Horror games come in many forms, but a majority of them are wholly scripted affairs- if you die, it’s game over and you reload your last save/checkpoint and try again. Developer Supermassive decided to take a page from Quantic Dream’s book and decided to meld choice with the horror genre. And so, much like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, choice matters very much in the PS4 exclusive title Until Dawn. There is no game over- make the wrong choice, and you live with the consequences. Or suffer with them, if you like, when you fail to keep a character alive. Like Heavy Rain, Until Dawn has multiple endings, and your choices affect the outcome to each playthrough. But since this is a horror game, the big question is: Is it scary? The answer to that is simply, “Yes, it is.” And while most of those frights come in the form of jump scares, there are some genuinely frightening moments, ones that will stay with you after you turn your console off. And this is just one of the many places that Until Dawn succeeds.
The plot is reminiscent of many a familiar teen horror movie. Eight friends gather together on the anniversary of a tragic event at a snowy resort in the mountains along the US-Canada border. The eight represent your typical gathering for a horror flick. You have the jock, Matt (Jordan Fisher), the smart girl, Sam (Hayden Panettiere), the lovable tough guy, Mike (Brett Dalton), the bitchy girlfriend Emily (Nichole Bloom), the flirt, Jessica (Meaghan Martin), the guy struggling with the past, Josh (Rami Malek), the shy quiet one, Ashley (Galadriel Stineman), and the group nerd, Chris (Noah Fleiss). But as the game goes on, these tropes morph into something a bit more in depth, thanks to the choices you make during the game. In between the game’s ten chapters you’ll also visit the mysterious Analyst (Peter Stormare), who will ask you questions about which characters you like and dislike, and, more importantly, what scares you. Your answers play a part in the game, so to get the best experience, especially on your initial playthrough, it’s best to answer as honestly as you can. I won’t divulge any more of the story of the game as it is best for you to discover that on your own over the 10 hours or so it will take to play through the game. your choices also play a big part in how the story unfolds- make one choice, and the story takes Turn A, make another and it may take Turn C. And so on. Like Heavy Rain, Until Dawn has a built in replayability factor, and there are plenty of endings to keep you coming back for some time.
Gameplay is kept fairly simple, but it does do some time worn things a hair differently. QTEs don’t give you much time to react, which fits the game nicely, as split decisions often need to be taken under duress. The left stick moves you about, the right stick aids in aiming (both gun and flashlight) and is used to highlight your choices- Should you take a safe route, or a quicker, more perilous one? Should you save yourself, or rescue another? And so on. Some choices in calmer moments give you all the time you need. Others, when things are usually more dire, require a quicker decision. And sometimes, it is best not to decide (doing nothing is a viable choice). There are also moments when you need to hold the controller completely still. Aside for the first time this happens, no you can’t cheat by setting it on the floor. The act of putting the controller down will be registered as character movement, usually leading to undesirable consequences. This adds a nice amount of tension to an already tense game, which has its fair amount of frights and surprises. Adding to the terrifically done visual atmosphere is the wonderful musical score by Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider, The Order: 1886). It helps that the characters are well fleshed out due to fantastic voice acting. There isn’t a sour note among the whole cast, and that just adds to the suspense as you try to keep them alive until the sun comes up. Or not, depending on whether a character rubs you the wrong way. Then of course you can take sadistic glee in leading them to their demise. The great thing is, the choice is yours. As are the consequences.
Until Dawn succeeds as a great homage to horror flicks, and you can likely see what films influenced the game developers. I won’t name titles here, as to avoid any potential spoilers. If you’re a fan of horror movies you’re likely to recognize which ones inspired certain scenes. Everything Supermassive has done here fits well within the genre, from its stock characters to even the lapses of logic. Until Dawn is the closest you’ll come to playing an interactive horror film, and at 10 hours in length, it gives both the characters and story room to grow without being rushed. The Analyst visits, while in the beginning seem out of place, make a lot of sense as you progress through the game, and Stormare’s performance is both creepy and darkly funny. For the most part the game runs smoothly, while only some slight slow down in the frame rate late in the game. Nothing that will interfere with gameplay. The camera also suits the game well, though some may not always appreciate the angles it takes, as it leaves corners and hidden nooks obscured from view. But that seems to be more by design than by bad camera angles, and it works to the game’s benefit. Another thing to check out are the great bonus materials that take you behind the scenes. Each one is interesting, and it was a nice bit of extras to be included. More developers should take note.
In all, Until Dawn is a terrific horror game, and Supermassive deserves any praise it gets. The choices matter, and you’ll want to go back and see how things unfold as you choose differently. This is a title that definitely belongs in your library. If you love horror movies, get this game. If you love choices that matter, get this game. Just get this game. Who will survive? It’s all up to you. And take heart that your consequences will only stay around until your next playthrough.
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