Preview: Until Dawn

Can video games engage with some people psychologically? Sure they can, and Until Dawn is definitely no exception. Developed by Supermassive Games, Until Dawn is a horror video game designed to deliver a cinematic storytelling experience.

Being a filmmaker, I very much welcome the recent trend in which many video games take upon a cinematic style and feel. In saying that, I have been quite interested in seeing how developers rise to the challenge, and Until Dawn certainly did not disappoint. Upon starting the demo, I was thrust immediately into a darkened basement. I took control of Sam, who, along with her friend, were searching what seemed to be a hotel basement for clues on the fate that had befallen their friends. I can only surmise that this occurs very late in the game, judging by conversation between the two friends.

As with Beyond: Two Souls, Until Dawn sought to offer a very cinematic experience. But I feel that both games share a major flaw, in that like films, they use fixed angles that focused primarily on the protagonist. While such a technique means players are essentially forced to move forward, and does force attention on the action, I would’ve liked the ability to freely look around and further explore the environment.

However, there were also instances where film techniques were successfully used to deliver on the game’s promise of shock and horror, and keep the players constantly wary. One such example is the very subtle build up of music as players proceeded forward and were about to round a corner, made all the more terrifying by the fact that I opted to wear headphones. The lighting didn’t help either, and I could’ve sworn that the more I explored the basement, what little light was available grew all the more dimmer.

I will admit that the game may have been messing with me more than it did the characters. Following a face-to-face encounter with a ghost, I had enough and just removed the headphones, instead choosing to just focus solely on the visuals. Sure, a tense build-up of music can create a sense of foreboding, but it doesn’t begin to compare to an immediate and unexpected moment of shock both visually and aurally. Naturally, the basement grew all the more spookier the more deeper I travelled, coming across shadows, instruments of torture, and the occasional movement in my peripheral vision.

Coming to the demo’s end, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread and fear as I quickly realised what was to come. All I’ll say now is that players are forced to make a very tough decision, and that admittedly, I came away slightly shaken. Coupled with cinematic techniques throughout the game that delivered brief moments of horror and fear, I feel that the game does extremely well to engage with its players on a psychological level.

I am still unsure as to whether or not I’ll purchase this game. On one hand, I am somewhat terrified of it. But on the other, I may eventually be willing to forego my fears in order to experience the full game.

Originally a PS3+Move exclusive horror game, Until Dawn faced many issues that soon relegated it onto the PS4,  due for release sometime in 2015.

The setting from what I could gather in the brief demo is set roughly a year after a woman in a group of friends has died and that group has come together to pay their respects and honor her memory at a cabin they all used to visit. Like I said I may be off with the story details but that is what I could piece together in a busy exhibition room. Basically it is your typical teenager/young adult horror film, murderer taking down people one by one.

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I began my hands on with a short introduction and a survey, whether it is for research or it some how applies to your settings I am unsure of but nonetheless.  I selected Male, yes I think games are scarier as opposed to movies and I’m pretty sure I play with the lights on because I am a self proclaimed sook for these things. Until Dawn has a huge emphasis of interactivity. You can twist and turn your controller to use keys, analyse objects and even make in game decisions such as the above mentioned survey.

The gameplay places a female who you control and a male together as they look for one of their friends who has already gone missing from your typical horror movie psycho with a mask antics. We explored a decaying basement area that develops into a complex series of tunnels and paths that our character and her companion where oblivious too (In typical horror sense, of course). As you explore further you uncover clues to what may be a potential murder set up and eerie contraptions that are set to cut the power, turn the TV on and off, all in clever ways to scare you.

As I progressed further into finding my friend, I couldn’t help but to be caught up in the moment of doing my utmost best to find her as I navigated a wonderfully crafted horror-esque set of tunnels. These tunnels looked brilliant and the characters looked even better. I didn’t know much about Until Dawn but for those of you who played Beyond: Two Souls I imagine you would feel right at home as you bask yourself in similar control mechanisms and graphical aesthetics.

Playing my demo I noticed an unrelated filming crew set up behind me. Only to encounter another great looking cut scene but its contents were just too much for me. Entering a conflict with the killer, my male friend was quickly subdued and I wasn’t far behind. The killer lashed out at my female character with an almighty right hook, the thud of the impact was sickening and the thud of my character hitting the floor was horrendous. I felt sick to my stomach seeing and hearing that. Yes I understand it is a horror game and to expect some god-awful things but the impact and in your face creation of that was too much. As I turned I saw that the unrelated film crew standing next too me saw the whole cut scene and their jaw was on the floor as well as mine. I handed the controller over to their female presenter mid demo and gave her my quick run down and I was off. I honestly couldn’t stomach that and it seems I am not the only one.

In retrospect however as sickening as it was and as disgusted as I felt, I really couldn’t stop thinking about the game. I have to get back into it solve the crime and most importantly ensure the health and safety of my in game friends. That is how this game got me. Its interactability works well using the Dualshock 4 and the story/investigation was fun as it kept me on edge, plus a few well timed jump scares that I managed to brave is a great formula. Combining that with the exceptional visuals and choice orientated story. I can see myself getting back in to the game to brave those awful examples and seeing the night through in my interactive horror story for the safety of my in game companions.

Until Dawn is set for release sometime in 2015, and is intended as a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

(this is a joint article between Jake Anlezark and Raymond Gajitos)