Until Dawn – Review

Samuel Alexander

For years I’ve wanted to be part of my very own teen horror film (I’d be the only survivor, of course). Until Dawn may be the closest I’ll ever get … I can’t act after all, but I can play video games!

The Playstation 4 exclusive Until Dawn joins the ranks of interactive film video games, popularised by the likes of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. This survival horror title puts us in control of eight teens that get together at a remote mountain getaway during a blizzard one year after two of their friends went missing under mysterious circumstances in the same area …

Granted it’s not the most original set up for the teen horror genre, but serving as a video game homage to the genre means Until Dawn kind of gets away with it. Not to mention, to my knowledge, there isn’t a video game that has so successfully captured the teen slasher atmosphere as Until Dawn, so again it gets a bit of a free pass to rely on tropes.

That being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the catty nature of the female cast – that seemed far too obvious, and a little derogatory for my liking. Not to mention, with all these boy/girl pairings I couldn’t help but wonder why a modern take on a classic genre couldn’t have possibly included any non-straight, non-cis characters. Maybe next time, eh?

Despite its reliance on these teen horror stereotypes, Until Dawn has a dark and twisted story with plenty of unexpected surprises to keep you on the edge of your seat. On top of that is the ‘Butterfly Effect’, Until Dawn’s main source of replay value.

Unlike Quantic Dream’s Beyond Two Souls, which sometimes had a sense of danger but no consequences, every character in Until Dawn is potentially at risk of death and every decision you make could drastically affect another character’s survival chances down the line. When the game is feeling particularly cruel, a decision you made earlier could actually prevent you from saving the life of another character completely.

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At first I was sceptical, worrying that the Butterfly Effect would lead to characters dying at random without much chance for me to change their fates. However, there are a number of things in place to help you make good decisions. The Butterfly Effect menu provides a recap of important decisions you’ve made that might provide a clue of how to either rectify your mistakes or continue making good decisions.

For example, should you upset another character this might impact whether or not they help you later on, however if you can make it up to them somehow you may find yourself saved. To help you understand the dynamics of the group you can also check character’s affinity with the rest of the group at any time from the menu.

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Another feature that will help you keep you teens alive are the totems. These little totem pieces provide you with a quick vision that fall in to certain categories – death, danger, fortune, guidance and loss. The most direct warnings are death totems, which will show you a quick death scene of the character that found the totem. Loss totems are similar, showing you the death of another character.

Fortune totems were probably the most interesting to me; at one point I believed a character to be dead but a fortune totem showed them alive and well later on … well, they were alive at least. Collecting as many of these as possible and combining the very short snippets they show you can help you make the best decisions (alone they don’t provide any clues to prevent the deaths shown).

It’s not quite as fluid as it sounds though – although it is possible that all the characters can die and vice versa, the moments in which they can die are very specific, with some characters rendered invincible until the final chapter. I can understand it must be difficult to write a story with so much room for variety, let alone act it all out, but it does mean that the story will always end in the same place.

For those of you that still want to feel the thrill of knowing your characters are constantly at risk, a warning: avoid the Until Dawn Wiki, or specifically its unfortunately short list of moments during which characters are at risk of death.

Going into Until Dawn without prior warnings, I was constantly on edge. Everything from the creepy lighting to the eerie music, and of course the classic jump scares, left me terrified for the lives of my little group. Coupled with the knowledge that there’s no reloading check points should any of my characters die, I felt genuinely tense at the possibility of losing any members of my team. This did lead to a worrying sense of relief when any of them did die …

The motion controls of Until Dawn were a bit of an odd feature to get used to. They are optional, but I felt I should keep them on to get the best experience. By moving the controller around your character will look around the scene, highlighting nearby examinable items. This is a bit tricky to do whilst moving the character so it was sometimes easier to stop and look around, which did mean I missed a lot. Still, that does add replay value, albeit cheaply …

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The motion controls worked well during chase scenes, forcing you to make quick decisions by moving the controller in the direction of different pathways. The stay still mechanic was another interesting use of the motion controls – asking a panicked player to hold their controller completely still cleverly adds a level of physical challenge to the game. During several of these moments I even found myself holding my breath in a desperate attempt to keep the controller steady. However, sometimes the controller seemed a little overly sensitive in these moments, leading to me losing my favourite character mere seconds before the end of the game.

Despite its flaws, Until Dawn provided a thrilling ride that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way, and even made me jump off it completely several times. This one game successfully reminded me of several of my favourite horror films, not just slashers, and video games (I couldn’t help but think that Capcom should be taking notes for Resident Evil 7).

I doubt on a second play through, even with the Butterfly Effect changing the experience, I’ll get the same jumpy experience but this is definitely an experience I can see myself coming back to again and again. More of the same please (with a little more character diversity), Supermassive Games!

Until Dawn is available now exclusively on Playstation 4.

About Samuel Alexander

Samuel is freelance writer, occasional illustrator, craft enthusiast and fan of all visual creative media. He is a published author who splits his time between client copy-writing and creative writing.

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