Until Dawn – PlayStation 4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: August 15th, 2015
Genre: Interactive Drama, Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 7.5 / 10
Reviewed by Rhutsczar
Can you survive Until Dawn? I sure as hell know I wouldn’t. Knowing myself, I would wonder off to explore and either be murdered or trip while running away and be eaten. Until Dawn will test your patience with the horror genre and even toy with your morality. Will you let someone die now in order to possibly save someone else down the line? Or will you simply just watch as everyone dies off one by one? We will find out soon…
Until Dawn is any slasher film fan’s wet dream. Until Dawn begins with a rather grim prologue, forcing players to immediately come to terms with what kind of game they are about to play. After being embarrassed by her friends in a prank gone wrong, Josh’s sister Hannah storms off into the wilderness. She is later found by her twin sister Beth, who consoles Hannah to the best of her ability. After a few brief moments of sisterly bonding, the pair are chased by a mysterious figure. The ensuing chase sees both sisters falling off a cliff, with Beth holding onto both Hannah and the edge for dear life. Then you are faced with your first choice of the game…will you save yourself and let your sister fall to her doom? Or will you let go and both die together? Just remember, this is your choice. Well lucky for you, this choice doesn’t matter. Regardless of your pick (I chose to drop her), both girls fall to their unexpected deaths. Thus opens Until Dawn.
One year and a rather disturbing prologue later, Josh and his most attractive friends are brought back to the house where Josh’s sisters disappeared to party and celebrate. Celebrate his sisters’ disappearance? I think it is hardly a reason to party. Anyway, just like in true horror fashion, the remaining group splits up to celebrate in their own way. Of course that sounds like a great idea. The characters then fall into their own little stories and events, filled with death, torture, and supernatural occurrences along the way. Get ready to begin hopping between the survivors for a long time. Without spoiling too much for you Baconeers who want to give the game a try, not everything is as it appears. You will find out why when you give it a try.
The biggest feature Until Dawn has to offer is their new in-game mechanic known as the “Butterfly Effect.” This mechanic can be very useful during late periods of the game, or it can be a complete bastard and ruin your entire game. For example, let’s say you find a weapon early in your play through but choose not to pick it up. If a chase scene occurs later going through the same area, you will be able to pick it up and defend yourself. On the other hand, since you have to quite often make difficult choices in regards to the fate of the characters, your choices will affect not just the character you control but others as well. When paired with Until Dawn‘s saving system, the “Butterfly Effect” is just downright brutal. Oh you made a poor decision and someone died because of it? Sorry. If you want to fix it, restart the game.
While you explore the dark and dreary wilderness, make sure to keep an eye out for tomes. In Until Dawn, tomes are little items found in your travels that have the ability to see the future. They fall into five different categories: death, guidance, fortune, danger, and loss. These further break down into positive totems (guidance and fortune) and negative totems (death, danger, loss). If you are lucky enough to find guidance or fortune, you may be able to save a character’s life or have a helpful hint. Unfortunately, you will more than likely stumble upon the negative totems, allowing you to see a brief glimpse into the future…or a death of a character.
In terms of replay value, Until Dawn promises you will be playing at least four-six times through. Why? As part of the title’s promotion, Supermassive Games declared there to be hundreds of endings that can occur. These all vary in some way due to the game’s “Butterfly Effect” mechanic, since it is highly unlikely that you will be able to save all eight characters in the first play through. Some small mistake during a split 30 second window during the nine hours of game play can completely ruin everything. I am about to finish my third play through and have been able to keep all but one alive. If I decide to give it another go, I may play with a guide.
Until Dawn doesn’t fall short on the visuals, which it shouldn’t since that is a key component of these interactive drama games. The backdrops are almost surreal, adding a layer of wonder and amazement that could easily be taken away by a poor design team. The game looks absolutely amazing, even if you are just wandering through the forest. This doesn’t stop with just the atmosphere, as even the character models look appealing. Each of the character models are actually designed to look like the voice actors that portray them. I know it is a rather minute detail in terms of actual game design, yet it adds a sense of danger and almost grabs my attention enough to actually invest in these characters. Instead, they will be just merely my chess pieces in the world of Until Dawn.
So, now let’s just say the writing and acting are on the other end of the spectrum. Each character feels like a real human, complete with their faults and all. The collected cast does an amazing and realistic job, which I didn’t expect any less from the likes of Hayden Panettiere and Brett Dalton, yet fails due to poor writing. The cast performs as optimal as they can with such clunky writing carrying them along. Then again…horror films aren’t known for their superb writing anyway.
It is highly evident that the creators behind Until Dawn sure do love the horror genre. There are horror tropes everywhere and the creators definitely don’t try to hide it. Just take a look at the premise and prologue. A bunch of popular/horny teenagers travel to a secluded cabin for a weekend party of debauchery? Straight out of a horror movie…since teenagers don’t do this anymore (at least I don’t think so). Oh the killer is outside? Let’s make sure he stares ominously at the house. Time for the female characters to run for their lives? Quick, trip and drop your only means of communication as you run away. Characters can make stupid decisions and fall into the typical horror roles, but only if you actually let them. The power of choice allows you to either make these characters as stupid as possible or smart enough to actually survive the situation. It quickly becomes evident that Supermassive Games wanted to make a game as close to a horror film as possible. Do you think they succeeded? I would say so.
Until Dawn is definitely at the top of it’s class in the interactive drama genre alongside games such as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. I was actually intrigued by the exact amount of time you play vs watching, so I ran a quick study on my second play through. You only spend about 3/8ths of the game actually playing, so you might as well just enjoy the ride. While Heavy Rain was much more focused on the pioneering game play for it’s time, Until Dawn wants you to enjoy the experience without complete immersion. While this wouldn’t work for most games, since it shares many tropes with the horror movie genre as a whole we can make an exception. For now.
Overall, Until Dawn is one game that is perfect to mess with your morality, just a tad of course. Whether you come for the branching story line and stay for the visuals or stay for an entire play through, Until Dawn will entertain you until the very end. Will you be able to figure out who is killing and terrorizing all of these teenagers? If anything, Until Dawn allows you to take control of the lives of eight people whose lives are entirely in your hands. Now what will you do?
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