Until Dawn makes me happy in a morbid sort of way. The game sells itself on the premise that anyone can live or die in the story, and you have a very crucial role to play in deciding who gets to make it out alive.
The demo started me off with a quick recap of the events from the previous episode. The game simulated prior events and this means that everyone playing the demo would get similar recaps, but with slight differences here and there. The chapter that I got to play put me in control of two of the central characters, Matt and Emily. A bit of background story is in order here: Matt and Emily are dating, but Matt found out the day before that Emily was cheating on him with someone else. Nothing like a bit of drama to spice things up in a horror game.
As the story progressed, I got to play as both Matt and Emily at certain points in the chapter, and also helped to make some decisions for them. For instance, depending on what your choices are, Emily can either take on the role of the high-pitched, hysterical girl or a calmer, level-headed one. The same goes for Matt; whether you choose to play him as an emotional character or a more logical one greatly affects the outcome you get at the end of the episode.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty minimal. Until Dawn feels like one of those games that wants to deliver a cinematic experience. Examining items and interacting with environmental objects require you to hold down R2 and flick the right stick around. Though I didn’t get to do so in the demo, there was a tutorial explaining how to throw items at enemies and attack them. Most of the gameplay revolves around hovering an onscreen cursor over a certain point with your right stick before hitting R2.
But with cinematic games like these, it’s the story that deserves more of our attention. I’ll say this about Until Dawn; the atmospheric tension is there. The dark woods that our characters are trapped in give off an extremely eerie vibe that really makes the in-game jump scares that much more effective. There was an early point in the demo where Matt and Emily were cornered by a large herd of evil-looking deers, and the horror was intensified by the beautiful lighting effects and haunting woods that surrounded them.
While I didn’t get to experience much of the story, the eight characters seem to be pursued by a strange murderer in the woods, and they won’t be able to get help until dawn finally breaks. It’s an interesting cat-and-mouse type of story that shows a lot of promise.
Until Dawn is essentially a visual novel where you get to make decisions that dictate how your story progresses. At this point, it’s still unclear whether Until Dawn will actually live up to its promise that players will get to actively decide how the story ends, or if our in-game decisions will end up feeling contrived, like in other games of the same vein (looking at you, Beyond: Two Souls). But for the moment, aside from the terrible voice acting from Emily, Until Dawn seems primed to deliver an engaging story about teenagers struggling to survive and outwit whatever supernatural forces await them in the woods.
Until Dawn will be released for the PS4 in fall 2015.