“When eight friends become trapped on a remote mountain getaway gone wrong, things quickly turn sinister and they start to suspect they aren’t alone. Gripped by fear and with tensions in the group running high, you’ll be forced to make snap decisions that could mean life or death for everyone involved. Every choice you make while playing as each of the eight friends — even the seemingly trivial ones — will carve out your own unique story. Spine-tingling performances from a Hollywood cast including Hayden Panettiere are brought to life with the power of PlayStation 4 — your actions alone will decide who survives Until Dawn.”
I’ll admit, when I first received my copy of Until Dawn I was more than a little sceptical. After all, isn’t this just a glorified teen-slasher movie turned into a game? I grabbed my headset, popped the game into the disc drive, and very quickly found out.
Cold, uninviting, dark and creepy, the locations you find yourself in are superb. You’re quickly immersed in the events that unfold with great opening performances from the stellar cast, and although relying heavily on cliches from the genre, Until Dawn manages to play on the cheesiness and blatant dumb choices of stereotypical teen-slasher movies and bring them to the game beautifully. Have you ever screamed at the TV whilst watching a horror movie, knowing you wouldn’t make the idiotic choice of checking out that mysterious sound down that dark hallway? Well now you get the chance to make your own choices, and almost every one will change the story as you play.
The mountain lodge is a great example of clever level design. Its a large but restrictive space and that’s exactly what it needs to be. Some rooms are big and expansive whilst passages and hallways are small and claustrophobic, and it all adds to the all-important immersion. Until Dawn also borrows some control ideas from Quantic Dream titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls – such as mashing a button before the timer runs out or remaining as still as possible. Sound familiar? Unlike Heavy Rain the controls don’t make you feel detached from the game, they serve to pull you in further. A great example is when hiding you must keep the controller as still as possible or risk getting caught. This worked so well that I caught myself holding my breath so not not move unnecessarily. There are drawbacks – the ‘Hold R2 and push R’ scheme is clunky to use but the only option if you don’t want to use the motion controls.
After every chapter you visit a psychiatrist ‘Dr Will’ as an ‘unknown’ character, and you’re asked to make certain choices depending on what’s presented to you. What do you fear the most, spiders or snakes? Needles or dogs? There was even a choice involving clowns, and I hate clowns. The clever part is the choices you make here have an impact in the main story. The elements you describe are brought into the game to make it as scary as possible. These visits only serve to immerse you further into the world – especially as later events unfold – and show off the games main feature, namely the ‘butterfly effect’.
There are literally hundreds of choices you can make in the game and each one has consequences, although they might not be immediate. For example: playing as Sam early in the game I was given the choice to either peek at Chris’s phone or leave it be. Of course I chose to look and was quickly caught, which led to Chris digging at Sam later in the game. As small as this change was, it was indeed effective.
The story is designed around three rules – anyone can survive, anyone can die, and when someone is dead, they’re dead. The games aggressive autosave feature prevents you from backtracking by saving immediately after an event, and adds nicely to the tension. I’m not sure you’d feel the pressure as much if you could just reload to save a character from death.
Around halfway through Until Dawn the story takes an unexpected twist. Although it changes the perception slightly, its very quickly apparent that the change in direction is for the better. It’s just a shame that Dr Will isn’t utilised more. His character was bursting with opportunity but seems to fade into irrelevance.
Don’t for a second think that this is a one-time playthrough-and-done game. I’ve played through Until Dawn 3 times so far and I’ve found new narratives and actions every time. There are clues and collectibles to find too. Totems show you a glimpse of what’s to come which may prove helpful. Missing posters, newspaper clips and many more items show clues to what has happened in the past. There’s enough here to keep you entertained for many more playthroughs to come.
Until Dawn is available now for Playstation 4