Until Dawn is a survival horror video game from developer Supermassive Games and is available now for the Playstation 4. The game tells the story of eight friends who gather at a mountain cabin where 2 of their crew disappeared a year ago. There some very scary things begin to happen and a psychopath begins stalking them. This game combines horror elements ranging from the Scream and Saw franchises, Evil Dead and Cabin in the Woods.
I picked this game because I read in reviews that it was short. I figured I could beat it in a weekend and trade it in for some funds toward Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. My wife sat with me because this was described as a horror thriller and she loves things like that. I started the game and both of us were hooked instantly. This to me is a story based game on par with Telltale’s The Walking Dead season 1. Not so much in terms of emotional impact, but excelling in bringing you into the story and having your decisions resonate because of the impact they have.
First of all this game drips atmosphere. Taking place up in the mountains where you are at the will of the elements and nature provides a great backdrop. The game takes place over a 10 hour period so it is dark for the majority of the game. The lighting effects are fantastic in all forms from light shining in a cave or radiating from a lantern or flashlight. It feels very natural. The game also contains some excellent sound design where you clearly hear every drip of water, gust of wind and even the sound of your feet walking in snow and hearing it compact. These things combined bring an amazing audio/visual experience to the narrative.
Next let’s take a look at our characters. We have eight playable characters all based on your standard characters in horror/thriller movies. They are:
Sam: Regular girl who fits in with everyone.
Mike: Resident popular guy
Chris: The nerd
Ashley: The quirky girl who likes Chris
Jessica: Mike’s girlfriend presented as the sexpot.
Matt: The respectful jock
Emily: Matt’s girlfriend and Mike’s ex. This is a source of tension between characters
Josh: The host of the getaway and brother of the 2 missing girls.
Each character has specific traits that represents their personalities best. They also build relationships throughout the story and learning how to play these when needed to can help you survive the events of the story with all eight in tact. As I played with each character (some you spend more time with than others) I felt compelled to have certain characters survive because the choices I made with them resonated a bit more. There was one in particular who in a movie I would want to die early, but while playing this person became a bit of a leader which I wanted to make sure that they survived. The cast is also very good in their habitation of each role. Only 3 cast members are familiar to me, which I like because it means I’m not seeing a familiar face, but only the characters. This is a really well acted game which allows the player to connect more with the narrative, despite its intentional derivited-ness.
The highlight of the game is its Butterfly Effect system. Based on the true life theory, when you make choices in the game, they have a ripple effect on future events. It’s handled very well and there is a screen in the menu that shows all the major choices and the before-after effect they had. If what you chose resulted in an outcome you did not like, you can clearly see why you got the outcome you got. This is what I felt Heavy Rain got wrong. In that game I had the worst ending and it felt I got that because I missed too many QTE’s during my run. In Until Dawn, I had a character die because I didn’t have them prepared earlier. I was trying to save everyone but I understand the error I had made to lead me to that point. It was very refreshing.
Another thing the game does is allow you to do the common sense things that we as movie viewers are yelling at the screen during a horror movie. Each character has certain personality traits. Play to those traits or outside them if you wish but your outcome depends on them as well as relationships with other characters. It is the horror movie we’ve always wanted where we make make the characters do the logical thing during the game in order to survive.
Until Dawn has become my sleeper hit of the year. I had no clue how well polished, well acted and engaging this game would be. It’s probably the best horror movie I’ve seen this year that’s not a movie at all. It’s 10 hours long which is perfect. The story feels finished and doesn’t drag on. There is replayablilty. My first playthrough resulted in 4 of the 8 teens surviving. I need to play again to collect all the clues that flesh out the mysteries of the game, totems that may or may not represent future events and make a few different choices so that I can get outcomes where everyone survives and everyone dies. If you liked Heavy Rain or Beyond Two Souls, you should love Until Dawn. A great horror experience from start to finish.
Final Rating (4.5/5) There could have been a bit of improvement on the movement of characters. But this is a minor knock to the rest of this really good game.