Until Dawn – PlayStation 4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE)
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Nerd Rating: 9/10
Reviewed By: Steroid Gamer
Until Dawn is the first game to be released on the PlayStation 4 by Supermassive Games. Until Dawn takes an interesting approach in the world of video games, blurring the lines between what a typical video game may look and play like and the world of Hollywood horror films. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to qualify Until Dawn as a video game because, frankly, it doesn’t offer as much game content compared to the rest of the medium. Contrarily, I wouldn’t classify it as a film either. Until Dawn has several redeeming qualities that help it stand up to the best offerings Hollywood and the video game industry can put out from that same genre, horror. Until Dawn is similar to games Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls. While Until Dawn is far superior than the previous games mentioned, it’s only fair to say that if you weren’t a big fan of those types of “games”, than outside of being a horror-film fan junkie, you won’t find much here to change your mind. Until Dawn shouldn’t be classified as a video game or a movie. It’s a unique piece of work, which quite honestly, deserves its own separate category in the medium. But that’s a whole discussion best saved for another day. Now, on to the review.
Until Dawn is a horror game, duh, where eight college aged (or high school-aged, the game never really says) kids return to a cabin in the mountains on the one-year anniversary that two of their other friends died, Beth and Hannah, twin sisters of Josh. Josh is one of the eight playable characters in Until Dawn. Ashley, Sam, Jessica, Emily, Josh, Matt, Mike, and Chris are all playable at some point in this teen-drama slasher fest. These are teenagers, so naturally a lot of dumb choices are made, some of which you can choose to make yourself! When being chased by a manic should you, (a. Hide under a bed, or (b. keep running? The choice is entirely up to you. Player choice is the biggest theme alongside all the other horror elements in the game.
The freedom of making your own choices is the bread on the butter in Until Dawn and is the driving mechanic. It’s a pretty great system during your first couple of playthroughs, but the more you play Until Dawn the faster this system falls apart. The game utilizes the “Butterfly Effect Theory” which simply says “If a butterfly flaps its wings thousands of miles away it could lead to creating a hurricane two weeks later.” Basically, the idea is every action has a reaction, or some sort of consequence. There is an in-game system that tells you when you’ve made a “butterfly effect” decision, but only after you’ve made a decision, which is terrific. Majority of the gameplay involves you walking around interacting with objects and talking to characters, similar to point-and-click adventures. However, some conversations will lead to these “butterfly effect” moments. You will have no idea when they are about to come up though. It’s only after the fact that your choice has been made that the game screen will momentarily “flash” giving you visual evidence that your latest action(s) are going to have consequences, good or bad.
There is a great in-game menu that will help you keep track of all the butterfly effect moments, so you can take notes for when you want to play through a second and third time, but making opposite choices. To be totally upfront, judging the game solely on its gameplay you’re not going to find much worth playing through. Rather the parts and pieces that surround the gameplay and give it meaning is why Until Dawn is so freaking frightening to play through.
The atmosphere is brilliant and no time is wasted setting up the tone. A spoiler heavy, crushing blow to some of the characters is how Until Dawn begins. The sound effects are top notch. Snow crunches as you walk upon it, the wind eerily whistles behind you in your long forest walks, old flooded caves echo with dripping water, and don’t forget the clichéd squeaky cabin floors and door hinges. Until Dawn is filled with horror stereotypes and famous tropes in this genre, but Supermassive Games implements all of these “standards” to great effect.
In most cases they serve as fan service paying respect to some of the greatest elements you’d find in a horror movie, and in others it shows off how it can break the forth wall. You might expect some of these to overstay their welcome, but just about the time you’re tired of one it quickly vanishes. For example, one character frequently did the complete opposite of what they should do. Like, “Hey let’s lock ourselves in a room so the killer can’t get in,” or “How’s about we split up?” None of which were good ideas at the time, but remember teenagers are stupid, at least in the world of horror.
Luckily, the character mentioned above has a change of heart at the right time and gives you a reason to care for them. Until Dawn’s chilling setting is further accented by the brilliantly scored soundtrack from Jason Graves. Dead Space fans will immediately recognize similarities between Until Dawn’s soundtrack and Dead Space’s. That’s because Graves is a veteran video game composer working on games such as the Dead Space franchise, Tomb Raider, and F.E.A.R. 3. This guy knows how to write music that chills your spine at just the right moment, sending goosebumps down your neck.
There are plenty of jump scares filled throughout and all of them are genuine and will get you, at the very least, on your first playthrough. Some of them got me every single damn time I played through despite knowing it was coming. It may seem like beating a dead horse at this point, but the vibe Until Dawn has going for it helps set it apart from an eight hour lame game to a frightening ten hour “slowly walk behind each corner to avoid what lurks on the other side” game.
Until Dawn looks absolutely phenomenal. The lighting was used perfectly, guiding you in one direction either by the hope of a dimly lit light in the distance or paralyzing you from advancing into unknown darkness. The in-game character models are stunning and damn near perfect to their real life counterparts. The dot mapping/CGI-technology used to capture the actors lifelike detail is the best I’ve seen in a game to date. There are some occasional technical quirks, like how bad the characters teeth look any time they scream or grimace in fear, which as you probably guessed, happens a lot. Bad teeth animations aside Until Dawn is easily one of the best looking games on the PS4 and perhaps one of the best looking games of all time.
Another factor that propels Until Dawn’s value was its mystifying story and the dynamic characters accompanying it. Sure, at first each character falls into a simple stereotype. You’ve got the jock, the dumb blonde, the nerdy girl, the tomboy, the black athlete, and a few more. However, the longer you get to spend with each character the more fleshed out they become and they quickly start to come out of their shells and show an extreme amount of character depth.
Sadly, not all players will get to see each and every character’s full potential on their first playthrough; most likely. If a character dies early on, say chapter three, then you miss out on seeing them develop in the game’s seven remaining chapters. In a way, Until Dawn serves as eight different games built into one, or better yet eight different stories. You might get lucky, or maybe you’re just smart, and be able to get all eight characters to survive the whole game and live until dawn (get the game’s title now?). By doing so, you’ll get to spend enough time to bond with each of them and develop genuine feelings for each character.
The feelings you develop for each character are extremely strong. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will love each character, I know I didn’t. In fact I hated two of them, but I still developed very high emotional connections with each of the eight characters, and in the world of video games that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
Until Dawn will make you love, like, pity, care, and even hate some of its characters. The saddest part is how you might not get to see one particular character fully develop if you can’t keep them alive long enough to do so. In some ways it can be aggravating to know that you are going to miss out on a portion of content every time you play regardless of skill. When a character dies, so does any amount of story they had left to tell, be it large or small. Sure, this encourages multiple playthroughs but I can’t make my mind up on that being a positive or a negative attribute.
This game was built for replayability. With all the decisions you make and the different paths you can travel down it’s hard to resist playing through just once. I myself played through four whole times. However, I hesitate to recommend playing through the game a bunch. On one hand it’s great because you get to take choice B, or in other words make the opposite decision than you did on your previous playthroughs.
Playing Until Dawn multiple times allows you to “see” every outcome, every death scene, and every scenario possible. However, the more and more I played, the more boring some portions of the game became. Certain sections of the game that required long, drawn out periods of walking and examining objects seemed fine on my first two playthroughs and felt like a part of the story, helping set an excellent set of pace needed to tell a great horror tale. However, with each increasing playthrough areas like these get more mundane. You can’t skip past them or speed them up, so you’re stuck there to just watch even if you have no interest in doing so.
The driving force behind the narrative is a bevy of familiar questions, “Who is killing us and why? Is this person dead? I haven’t seen them in hours? What happened to fill-in-the-blank character?” Yeah, sure some of those questions can be unique and different each time you play, but I found out that the “smaller” or less significant choices were the only ones that kept me interested in my third and fourth playthroughs.
The bigger questions such as “Who is trying to kill us?” don’t work out very well once you’ve beaten the game and know the answer. Those bigger questions are the driving force behind Until Dawn, and while they work to great effect at first they slowly lose their power and influence with each playthrough.
Until Dawn probably isn’t going to hold up very well against other rivals in the medium such as Fallout 4, inFamous Second Son, or Halo 5. However, it will whip the crap out of horror movies such as House of Wax, Cabin in the Woods, or Saw. Why? Well, haven’t you ever watched your favorite horror film and wondered what would happen if Bob, or insert specific character name here, didn’t leave the group behind? Would he have lived? In a movie, things are set in stone and the same story will be told a dozen times over without changing in the slightest.
Until Dawn offers a lot more in this regard allowing you to make some drastic changes in your frightful night of survival that can mean life or death for any given character. The game’s tone is set brilliantly by Jason Graves’s soundtrack, and the story and world is brought to life by the terrific acting performances and real-believable characters. The lighting is moody and accentuates all the right spots, be it soaked in blood or covered in blinding whiteout snow.
If you’re looking for a great game to play, then Until Dawn might not be for you. If you’re looking for a great horror film to watch then, once again, Until Dawn might not be what you are looking for. However, if you are looking for something in-between with a night filled with jump scares, blood and guts splattered about, guilt associated with a friend(s) death, accidental or coincidental, or an eerie adventure with great deep characters and an equally intriguing story then Until Dawn is right for you.
If you split Until Dawn apart and compare its gameplay elements against other video games, Until Dawn will lose. Comparing Hollywood movies to Until Dawn’s visuals and gore, will once again result with Until Dawn losing. However, when you combine the two mediums together in the way Supermassive Games has done with Until Dawn you get an experience like none other, and one that every PlayStation 4 owner should experience.
For an alternate perspective of Until Dawn check out Nerd Bacon author, Rhutsczar’s review!
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