Until Dawn was originally slated to be released on PS3 as a PlayStation Move exclusive game. The general premise of the game surrounds eight friends who have returned to Blackwood Pines on the one year anniversary of twin sisters Hannah and Beth. The twins mysteriously disappeared after being hunted by a crazed serial killer. The beginning of the game is extremely slow paced, which is necessary as the game allows you to learn about each characters personality and relationships with other members of the group.
The story of Until Dawn follows a very familiar trend for fans of horror movies; it’s over the top, incredibly cheesy and full of incredibly gripping scenes that would almost certainly never play out in real life. It’s all of these things and more that make the game’s story a complete success and one that you won’t want to step away from. The characters mostly end up fulfilling an archetypal role, but the freedom of dialogue choices and how your character can end up interacting with others makes the otherwise cliche’d dialogue quite fun.The story is broken up by sessions with a psychologist. This sets the tone of the game incredibly early and was one of my favourite parts of the game. Your sessions early on will alter gameplay. Things like picking your biggest fears or phobias or which characters you dislike most which I assume would affect the way that the story plays out. This is very reminiscent of Silent Hills: Shattered Memories in a good way and adds another layer to the story that I wasn’t expecting.
The presentation in Until Dawn is a positive experience for the most part. The environments are incredibly dark, yet all have a lot of detail and interesting areas to explore. The game positions you with a light source whether it be a torch or a lantern, which is controlled by the analogue sticks or motion controls depending on which control scheme you choose. You can use this light source to better focus on the little details that can be found within Blackwood Pines. The acting in the game is close to the best that I’ve seen in a video game with Peter Stormare playing an interesting psychologist, and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) and Rami Malek (Short Term 12) rounding out an all-star lineup. The motion-cap and animations are top-tier in the gaming industry and Supermassive Games are to be commended for this. The music and sound effects within Until Dawn were a highlight for me. The score is brilliantly reminiscent of some of the best horror movies I’ve seen. It provides a lot of atmosphere in building up to key set scenes within the game. The sound effects are equally brilliant with constant birds fluttering, screams from within the woods and other noises that keep you on the edge of your seat.
The game is broken up via a series of chapters (ala Alan Wake) which is interesting yet odd. On one hand, it works perfectly to break the game up into different sections leading up to dawn but I couldn’t help but feel that the game was initially set to be episodic or something similar. At the beginning of each chapter you are presented with a montage of previous scenes leading into the current scene. This is great for those who might play the game over a series of weeks, but it seems over the top for those who will finish the game over the weekend as most chapters are only 30-60 minutes long.
Until Dawn is an extremely interesting mix of gaming and interactive experiences. The first few hours of the game doesn’t feature a whole lot of action which will annoy some gamers who want non-stop action. This really picks up from about 1/3rd into the game and doesn’t disappoint until the ending. Until Dawn features a series of gameplay techniques that are present from the beginning to the ending. The game is seamless mix of cutscenes, quick time events and character controlled sections. I found the balance of gameplay and story telling to be almost perfect.
For the most part, you will be split into a pairing of two or exploring environments by yourself. I wish that the game placed you in larger group settings more often. I found the constant jumping between characters to be a negative experience as it would often pull you from gripping experiences and put you with another character who is in quite a relaxed environment. I understand the need to do this within a horror environment, but I did find that it relieved some of the tension felt from the more crazy set pieces.There are a bunch of collectibles within the game which help you piece together the story. These range from learning about the killer, to learning more about Hannah and Beth as well as other characters within the game. There are also totem poles which show you possible sequences that will play out sequences that may appears later in the game. It actually surprised me with just how much time that you can spend exploring each environment to find every last clue. It’s definitely a positive and provides a reason to go back to the game.
The most interesting part of Until Dawn is The Butterfly Effect. The theory of this is that minor decisions in life can have multiple effects going forward. Until Dawn plays on this theory quite a bit. Decisions that you make within conversations will effect set pieces and scenarios later in the game which means that no two play throughs will be identical. This also means that not all gamers will have the same characters die in their game. The amount of choices and branching paths in the game is surprisingly deep, and provides endless replay value and entertainment during discussion, as players will have vastly different experiences throughout the game.QTE’s play a huge part in the game and form the bulk of the action gameplay. When running from the psycho you’re often presented with two options, one will be a quicker escape route but will require you to press the buttons much quicker. All it takes is one wrong button to permanently kill one character which means that you always need to be paying attention.
One of the more playful elements of Until Dawn was the scare-cam. Provided you’ve hooked up your Playstation Camera to your PS4 you can have it automatically record certain ‘jump-scare’ moments which litter the game, which you can then share online. While jumpscares are usually completely rubbish and a terrible cliche of horror conventions, the addition of having your scares recorded actually makes it a fun feature and the feature plays into the craze of ‘Let’s Play’ videos of people obsessing over horror games on YouTube just to watch someone’s reaction.
I played Until Dawn with motions controls and thoroughly enjoyed it. Decisions are made by tilting the controller in either direction and there are certain sections that require you to aim and shoot by moving the controller. There is also use of the trackpad with the copious amount of reading that you will do. The PlayStation Camera is also used for ‘scare cam’ which will take videos of you in the games jumpscare moments.
Until Dawn is a thrilling experience. For horror fans, this will be one of the best horror experiences that gaming has seen in years. It’s a perfect balance of story telling and gameplay and doesn’t drag on at all. I constantly found myself wanting to go back to find out what happened next which is rare in gaming narrative. Those looking for constant action may be disappointed, but I’d advise anybody who wants a unique and new experience to give it a go.