- [b]Game:[/b] Until Dawn
- [b]Genre:[/b] Teenslash Horror/Grindhouse
- [b]Developers:[/b] Supermassive Games
- [b]Platform:[/b] PS4 Exclusive
- Played through in one session.
Until Dawn is somewhat of a left field entry in the new triple-A season. It came in under the radar, had almost no hype and advertizing through other channels was non existent. It quickly gained fame amongst youtubers yearning for a horror game that wasn't a bad slender rip-off set in a psychiatric hospital with an extensive sewer system located in an isolated place. And with Until Dawn they got a good slender rip-off set in a psychiatric hospital with an extensive sewer system located in an isolated place. The Pewdiepies of youtube rejoice. The developers kindly included many spots that might as well have a sign that says 'Pewdiepie, scream like a girl here.' by how reliant the game is on jumpscares.
Until Dawn is however a very good game, getting the suspension of disbelief just right. From the start, the gamer is lulled into their comfort-zone; it's an interactive teenslash horror with all the stereotypes accounted for so there will be cheese. And the game keeps that vibe going until the first twist is presented. What is the significance of the psychiatrist? Who is he councelling? Why is he judging the decisions made? Is he judging the gamer? Now the gamer is uprooted because what was the motivation behind the early choices? Were they serious and honest or were they less serious in the category 'that girl is ugly, she dies first?'. Until Dawn from then on forward keeps piling up the pressure, almost forcing the gamer to second guess themself.
The premise of the game is on the surface simple. Two girls, twins, flee into the permafrost away from the lodge where they had a weekend away from parents to experiment with doing grown-up things, because one of the two got seriously pranked. They go lost and are never found again. A year later, the twins' younger brother organizes a get together in the same place to remember and honor his sisters in the company of those that were present at the time. A night filled with horror ensues, but none of it is what it seems and the gamer will have been bamboozled several times before the ending credits roll, leaving the gamer behind confused and rattled.
Until Dawn however isn't scary or horrific. For that, the actors lack believability and the game control-modes take all the pacing out of the game. It is a problem Supermassive seems to have struggled with too, finding the solution in taking control away completely in many key-points of the game. Until Dawn is full of suspense and the multi layered story is nothing short of fascinating however. The horror is handicapped by design choices that allow the gamer too much room to catch their breath and to steady their heart-rate.
Until Dawn has a premonition system that gives the gamer little glimpses into a future that may or may not happen. These glimpses are delivered through native american items that the gamer collects while playing. Collecting these items also gives the gamer fragments of a video that explains what's really going on. Yet, that video won't be collected in full in just one play through. Thourough investigation of every scene in the first playthrough of the game will yield about 50% of the video and the rest must be found during replays of the chapters.
Until Dawn is further littered with other collectibles that consists of clues that help to unravel the mystery and to make sense of the horror, but they fail in that objective. The clues or more akin to the info-caches of Dragon Age 2, enriching the story and clarifying stuff up further. Supermassive tries to maintain the illusion that the clues help to unravel something, but updates on clues the gamer has collected are of 'Well, that happened.', quality. Unlike the native american items, the clues can all be collected in the first playthrough, provided the gamer is willing to to go out of their way for some of them and visits all scenes available as it is possible to skip areas or to leave an area early and not return there.
One of the more interesting things about Until Dawn is that character deaths are tied to decisions made, or with who character X is friend or frenemy, who was brave while bravery isn't their trait or vice versa. Many variables contribute to who dies and who doesn't and the game starts keeping track straight from the start. A small word said at the beginning, a gesture made, a flirt unanswered in the beginning might kill a character in the end. Or not. Next to those subtle changes, there are also less subtle choices that influences the longevity of the characters. Keeping a gun or sharing it directly influences an outcome of a storyline for instance and not doing anything at all will decide whether or not a character keeps their ability to count to ten. Even while knowing this going in, when the deaths happen they feel as if they were written for that character at that location and nowhere else. All deaths make sense except for one, but that particular death gets away because it ends a shameless Mary-Sue.
One of the lead designers committed a self-insert, playing a pivotal part that handles plot-exposition. The man can't act very well and delivers his lines with so much cheese that it brings down the otherwise excellent acting of the people around him. It reduces a turningpoint in the story to enthusiastic fanfiction about teenhorror, monsters and vore. Directly after explaining some plotpoints, the character dies in a very senseless fashion that nonetheless saves the game from getting stuck with a very annoying and shameless Mary-Sue.
Until Dawn boasts a novel control method that utilizes the six-axis function. For binary decisions, the gamer tilts the controller either to the left or the right. Those decisions themselves aren't right or wrong, as each decision is firmly grey and each option can either help the gamer or hinder them. Even if the gamer tries to steer the outcome and based on their tailored story makes decisions that should get the desired outcome, 100% success isn't guaranteed. The fatal flaw in the control scheme comes with a sub-mechanic that also should be one of the most pivotal and nerve-wrecking situations in the game. Using the controller's movement detection, Until Dawn requires from the gamer to keep the controller perfectly still. However, the game telegraphs this royally ahead of time allowing the gamer to simply put down the controller on a flat surface... A forced left-to-right balancing act with a real danger of overcompensating would've been more tense as that would force the gamer to keep being engaged with the controller while the situation on screen keeps them on the edge of their seat. Instead, the most tense situations in the game can be reduced to merely entertaining FMVs with one simple, very obvious action.
The music is well done and the opening song does a great job of setting the tone for the game going forward. In game the music oftenly seems out of place. At points it is too loud, competing with the visuals for attention. Scores that build up to a tense situation also oftenly appear misplaced because they don't take into account the deliberate slow pace of the game. Foreshadowing drums or panicked violins may play for several minutes while the gamer searches for collectibles. I found myself oftenly pulled out of the game because the music wasn't representing in anyway the situation a character would find themself in.
The characters are likable, funny and annoying in who they are. They fit their roles but the gamer isn't stuck with their profiles as the characters evolve based on decisions made. A not so funny character can act out of character and become a joker for instance. How their mocap is handled is a different matter. Bodily, the mocap ranges from awkward to almost natural. It's adequate and a step up from earlier efforts like Beyond: Two Souls though not on the level of The Last of Us. Facial animations are oftenly disturbing. Even David Cage would've a hard time dealing with so much emoshiuns. All characters are professional facial contortionists unable to select an expression and stick with it for a minute. After a while the men start to come across as crazed maniacs and the women seem to suffer from advanced bi-polar disorders. Human faces just don't behave that way and I have the impression that the gamer should feel as if they witness an achievement in minimizing the uncanny valley over witnessing an animator's nerdgasm.
Replayability is high. Since the game tracks all decisions made to alter the outcome of everything else, doing something different at the start might set the player on a very different path than what they played before, while making adjustments anywhere else might start an divergent path that keeps close to the first playthrough though with changes that will keep the gamer engaged. However, since Until Dawn is essentially a set-piece drama, the divergent element alone gives the game a certain amount of welcome before it is overstayed, without other things to support it.
All of that doesn't amount to Until Dawn being a bad game. Instead, Until Dawn is a suspenseful and fascinating mystery that keeps the gamer guessing and second-guessing till the very end. Until Dawn begs to be experienced by anyone that owns a PS4. The mechanic to return to a played out story and altering the course of it by making different decisions promises many extra hours of experimenting like trying to get everybody killed or trying to save as many as you can. During my first playthrough I felt that I could've ended the game with four characters alive instead of the two I ultimately ended with.
- Good replayability
- Fascinating mystery
- Believable characters
- Gamer is kept guessing and second-guessing
- Suspenseful situations and sometimes dread to go forward
- Unnecessary Mary-Sue
- Music is often out of place or too loud
- Control scheme has a fatal flaw that totally nullifies the intent
- Faces with frenzied emoshiuns
- Backtracking for collectibles that requires more than one playthrough to complete the collection proper
- Not much horror other than jumpscares that feel forced and tailored for youtubers.
On a scale of 0 to ten with ten being awesome and 0 awesomely bad, I award Until Dawn a 7. It's a good game that grabs the attention and effortlessly keeps it, succeeding in giving the gamer the desire to want to find out what happens next. Many other things however conspire to lower the score because they do detract from the experience as the gamer spends more time in the game and advances the story to the different storyline conclusions.