Until Dawn Review: The Choice Is Yours

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Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Released: August 25th 2015

When you sit down to watch a B horror film, especially the ones with young adults who think it’s a great idea to bond at a venue that is as a remote and desolate place they can find, you already know what you’re going to get: a film wrought with ridiculous dialogue, horny teens and a high body count. SuperMassive’s Until Dawn does a great job of capturing all of these elements and has good time while doing it.

The term “interactive game: has been tossed around the genre many times and developers have tackled it with varying degrees of success. Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls are two titles that come to mind immediately. Until Dawn however shouldn’t just be classified as just an interactive game as it’s more akin to a B movie that plays out in video game form. No B movie wouldn’t be complete without a ridiculous plot and the developers of Dawn play on that fact beautifully. The game opens up with a bunch of horny and drunk teenagers converging at a remote mountain lodge for a party. A prank they play one one of their friends backfires horribly and tragedy strikes. Flash forward to a year later and the friends have gathered at the same cabin, intending to reflect on what happened a year previous. It’s dark, it’s desolate, there’s no power and it’s snowing, suffice to say the kids got more than they bargained for in their bonding session.

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As the player, your task is to guide the eight main characters through their night of terror until er, dawn. Your play through is broken into ten chapters, each of which contains multiple scenes and puts you in control of different characters, the story alters and changes depending on what you do. The altering story is the big selling point of the game and is what the developers haved coined “The Butterfly Effect.” At different points of the game you’ll be tasked with making a decision and whenever you choose something that affects the story you’ll be prompted with a Butterfly Effect update. How you respond to social interactions might affect how characters later react to each other for better or much worse. Choices can also involve whether choosing to save another character or running away to save your own ass. The possibilities are plentiful and one play through (which is roughly 8-10 hours) is simply not enough to get everything out of what Until Dawn has to offer. Other actions affect the path of the story, as well, opening up paths and outcomes that might not even be visible otherwise. Even the amount of investigation you do – digging into drawers and looking at documents and objects – will end up affecting the story in some pretty important ways. As the story progresses you’ll have to pick up different types of totems and look for clues that piece together the backstory so it’s crucial to find them all. There are different types of totems the particular character you’re controlling will need to find and once you do, you are offered a brief glimpse into the future. In one play through I was missing a chunk of totems and clues so the backstory was still incomplete.

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The cast is made up of real actors. Hayden Panettiere of Heroes and Nashville is cast as Sam (who right away establishes herself as the strong survivor type), while Peter Stormare of Fargois a psychiatrist that pops in between chapters to interview an unknown character. Which brings me to one of the few elements I wasn’t particularly fond of in the game. Stormare plays Dr. Hill Stormare, who quizzes a mysterious figure about the unfolding events at the end of each chapter.
You get to give this stranger’s responses, and answers you give about what scares or disgusts you may be reflected in the following chapters, while your opinions on which characters you like or dislike may (or may not) steer them into greater danger. Hill addresses this character directly and his commentary on this “sick game” you’re playing. While I appreciated what they tried to do there, I felt the Hill’s parts interrupted the flow of the game and found myself disinterested after a few sessions. While the player character models looked pretty good for the most part, some of the motion capture was a bit wonky. As a result, player movement (especially during animated, tense moments) looked a bit weird. Character development while not incredibly deep, it was done well enough for you to draw disdain for some characters and feel partial to others. For example, it didn’t take long for me to dislike the annoying Emily (Matt’s girlfriend) and appreciate Mike for his humor. Overall all eight characters distinguish themselves from each other and work well within the story. Graphic wise Until Dawn is a pretty dope looking game and often times I found myself admiring the lighting and scenery.

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This is the first game I’ve played where the characters I was controlling didn’t have the option of running. Sure if you press L1 you can speed up slightly but all of the running is saved for the quick time events for which you will have to interact with timed button presses. Climbing and chase sequences especially made use of this and missing a command results in characters stumbling as they run, or even missing a rock ledge and falling to their death. When characters stumble and waste precious time during quick time sequences, even once, whomever they are racing to save or running away from danger, could die. QTE can be a tricky proposition and if not done right can turn people off, but Until Dawn handles it subperbly adding to the tension and is a great way to hold on to the immersion. Another great mechanic was the game’s use of the DS4’s gyroscope feature. In some situations your character would have the option to run or hide from the attacker. If you chose the latter an icon that looks like the DS4’s lightbar appears on the screen, and you have to keep the icon within the lines by not moving the controller which simulates the character staying perfectly still. If you move the controller even slighly, you’ll be caught, and like every other decision in this game it could mean death. Moments like these really draw you into Dawn’s sick world.

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Until Dawn is full of legitimate jump scares and manages to stay true to the slasher genre while also adopting some qualities from the Saw movies. At times it’s held back by the between chapter sessions with the psychiatrist and the motion capture at times leaves a lot to be desired. None of this should deter you from playing though as Until Dawn is a great achievement in player driven narrative and the choices available will inspire you to play many times over. Do you want to play a game? The answer is yes. – written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)

BMR Rating: 8.7

Until Dawn was reviewed on a retail copy provided by the publisher