Title: Until Dawn
Tension builds from the moment you fire up Until Dawn, and by the end of the first few minutes, you know that it’s going to be a great game. From the absolutely gorgeous visuals to the campy teenage dialogue, it’s an instant classic that reinvigorates the genre.
The story of Until Dawn involves eight teenagers revisiting a cabin where a tragic event took place exactly a year earlier. Why would they revisit a creepy cabin in the woods in order to “heal” from that event? You shouldn’t stress out if not having an answer to that question bothers you. If nonsensical decisions turn you off, you probably won’t enjoy this game. Until Dawn takes all of the horror movie tropes we know and love and mashes them together in a surprisingly cohesive package.
The visuals are so impressive that they demand immediate attention. This game is easily one of the prettiest yet, with impressively realistic set pieces and characters whose expressions leave you wondering at what point we left “regular” video games and ventured into capturing authentic emotional responses. It’s that good.
The framerate does occasionally stutter from this intense quality, though thankfully not nearly as bad as it did during my first exposure to gameplay earlier this year. It never suffers to the point of really hurting the experience, but it would have been nice if it wasn’t there. However, given this style of game, if the choice needed to be made to either focus on perfect framerate or beautiful visuals, they made a wise choice by focusing on the latter.
The interface is also constructed well. Yes, there are quick-time events, but they are done with style and class; instead of large, colorful, obnoxious buttons that would ruin ambiance and tension, they use a sleek, clean interface with a white ribbon surrounding each button. When you visit menus in the game, everything is cleanly laid out in front of you, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Even the first image on the pause screen exudes class, as it’s a “living” image of whatever character is currently being focused on in the game.
The game oozes this professionalism at every turn. Not to be outdone, the music in Until Dawn remains powerfully fitting to each scenario throughout the entire game. It brings together the experience in the same way a Hollywood Blockbuster ropes you into caring about characters without even trying.
Gameplay may leave some players wanting, but it fills the appropriate gaps and effectively lets you decide how to advance the story. The use of the “butterfly effect” means that every decision you make carries weight, and you can decide who lives or dies by the nature of your choices. Yes, you can theoretically make it through the game without anyone dying, though this is likely a tough feat; more likely, at least several of your friends will be dead by the end. Which ones, however, are up to you.
This system is at the core of what makes Until Dawn an enjoyable thrill ride of an experience. Your decisions actually matter. Games like Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” are also excellent examples of this genre, but at the end of the day your choices really don’t matter. Until Dawn has put that now seemingly antiquated system to rest with its impactful choices that make you really care about how you perform.
However, the game is not perfect. The story unfolds episodically, and between each section you’re exposed to another character performing a monologue of sorts. While this attempt at bringing in a novel approach to the situation is appreciated, it is also jarring and interrupts the tension and experience. Perhaps it would have been more welcome if it occurred at a lower frequency.
The banter between the characters, while in many ways perfecting fitting for the experience, does venture off the beaten path occasionally. The coy sex banter is appropriate (“It’s a little adventure, it’s a sexcapade”) to an extent, but the game does it to an extreme at times, to a fault. But considering just how much dialogue this game has, it’s reasonable overall, even if it tries a little too hard to squeeze it in here and there.
As for the rest of the dialogue, again the developers do a spot on impersonation of conversations you would expect to see from a film in this genre. It’s worth mentioning that without exception, the voice actors do a phenomenal job with their script. Emily is one character we’re all meant to loathe, but because the voice actor does such an authentic representation of her persona, it was ultimately enjoyable to experience.
Until Dawn also features excellent pacing throughout. Actions scenes extend into slow, suspenseful sequences, and they blend back and forth with the ebb and flow of a well-oiled machine. Survival horror scenes using the fixed background made famous by early Resident Evil games coupled with foreboding music transition seamlessly into group conversations. The overall structure involving intermittent summaries of the previous hour are masterfully constructed (strange monologue not withstanding), and it all works superbly.
Interesting, given that the player must make choices about how to treat various characters throughout the game, the developers are likely able to glean some information about which characters people like or dislike. It’s likely that most people make choices aligned with their true feelings on their first playthrough, and that provides a rather large version of a focus group for future games.
And it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be subsequent games from this developer. Until Dawn had been in development for many years now, and at one point there was a concern that it wasn’t going to come to fruition. But as this critical success raises awareness about developer Supermassive’s talents, there will certainly be future games ahead.
Worth noting is that early in development, this was going to be a game for Playstation’s Move controller. Thankfully that requirement was scrapped, and the game allows you to use convention controls. You can still use motion controls with the PS4 controller if you choose, but that system gets old quick.
In comparison to The Walking Dead’s game engine and gameplay, Until Dawn does nothing short of redefine the genre with its meaningful choices and brilliant visual, auditory, and character design. Small missteps with dialogue and intermittent interruptions do little to disrupt the overall enjoyment of the game. If you have even a passing interest in horror movies or games, you need to play Until Dawn. For most fans of the genre, finishing the game once won’t be enough; you’ll want to go see how your different choices affect various characters. You can even start a session at 10pm and play alongside the clock progression in the game, experiencing highs and lows of teen horror flicks right up until dawn.