Until Dawn: PS4 Review
Released by Supermassive Games
It's perhaps one of life's cruel ironies that in the week we said a final goodbye to horror meister Wes Craven, I finally got to fully fire into horror game Until Dawn.
From SuperMassive Games, the makers of the Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, comes a horror that embraces the tropes and conventions of the genre and breathes gaming life into them.
Essentially, it's your usual scenario - a group of teens, some randy, some with history, head to a remote location (usually a cabin somewhere in some woods or somewhere equally abandoned where cell phone coverage is spotty at best) and have one party / holiday while something hunts them.
Until Dawn heaves all that to its gaming bosom, thrusting you into the lives of 8 teens who gather at Blackwood Pines lodge for their annual winter getaway, one year after the disappearance of two of their friends. With history already haunting them, the group finds their lives in danger...will they survive until dawn?
Until Dawn is a deeply immersive, beautifully executed take on the horror game.
Using a mechanic known as The Butterfly Effect, (not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher film) the game proffers you choices in the lives of these teens with the caveat that each choice comes with a consequence (and also offering the game a certain number of replays when finally done); these consequences alter the story and its outcome as well as putting you in control of the characters themselves. The pick-a-path ethos is one I remember well from the books of my youth, and is well served within the game.
Whilst I get the argument that these choices are always pre-determined by way of the nature that there's only two of them, the ripple effect is a nice touch and a nod to the fact that most of the time when you watch horror films, dumb people do dumb things.
Visually the game is highly impressive. Deeply rendered atmospheric backgrounds gel with some superbly re-created characters, Until Dawn's visual excel and build on the kind of work we've seen in the likes of Beyond Two Souls. It helps that the talent is there, with the likes of Heroes and Nashville star Hayden Panettiere, Mr Robot's Remi Malek, Fargo's Peter Stormare, and Agents of SHIELD star Brett Dalton are all included and look instantly recognisable - it gives the game a kind of B movie cred that's intrinsic to its execution.
In terms of the mechanics, motion controls, quick time events and moving the sticks left and right control the decisions and actions of the character as you debate the ethics of who to betray, who to try to save etc etc. Granted, you can't wander too far off the beaten path, and fully explore the world around, but thanks to jump scares, you won't want to. Sound design and atmospherics, along with some numbskull dialogue set the tone perfectly and recreate the horror vibe to a tee.
There are also premonition laden totems to discover around the world too - with each giving a flash into a future a la Final Destination. And not all of those are positive...
Until Dawn could have been a bloody disaster, a killer game that committed suicide but what emerges is a relative bloody triumph that works within the tropes.
While some may feel the choices are limited and the game suffers because of that and a thin plot, the immersive and atmospheric nature of the game, the execution (both literally and visually) of the characters and the overall replication of the horror elements make it nothing short of a great game to turn all the lights off and dive into.