Fans of horror movies will feel right at home with Until Dawn. The game follows a group of cliché characters doing expected things. The story even feels familiar. One night, during a weekend of partying in a lodge on a mountain, Beth and Hannah, two sisters and friends of our main characters end up dying in a prank gone horribly wrong. The eight characters all come back to the lodge one year after Beth and Hannah’s death to celebrate, remember their lives and as Josh puts it, to party like “F’ing pornstars.”
Each of the characters embodies a various cliché in the horror genre. There’s Matt who wears his “lettered jacket” and dates Emily. We have Jessica who pretty much just wants to have sex with Mike. There is a guy named Chris who has a crush on Ashley who also shares the same feelings. Sam was best friends with Hannah who died during their last outing and then there is Josh who lost both of his sisters in that prank. Every character has some sort of relationship with each other and Until Dawn let’s us know this. By pressing the R1 button, the game will show the personality traits for a specific character and how they stand with the other 7 people in the lodge.
Every Choice Matters
Until Dawn’s most utilized gameplay feature called “The Butterfly Effect” will constantly change all of these stats throughout the course of the game. If you side with a certain character, they will be more likely to help you rather than the person you offended. Every decision you make will alter dialogue and will enable different options during tense situations. Unlike most games, the choices that you make in Until Dawn actually have an effect on the narrative and the gameplay. For each moment that I thought would play out in a predictable fashion, the game went down a different route and genuinely surprised me.
One of the best aspects of Until Dawn is the tension that the game brings during appropriate moments. Sections where your character is walking alone can be nerve-wrecking. Will something pop out? What if I need to make a sudden decision? There were portions of the game where I actually panicked because I wanted to keep a character alive. Until Dawn will actually kill a character and completely write them out of the story. The game can end with every character dying. To add to the immersion of a horror movie, Until Dawn cannot be manually saved in order to “fix” an outcome that you may want. If someone dies, you won’t see them again unless you decide to start a new playthrough. If a regrettable decision is made, you must live with the consequences of these actions.
Hitting You Where It Hurts
I mentioned that Until Dawn’s characters were all filled with genre clichés. It doesn’t take long for the player to determine which characters should live or die. Once the first chapter ended, I made a list of characters that I would save if the choice was given to me. I tried my best to save everybody, but that’s a tough task to accomplish. One of my characters was on the way to making it through the game, but my
curiosity stupidity brought upon death. That was the moment when I realized just how big the stakes are in Until Dawn. After 6 hours of growing close to a character (my favorite character actually), that person was ripped away from my grasp. With no manual save feature, I was forced to venture on. That’s when it hit me that Until Dawn wants to affect the player on a real emotional level.
A Personal Dose Of Horror
In between each chapter, an unknown character is sitting in a Psychiatrist’s office. Here we’re asked questions about our own personal fears. Questions range from “whether we are more scared of rats or snakes”, “drowning or heights”, “clowns or zombies”, and things like that. “The Analyst” actually references the game many times breaking the fourth wall. Our choices in these interludes actually have an effect in the game. I’m personally deathly afraid of rats. When “The Analyst” told me to be honest in order to appreciate the experience, I answered that I hated rats over snakes and that was a decision that came back to haunt me. The rest of the game had plenty of rats. In fact, many of the answers that I gave found their way into the environments within Until Dawn. Playing on my fears is something that most games fail to do. In games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, we encounter zombies and other creatures. Seeing things that actually traumatize me added to my unease throughout my time with Until Dawn.
The Future Is In Your Hands
Scattered around the various environments in Until Dawn are totems. There are 5 types of totems (Loss, Guidance, Death, Fortune, Danger) that will give you a glimpse of the future. Sometimes the totems will show a certain character dying while others will show an event that could potentially help you. When and where these situations will take place are a mystery, but they add an interesting element to the game. Early on, I found a totem that showed someone burning. It foretold a death that could happen, so since I was determined to keep everybody alive, I purposely tried to avoid fire. Totems bring a sense of mystery and fear to the game. Never knowing when a totem kicks in is completely nerve-wrecking. When I eventually witnessed a death that a totem tried to warn me about, my jaw hit the floor. Shock filled my body and I just couldn’t believe what happened. Granted, all of the totem events can be missed, but trying to tempt fate sets Until Dawn apart from other horror games.
QTE: Quick Time Excellence
One of the most overused and quite honestly, most unnecessary gameplay element is the QTE, or Quick Time Event. There are plenty of games that rely on this gameplay mechanic and it takes the player out of the experience. I love God of War and Resident Evil 4, but both of those games use QTEs way too much. For the most part, Until Dawn mainly uses this type of gameplay when the action is turned up to 10. The use of QTEs feels very believable in terms of the narrative. When characters are being chased, there is not much time to react. I almost died a few times because I couldn’t think fast enough. Sometimes quick thinking was the key to survival and other times it made my characters clumsy and those moments led to detrimental outcomes.
Other than quick time events, the game really adopts the feel of living in a slasher film. From flickering lights, abandoned sanitoriums, jump scares, and the killer suddenly emerging, Until Dawn gets atmosphere right. There were many instances that the game asked the player to stay perfectly still. During these sections, the effect sounds like a heart beat to symbolize tension. I found myself actually taking a deep breath and holding it for 15-20 seconds at a time in order to keep the controller still. Failure usually results in death.
Welcome To Hollywood
One of the most distinguishable aspects of Until Dawn is definitely the celebrities that are included. The most notable actress in the game is Hayden Panettiere as Sam. Rami Malek (Josh), Ella Lentini (Beth and Hannah), Brett Dalton (Mike), Meaghan Martin (Jessica), Nichole Bloom (Emily), Jordan Fisher (Matt), Noah Fleiss (Chris), Peter Stormare (The Analyst), and Galadriel Stineman (Ashley) round out the cast. Having known actors/actresses adds to the movie like quality that embodies Until Dawn. The likeness of the characters to their real life counterparts is uncanny. Though there were moments where those visuals looked too realistic and because of a syncing issue, the very cinematic nature of the game took me out of the experience. That didn’t happen often, but when it did, a feeling of frustration came over me. Other than these moments, the acting in Until Dawn is top notch. I found all of the characters to be believable and at times I thought that I was watching the actors more than the characters which is a nice touch. The writing gets extremely cheesy at times, but that comes with the B-horror movie flair.
Until Dawn is a game that is not meant to be played just once. In fact, I played through the game twice. During the second playthrough, I deliberately chose different decisions to see just how much the game adapts to those choices. It’s fantastic to see unique dialogue choices open up that would never have existed the first time around. It changes the dynamic of the game and of the characters during important encounters later on in Until Dawn’s story. There are many reasons to come back and I see myself playing it until I see every possible ending. It’s that good. Though I may take a break in between playthroughs to fully appreciate what Supermassive Games created.
Conclusion: Horror Reinvented
The horror genre has had a bit of a slump recently. Sure, there are games like Outlast, Amnesia, and the Five Nights At Freddy’s games that have taken the world by storm, but survival horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are way past their glory days. Many horror experiences feel the same and that’s why Until Dawn is such a breath of fresh air. Supermassive Games took a dying genre and brought new life into it. Between the gameplay, atmosphere, acting, visuals, immersion, twists, and the butterfly effect system, Until Dawn is a game that hits all of the right beats. It’s the best horror game I have played since Resident Evil 4. In fact, I would say that this is actually my favorite game on the PlayStation 4 at the moment. I hope that Supermassive Games continues to work in the horror genre. The developer is the best chance to save the genre. If you have a PlayStation 4, go out and buy this game. Fans of horror, or fans of story based games should give Until Dawn a try. Do you think you have what it takes to survive Until Dawn? Well, there’s plenty of ways to find out.