Until Dawn Review

When announced way back in 2012, Until Dawn immediately captured my imagination with its horror element that seemed to be an ode to 80’s and 90’s slasher films. The announcement trailer looked gripping and instantly got my blood pumping,  and the ability to shape the story around your decisions sounded  great. However I soon became skeptical. It seemed that Until Dawn was not only being developed as a Sony exclusive, but it was also exclusively on PS3 and using PS Move for its controls. Oh dear, alarm bells rang and face palming began! Three years later and Until Dawn is released, now as a PS4 exclusive and the best part, not using Move as a controller.

In a classic horror scenario Until Dawn sees eight late teen friends gathering in a secluded lodge on a secluded snowy mountain, for a weekend retreat to remember lost friends and party. With no parents around, the weekend is sure to be filled with booze, sex and fun, however it seems that our eight party goers are not the only ones on the mountain. Things quickly become creepy and move upward in the scale of frightening terror, it is up to us, the gamer, to guide the hapless teens throughout the night to survive until dawn.

Until Dawn is a strong narrative title that quickly introduces the characters, lays their background and traits and bends their story to the decisions taken by the many decisions you make. To put it simply Until Dawns choice system is Heavy Rain on steroids. In the introduction the game talks of the Butterfly Effect and it is this along with fear that Until Dawn pursues to become a successful game. There are so many decisions throughout the game to partake. Some will build or destroy relationships with other characters and all can decide whether a character lives or dies. It is an interesting element, considering that you play throughout the game the perspective of all eight teens who have different traits. Generally in a game you make the characters your own, here it felt more that the characters make you there own and I was following paths that seemed to be more in line with them than my own choices.

Until Dawn gives you the option of playing with or without motion control. Being on PS4 the motion control is now used via the Dual Shock 4’s tilt controls. In my first play through I chose to use the motion controls. Guiding your characters around the environments is still done using the left analogue stick. The motion controls are used for opening cupboards and gates, moving obstacles, aiming weapons and most importantly hiding. When hiding you must keep the controller still, one movement and your cover will be blown and we all know what happens when someones found in a horror movie. From a gamer that deplores motion controls, it works rather well here. The only gripes are using it to select choices and aiming weapons, where in both cases it feels lame and annoying. In my second run through I chose no motion and will testify that finally there is a game where motion controls actually improve its experience.

Production wise Until Dawn is quite excellent. Visually the game is of high quality. Some may say that due to there being so many cut scenes it should look good but even throughout playable sections the visuals are impressive, especially considering this was a PS3 game at one stage. The musical score is brilliant with the game doing what all suspense titles should do, use sound as a trigger of fear. Considering Jason Graves of Dead Space and Tomb Raider fame was at the helm, one would expect nothing less. The acting is sublime and among the best I have seen in a game, again expected due to the caliber of Hollywood stars here. Among the many are Hayden Panettiere, Peter Stormare and Brett Dalton who all put in brilliant performances. The use of these actors goes a long way to ensuring that the characters are believable no matter which route is chosen for each. I did witness a couple of texture problems but these were only a few and considering no day one patch (shock horror!) the game runs extremely smooth. One gripe I have is there are a few awkward camera angles and the manual camera control is near nonexistent.

As choices are the games ace up its sleeve I decided to put them to the test. In my first play through in which I made my choices based on the characters own traits I had only two of the eight survive. On my second play through I chose to play with my morals in place and has the opportunity to save seven of them. You are able to create paths for your own selfish outcomes and bring demise or safety to any character you wish. This is done through both interaction with other characters who can either aid or hinder you and also by completing escapes that are achieved with quick time events. Again these quick time events actually heighten the tension and add to the game. If you dislike a character for instance, you may wish to see their demise and can do so in many ways. One problem many will have is that most of the characters are generally ass holes or bitches, especially in the beginning. However keep them around and they grow on you and empathy will invade your feelings making you want to save near all of them. Another way in which choices effect the game is by disclosing your fears and feelings on things during a psychiatric analysis with a creepy psychiatrist in between each chapter. These selection add elements to the game in the hope of terrorizing you.

Over all Until Dawn succeeds in what it sets out to do. Although it relies heavily on jump scares there are times throughout where the tension is quite high. In choosing different paths it does its best to make a gamers play through a little unique. However this isn’t entirely effective. Although the choices can bring different outcomes many are very subtle and many will play the game in a similar fashion. The story is quite solid for the most part but it also seems hellbent on paying homage to many films. There are elements of Saw, I Know What You Did Last Summer and many other movies that can make it feel as if the game has put too many eggs in the basket instead of relying on one solid plot line. To its credit things do tie together in the end and what can feel messy ends up making sense. Although there are differing outcomes, I’m not sure repeated play throughs are warranted. The game loses much of its wow factor after one time, however there is a chapter selector that unlocks. You can then change the outcome from a specific point in the story and follow it from there.

I was not sure what to expect going into Until Dawn, especially with its unusual development path. In the end I got something that I thoroughly enjoyed. I am not sure if everyone will feel that there is enough value due to length (1st run took 6 ½ hours although length depends on deaths) but what is here is highly enjoyable. Until Dawn is a highly polished title, with a worthwhile story especially for fans of the horror genre. The acting takes it to another level but ultimately it feels like it loses its own identity in both story and game play. It feels like a mish mash of many movies and a few games. The end result is actually really good but I feel that Supermassive Games set out to make a truly unique experience, this it did not quite achieve. It is however an experience that you should have, a fun game with elements of greatness that is well worth an investment.

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