Until Dawn on PlayStation 4
Until Dawn is an obvious homage to cheesy slasher and b-horror films. Not only does Until Dawn replicate their formulas, it does it so well it feels more like a teen-horror movie simulator more than anything. Until Dawn goes down the list and ticks off everything you would expect. Foggy creepy woodland areas, jump scares, and of course bratty teens that do such stupid things that you can’t wait for them to get theirs. There’s a segment of people who might find that all irritating or trite and that’s fine. However, in this case, Until Dawn does a bang up job.
Speaking of those teens, Until Dawn does an excellent job of delivering their lines and making them feel believable. Unlike some games that feel like they’re written by Steve Buscemi’s character on 30 Rock, Until Dawn’s characters do and say the teen things that you would expect them to do in this kind of
movie game. They will squabble, get jealous of each other and take baths with a killer in the house. It’s all there.
The heart of Until Dawn’s gameplay is the choices that you make, namely how you choose to have the teens interact with each other and how you handle stressful horror movie situations. Do you tell Matt that his new GF Emily was totes hugging her ex-BF Mike (the class president)? OMG! Also, do you choose to run from your pursuing killer or find a place to hide?
Helping guide the decisions that you make are various clues that piece together the backstory for you and totems that give you a sneak peak into a potential future. They strike a good balance with the story. If you have a keen eye and a sharp mind, you can use these clues and totems to make conclusions; but they also don’t straight up give anything away either. You have to do your own detective work.
The only downside to Until Dawn’s gameplay is that while hunting for clues and playing detective is fun, there really isn’t much else to the game besides that and the choices. You’ll pretty much be on rails, walking down a hallway to the next cut scene where you’ll pull a metaphorical choice lever that determines where you go next. Oh and I hope that you like QTEs. There’s a lot them and they matter A LOT. For some that’s fine, for others it is a deal breaker. Finally, there is a splattering of motion controls (where you need to keep the controller perfectly still), success when these occur is also crucial if you’re going for a perfect ending.
Choices big and small all affect the direction the story goes. However, while Until Dawn makes a big deal of just about every choice you make, only a small handful actually have a major impact on who ends up living and dying. The rest are superficial that still ultimately funnel you down the same path. Also, while we’re on the topic of superficial, for each character there are two bars that measure that character’s personality traits and relationships with the other characters; increasing and decreasing based on the choices you made.
I was intrigued with it throughout the game, checking back often, but rarely did it seem to have much of an impact. The major choices obviously effect these bars dramatically, but their impact is obvious enough that I didn’t need a bar to tell me. I can figure out that if I choose to help/save someone over another, the person i didn’t choose is going to be pretty salty about it and that might come back to haunt me. The other choices are just kind of whatever. Perhaps it was the way I played, but it didn’t really seem like either the personality or character bars really mattered other than to serve as a refresher of how I’ve been playing. For example, I had almost no honesty on school class president Mike throughout nearly the entire game and it didn’t really seem to have any impact on anything. It would have been more interesting if certain choices were unavailable or available based on the character’s personalities that you developed throughout the game.
Still, that disappointment aside, it wasn’t a big enough deal to keep me down on Until Dawn. You’ll be too mesmerized by its incredible cinematography. Every turn you take, door you go through or abandoned sanatorium hallway you traverse, feels like a scene out of a movie. The camera will place itself wherever it needs to be to give you the best shot of the action possible. Even strange angles, from corners of rooms or right in my face, enhanced gameplay. Also, headphones are a must when playing Until Dawn. The music and sound effects are major conitrbutors to putting you in the shoes of the protgonists, and making you feel like you’re in a horror movie.
Everything looks so real and it’s easily one of the most visually impressive games on the PlayStation 4 to date. The only problem are the character animations. When silent, the characters look jawdroppingly realistic. However, when they speak, the Uncanny Valley is ever present. Until Dawn’s characters look so real (but not quite) that it’s easily to pick out where they look strange, especially their teeth. Oh god the teeth. We still have a long way to go with video game teeth, Until Dawn proves that.
Still, you can’t blame Supermassive Games for that. It was an excellent effort to accomplish something that is pretty much impossible [overcoming the Uncanny Valley]. They still deserve a lot of credit for making a game that looks so damn good. In particular, the scenes in-between chapters that feature the therapist are show stealers. Eeriness, excellent voice acting and visuals all come together in those brief moments with Dr. Hill.
Until Dawn is an excellent change of pace from the norm. There aren’t a lot of games quite like it. Sure, the gameplay could have used some more variation, and it doesn’t quite live up its self-generated hype when it comes to the butterfly effect and multiple playthroughs (it’s very easy to deduce the best way to play the game by the second go ’round). Still, if you have at least a passing interest in the horror genre, Until Dawn is an extremely well done entry into it. It has twists, turns, memorable characters, interesting lore and impressive sights and sounds. Fans of the genre will feel right at home because Until Dawn definitely nails it.