already eager to start a third. What makes this game so alluring for me is the fact that you’re in full control, and you’re creating your own story. Your additional playthroughs are guaranteed to have totally different experiences and outcomes, thanks to the many different paths available to you. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, the gameplay is very engaging, the characters/environments are well designed, and the accompanying score is expertly produced, nailing that horror feel nicely. I tip my hat off to the good folks over at Supermassive Games; they did an excellent job and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store. If you’re into games such as Heavy Rain and Beyond:Two Souls, and love horror flicks, this game is for you. Until Dawn is an interactive horror game where you make pivotal choices and decide who lives and dies. What’s there not to love?
Similar Games Liked:
Heavy Rain (PS3)
Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
The Wolf Among Us (PS3)
Life Is Strange (PS4)
Tales From The Borderlands (PS4)