Written by Twisted Ideas
We have many kinds of horror games out for us. Some are psychological, some action heavy and others have you completely powerless. Until Dawn is the first horror game that I can think of that directly mimics a horror movie rather than taking inspiration. All the trailers for this game made it look like a 90’s slasher movie with Heavy Rain-esque gameplay. Does Until Dawn succeed in merging horror movies and video games?
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
What is it about?
Until Dawn begins during a vacation in the Blackwood Pine Lodge in British Columbia. A harmless prank cause Beth and Hannah Washington to go missing in a snow storm never to be found. One year later, their brother Josh invites everyone back to the mountain to help get over what happened last year. What they don’t know is that there’s something more behind the twin’s disappearance.
How does it play?
Until Dawn’s gameplay is similar to Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls. You control one of eight characters, exploring and progressing a story that moves forwards as quickly as it can. The main gameplay element are your decisions. It’s represented by the butterfly effect where the smallest choices can have devastating consequences. A seemingly small decision can lead to the death of one of your friends.
Quick time events are in place of traditional gameplay. Many action sequences requires quick inputs but missing a QTE isn’t always the end of the world. Some decisions are timed and choosing to do nothing is a choice too.
You can explore and find various clues that provide back story to the mysteries surrounding the twins and the history of Blackwood as well as current events. These are optional but the information they provide will update as the game’s revelations are revealed. Totems come in five types: death, guidance, loss, danger and fortune. When you examine a totem you will see a brief glimpse into the future. These visions can help you avoid catastrophic events.
How does it look?
Until Dawn looks great and the motion capture is very well done. The facial expressions are incredibly detailed and the game reminds you of it every time you pause the game. The game also zooms into their faces if you don’t move for a couple of seconds. It’s pretty scare because the zoom in can be unexpected at first and you might thing something scary is about to happen if you move. This game more than most games recently has hit the uncanny valley. When the characters are in motion, they are usually fine (save for Dr. Hill). It’s whenever you see a picture of the twins that is bothersome. They have this dead stare in their eyes and the lack of emotion really stands out as bad.
The characters in the game closely resembles their voice/motion actors, intentionally so. This does make the character’s ages more ambiguous that it should be. This isn’t helped by how adult they all are acting, describing events and actions that aren’t too plausible for high school to freshmen college students to be participating in.
The camera work is the best I’ve seen on console horror game since Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark stopped using fixed camera angles. The camera isn’t completely fix but is expertly positioned like a horror movie should do. Close ups of characters hides a potential scare or even sets up for one. Long or high camera shots frames room in such a ways that you’re walking further away from view, increasing tension.
How does it sound?
The game takes full advantage of the eerie sounds of violins and cellos to set an uneasy mood. The game doesn’t have much of a sound track beyond that but uses ambient noises and near silence effectively to stage unnatural sounds.
Until Dawn managed to get strong voice talent on their cast. Other than some bad lines of dialogue, we get excellent performances from nearly all the voice actors.
What do I think?
Until Dawn was a lot better than I was expecting. Even though I was excited for it, I didn’t expect it to be that good. Quantic Dream has shown us how dull “cinematic” can be. Until Dawn found the perfect setting for a cinematic game. It takes the cheesy slasher movie genre and the popular decision gameplay to simulate playing a horror movie more so than ones inspired by them. While the gameplay in a vacuum isn’t too compelling the execution couldn’t have been better.
Until Dawn puts you in the difficult position of a horror movie character, where any choice can lead to a life and death situation. The constant pressure of death and jump scares keeps you on edge for a good portion of the game. Once the game’s threat comes out in full force, the jump scares are reduce and the sense of safety is reduced further. The game plays with your emotional state more than console horror game in a long time.
The developers exaggerated when discussing the length and how much your decisions impact the game. The story has to see itself to the end or else it would end before you reached the conclusion. I beat the game with all but one member dying without too much trouble. After learning about the ways characters can die, the range of decisions aren’t too big. It is pretty easy to get some characters killed though. That’s not a negative. Many decisions do change the game in minor ways and the major ones can merit multiple playthroughs. The game isn’t too long once you’ve beaten it. It’s a couple of hours and once you know where to go and gotten the collectibles out-of-the-way you can, breeze through it.
What surprised me well the story held the game together. Until Dawn plays off of a couple of different horror genres and combines them into a cohesive experience. The collectibles add to the story and even changes some dialogue and events if found during a playthrough. The game also keeps track of the major decisions you’ve made, updating you to the consequences as they arise.
No Annabelle cameos, unfortunately.
I’m not a fan of the division of screen time. Hayden Panettiere and Brett Dalton are easily some of the biggest stars so they arguably got the most gameplay. Other characters get a good amount of time but some hardly got any. I hope there will be DLC that expands their roles in the game. Peter Stomare’s role is to psychoanalysis you, similar to Kaufman in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Like Shattered Memories, you’re asked Coke or Pepsi type questions and if neither affects you then it falls flat.
The game could have reduced the amount of jump scares at the beginning. Even the title screen is a jump scare. The horror tropes are expected but can be grating or predictable sometimes. Also, Until Dawn has never heard of frostbite or hypothermia because characters are in the snowy mountain and even icy water with little concern. I experienced some audio glitches and a glitch where totem visions wouldn’t start. It was minor other than the first totem Sam picked up because I had to restart the game.
Should you get it?
Until Dawn is a surprise hit in triple A gaming this year. This is one of those games that’s better described as an experience than a game. If you’re into a game-xperience of a 90’s horror movie then you’ll probably be into this. Until Dawn’s execution is one of the best I’ve seen thanks to the story and the horror setting adding weight to your decisions. This is a PlayStation 4 exclusive so sorry Xbox owners.