Until Dawn is a story based game and developed by Supermassive Games exclusively for the PS4. The story follows a group of 8 friends who visit a cabin in the mountains on the eve of their other friend’s disappearance a year prior. However things get spooky when it seems that there is a killer on the loose! If this plot seems familiar to you, rest assured it feels like the developers are in on the joke. Until Dawn feels like an homage to films of the past, paying tribute to everything from Friday the 13th, to My Bloody Valentine and Saw, though others like a possible Shining reference might be me reading too far into it.
Amazingly this doesn’t amount to a campy, “self-aware” comedy like it sounds, but instead really understands the genre enough to produce a unique experience that use each element of its genre to the fullest potential; the pacing is great, atmosphere chilling and even manages to be tense at times. In fact the horror references actually have a point and play into the story when you discover who’s behind everything.
This is due to the fact that pretty much anyone in your group can die before the end, adding a lot of weight to your actions and giving you a lump in your throat as you wonder, “Did I really just get that character killed?” It really helps to go into this blind for the best experience; it has plenty of misdirection and twists to keep the story interesting. The only issue I have with the story is that it can feel contrived at times; the friends all show up to the cabin separately, purely to separate them and introduce us to the cast one by one. Is this normal? Because my friends and me always car pool for stuff like this. Why throw away the chance for a road trip?
Also one pair is “banished” to a second cabin which is only accessible through an abandoned mine. But the worst offender is near the end. One of the group “splits up to look for clues” but the others find out something that they have to leave the safe room to tell him. What is this information? NOTHING! Literally nothing is gained by catching up to this guy, and it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t get one of the group killed (on my playthough anyway). This scenario is generated purely so we can have these characters doing something interesting, though perhaps this is a tribute to films where characters make HORRIBLE decisions and die. Also there are jump scares, just to keep things interesting.
The games cast is pretty well rounded. You’ve got the Jock, Matt, the funny one, Chris, the douche, usually bundled in with the Jock archetype, Mike, the bitch, Emily, the slut, Jessica, the quirky girl, Ashley, the dorky guy, Josh and the survivor, or not, depending on how you play, Sam. Sadly the stoner is absent, presumably getting lost in the woods on the way up. The interesting thing is that each of these characters are given some depth to them and come across as interesting; though a hidden dialogue you find that the slutty character acts that way to cover her insecurities and the Jock is only aggressive if you make him, since my version was more of a peace keeper and one of the calmer characters. The only one who doesn’t really find redemption is the bitchy character Emily, though there might be some dialogue reveled though choices that help flesh her out.
The actors all do a fantastic job and the facial motion capture really looks fantastic here, a feature they were so proud of they had the camera zoom on the characters face if you leave the controller idle for too long, with a wide range of credits from Disney films like Camp Rock and Teen Beach to one of the characters being a main character in Agents of Shield, Grant Ward, with Hayden Panettiere being debatably the most well known from the show Heroes and Scream 4. The only misfires are the actress who played the twins at the beginning, reading Beth’s lines with the emotion of someone who found the blandest prize in a box of Shredded Wheat. She did better when the character was in distress, and I would feel better if she wasn’t the first character we play as, ergo being the introduction to the game.
Also theres Emily, who sounds disinterested in half of her lines, but to her credit does sell it when she’s supposed to be emotional. The final character is the psychiatrist, who probes you for questions about your fears, which are reflected in the game, and helps to explore how you feel about characters. He turns in one of the most intense and creepy performances in the game and even though his sections feel very fourth wall breaking, it does actually fit in with the narrative surprisingly well. Also that’s one of the Nihilists from The Big Lebowski. True story.
The gameplay itself is mostly decision based, tying into the Butterfly effect system where small actions have larger outcomes. It’s nothing all that new to be honest. David Cage and Telltale Games have practically built their careers off this system. But you’ll be surprised at how one decision affects so much around the story, with some mistakes being made up for later if you’re lucky while others can have fetal consequences later, with one being tied to agreeing with a character or not which leads to their death, and not directly either. The game informs you of decisions and shows their impact, which lets you see how you affected the story and helps with subsequent playthroughs.
Walking around actually has the purpose of finding clues, giving the whole thing a Scooby Doo vibe, with plenty of suspects and intentional misdirection. It’s fun to figure out if you like mysteries. You can also find totems that give premonitions of the future, Final Destination style, and help influence decisions. The final aspect is the quick time event action sequences, which usually amount to running away from something, and includes deciding on a path to take in the heat of the moment. The most unique addition is using the motion feature of the controller to remain still which hiding, which leads to a lot of tense moments.
The game looks fantastic! It’s environments look both great and creepy, which really help sell the isolated atmosphere. Not the best place for a Weekend party, but for a game it serves its purpose well. The motion capture is really impressive and helps get across the characters emotions, though maybe the game is a little too aware of this, by having a character pulling subtle face changes in the pause menu and the camera zooming in on the face if the controller is idle for too long. Music helps sell the atmosphere, and the game even gets it’s own theme song.
All in all, Until Dawn is a fantastic game with a sometimes contrived plot that succeeds to creating a spooky atmosphere and helps create characters that you have an actual stake in the survival of. If you like story based games and slasher films, this is for you. If you want a survival horror game around the same vein as Slender or Alien Isolation, then you might be disappointed. Think of the game as a Telltale title with a high budget mixed with a scavenger hunt. If you want my advice, keep this in mind for Halloween, and for god’s sake, DON’T SPLIT UP AND LOOK FOR CLUES!