I don’t particularly enjoy horror movies, especially those made in America. It’s not really because they’re scary; it’s because they’re often incredibly stupid — so stupid that they turn out to be comedy.
Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn gives the horror genre some renewed hope for these films, except for one catch: it’s a video game.
What Is It?
Until Dawn tells the story of eight teens on their annual remote mountain getaway. Unlike previous years, fear, awkwardness, and angst are in the air. This is due to the events of their previous snow trip where a pair of twins in the group mysteriously disappeared and have since been presumed dead. Josh Washington (played by Rami Malek), the brother of these twins, thought it was a good idea to continue with the annual getaway in order to relieve the group of the tension and to “party like they’re pornstars.”
With a big group of co-eds under one roof, eventually they all have to separate and partake in different activities, and of course, this is where things inevitably get out of hand.
Why Should I Care?
Do you ever find yourself yelling at the TV when a character in a scary movie does something stupid, resulting in death? Now’s your chance to prove you could do better. The fact that you have control over the horror story makes Until Dawn so compelling.
The gameplay is very simple and hardly revolutionary. It mostly consists of walking, picking objects up, minimal gunplay, and making decisions based on two choices you see on the screen. There are definitely comparisons to be drawn to Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, but the pivotal decisions that advance the story make it even more comparable to Telltale’s latest stories.
In fact, since the story is told chapter by chapter, each beginning with “Previously On Until Dawn,” it’s all episodic and comes off looking like a CW drama.
Like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, Until Dawn is a narrative with a ton of characters to focus on. That being said, death is imminent. Though it definitely is possible to have a perfect playthrough and keep any of your main eight characters from dying, odds are that’s probably not going to happen.
Of course, with a bunch of teenagers involved, it’s not all about life and death. You have some stupid stuff in here too in the form of needless high school drama. As you’re introduced to each of the game’s characters, various traits and characteristics about each character will be floating next to their name, which influences how they think and eventually the choices you get to make for them, and sometimes it’ll be downright childish.
Early in the game you’ll have the opportunity to take one of your characters and make him look through a telescope to see that his girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend are clearly flirting. A choice you make later in the game affects the relationship, and whether or not it becomes a mess is up to you.
There’s even another instance when one of the male characters shows off his skill with a gun, and you’re given a choice whether or not to kill an innocent bird, which also affects a later event in the game.
These events both take place on a grid in the pause menu called the “butterfly effect.” The menu not only summarizes the events of everything that’s happened, but it also works as a guide to influence you to tackle decisions differently. For those unfamiliar with the butterfly effect, or chaos theory, it’s basically the theory that a little change at what point could lead to a big result. For example, there’s a quick time event in the game that has you chasing in search of someone, and if you stumble because you hit the wrong button, you’ll arrive at your destination a second too late. With that, Until Dawn follows a very strict auto-save format, so if you make a decision that ends up being a mistake to you, you’re stuck with it. The only way to change your mind is to start from the very beginning.
No two playthroughs of the game will be the same, so if or when you choose to play through again, you’ll definitely uncover a lot of things you previously hadn’t. Throughout the game, you’ll come across various items to collect. Some of them are clues to the game’s myriad mysteries as well as totems that include visions of what’s to possibly come.
There are numerous different totems in the game, each one extremely helpful as they foreshadow different possibilities (including character deaths) which in essence possess you to really think about the decisions you’re making.
Speaking of foreshadowing, in between each chapter, you’ll be greeted by psychiatrist Dr. Hill (played by Fargo’s Peter Stormare), who’ll ask a bunch of questions mostly associated with what you fear. Clowns or scarecrows? Knives or guns? Rats or cockroaches? Your answers predictably dictate what you’ll come across in the game’s main story with the intent of making the game scarier.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The setting is not unlike other teen buddy horror movies that littered theaters and lazy Friday nights in the ’80’s and ’90’s. You have the jock, the hunk, the nerd, the slut, the smartass, the brat, and other high school stereotypes represented here. While a lot of the dialog is definitely cringeworthy, a good performance was put up by the game’s star-studded voice cast, which includes the aforementioned Malek from Night at the Museum, Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Galadriel Stineman (The Middle), and a handful of others who make the experience all the more engaging.
I’ve played and enjoyed just about every game that is comparable in style to Until Dawn, but this is one of those experiences that really made me think twice about what I was doing. Telltale’s games are more scripted in the sense of a lot of your choices really end up with the same result, but Supermassive Games did a good job of preventing that from happening. To further explain the Telltale method of decision making, let’s take Jack and Jill for instance. I have to choose one of them to fetch a pail of water. I’d choose Jack because he’s stronger, but he falls down and breaks his crown, with Jill tumbling after. Whichever one I choose, they’ll both die somehow. That’s hardly the case with Until Dawn. You actually have control over that, as there are three real endings—one where a few people survive, one where everybody lives, and the one where everybody dies.
With these possibilities, you really have to stay on your toes. Being a completionist, I try to look through every nook and cranny and go through every dead end I come across before really progressing to make sure I don’t miss anything. But if you play with that mentality in Until Dawn? Death awaits you. I’m not going to say what happened, but because I took my time and decided to explore every inch of that mountain, people died on more than one occasion.
Until Dawn is definitely a pleasant surprise, and it should satisfy anybody looking for something spooky. It all starts out with a familiar teen horror narrative, and it all ends with a crazy (and maybe uncalled for) twist that has sort of become a staple of Sony. If you’re looking for a game with a solid story that isn’t too long and doesn’t have complex gameplay mechanics, Until Dawn is a good pickup.