Game Review: Until Dawn

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Supermassive games has never tackled a horror game like Until Dawn before, and it shows. I mean that in a good way. From towel-clad teenagers to predictable jump scares, Until Dawn takes every single horror movie cliché you could think of and either turns it on its head or fully embraces it. There is no way for them to fall back on lazy tropes to get cheap scares that the player quickly becomes numb to. Instead, Supermassive Games has broken into the horror genre by focusing on keeping a tense atmosphere so that the player never has a chance to relax, and by playing to their strengths and utilising the motion controls of the PS4 controller.

Until dawn takes place in the perfect setting for any horror game - Blackwood Pines, a wooden lodge at the top of a mountain. It’s isolated and has a morbid mystery or two, including an unsolved murder and eight teenagers just waiting to be chased by a serial killer. That is exactly what happens, of course, and with the eight characters splitting off into groups of two there are a lot of different places for you to explore as you flick between the different groups. They each offer a distinct view of the situation while they search Blackwood Pines, trying to survive the night.

Using motion controls in Until Dawn is completely optional, but with how well done they are you will definitely want to use them. They are incredibly intuitive, and the only fault with them is that the character's hand hovers uncertainly over an item as if they imagining the worst possible outcome before you tell them to pick it up. Usually the worst possible outcome doesn’t occur. Usually. While it looks a little odd, it functions in much the way that it did in L.A Noir (but with much more awesome controller flipping to examine an object), to point out the object you’re going to interact with, and it is a necessary evil.

The feature that makes the motion controls a great experience is when you’re instructed not to move and must sit perfectly still, not moving your controller at all. Don’t worry though, the first few times you can make a mistake without much in the way of consequences, but after that, you really don’t won’t want to mess it up.

Imagine this: Sam has managed to pack herself into a tight corner, but the psycho serial killer has still managed to find her general area. So she sucks in her breath and doesn’t move a muscle until he has moved on. Only it’s not just Sam holding still, it’s you too as you live in fear that the slightest twitch will end in your untimely demise. You can also move the controller around in the pause screen to make your character head bang along with the eerie music and ominous creaks too.

The plot is both great and terrible, in a pleasingly trashy way. Presented in an episodic nature, each of the ten episodes focuses on a different idea and is separated by the incredibly creepy, morally ambiguous Doctor Hill and a review of the previous episodes. While useful if you’re playing over several sessions, they are unskippable and quickly become annoying.

Until Dawn plays up the trashy teen horror themes but still offers up a very enjoyable and original plot with a fair few twists. The first few episodes are slow moving though, with too much exposition, setting up the game and the characters and not a lot of action except for a few jump scares that seem a bit out of place. The chapters aren’t bad exactly, but on the second playthrough they can really drag. Still, you will likely be distracted by the great visuals and motion controls long enough that when the action hits you will be utterly bewildered by how quickly Until Dawn moves from zero to one hundred with no warning. One second you’re getting cozy with your significant other and the next you’re deciding who should die in a gruesome and painful manner.

Until Dawn plays up the trashy teen horror themes but still offers up a very enjoyable and original plot

Since Until Dawn’s huge draw is that your choices matter, then it stands to reason that who dies should make some sort of difference and it does without breaking the game. Whole scenes and story lines are cut out or added in, each with their own unique dialogue. The amount of effort that has gone in is clear when you see that no matter who dies, the story is still just as complete as it would be if other options were taken. There are no right or wrong ways to play, just whatever way you want to. The only way to find massive plot holes is to stick you head in the sand and not explore, missing every single clue that helps to solve the mysteries that surround the plot. There are a few questions, but nothing too noticeable.

Sometimes it can still feel as if your choices are being lead rather than being completely your choice. Thankfully these situations are mainly in the first one or two chapters and generally are only there to drive the plot forward. Once the plot starts moving almost every single action you do will result in the fluttering of butterflies across your screen, reminding you that your actions have consequences. You can even keep track of all of your actions from the menu, and more information is added as the long lasting consequences start to reveal themselves. Who knew that looking after squirrels was such a useful survival skill? Of course that does mean that you really feel guilty when someone dies.

Visually, Until Dawn is astounding. The combination of excellent motion capturing and voice acting creates an amazing performance matched only by the semi-dynamic environment and attention to detail. Footprints are left in the snow as you walk, and the stunning scenery would be incredibly distracting if they weren’t also setting the very creepy atmosphere. Be prepared for a few familiar faces like Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot and Night at the Museum), who are both talented voice actors. Their performances are only enhanced by the tense atmosphere Supermassive Games have created.

Despite a wonderful musical score, there isn’t a lot of music in the later parts of the game. Rather, you’re exposed to whistling wind, creaking noises and the unsettling sounds that indicate something is following you, and has been since you first stepped foot on top of the mountain. Playing with headphones is a great experience that will have you paranoid about every sound, especially since music will start during a tense moment only to result in nothing. It’s not until you are unaware that Until Dawn will really throw everything it has at you. The way all the action hits you at once with little to no warning is a good example of this.

The tedious beginning and unskippable reviews of previous chapters are annoying, even if they do have a purpose. Some of the scenes do seem unnecessary, and only show a few new things about the setting and characters. It’s not bad exactly, but could have benefitted from a little bit of re-thinking. Once you’ve finished the game, however, you can play single episodes to change the choices you made. So you don’t need to play through the first few episodes again if you don’t want to, and honestly, by the time you’re finished you won’t even remember the beginning being slow. With choices that have real consequences, Until Dawn is definitely a game to pick up. Especially since you can look back at what your choices did and try for a different outcome the next time you play.

Until Dawn
On PS4

Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Supermassive Games
Genre Survival Horror
Players 1
Rating R16
Released 26 August 2015

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