When eight teens prepare to party on top of a quiet ski resort mountain with no parental supervision, there’s bound to be trouble. Until Dawn is the perfect set-up for a slasher film, but it’s more than just your average run-of-the-mill killing spree.
Supermassive Games and SCEA did such a wonderful job at marketing the game as “Jigsaw on Ice” that it was able to pull a beautiful switcheroo mid-plot that completely changes the game. We won’t delve into spoilers here, though. Even if we did, it wouldn’t make much sense and it’s more important to understand why every PS4-owning horror fan should spend a little time on Blackwood Mountain.
Until Dawn starts off as most new-age horror films do – with a bloody prolog that leads smoothly into the main plot. In this case, it’s the gathering of 8 friends who are indirectly responsible for the deaths of twin sisters and are, at the behest of the deceased twin’s brother, returning for a sort of creepy memorial party. The characters fit perfectly within your standard Hollywood horror stereotypes, a move I would have pegged as lazy had it not been so deliberate and necessary.
Amidst the rather lengthy introduction to the relationships that budded and fell apart over the past year between Emily the bitch, Mike the alpha male, Chris the dweeb, Ashley the innocent, Matt the jock, Jess the slut, Sam the alpha female, and Josh the tragic brother, we’re introduced to the first of Until Dawn’s many unique qualities.
Peter Stormare’s portrayal as psychologist Dr. Hill is both mysterious and unsettling. During our time with Dr. Hill, we unknowingly form how the game is going to play. Through a series of questions, the creepy Hill asks us, playing as a yet unknown character, to tell him what frightens us the most. It’s through our choices that Until Dawn is molded. If you say you’re afraid of scarecrows and cockroaches, expect to see a few pop up here and there. Are needles a bigger fear than knives? Maybe the killer’s weapon will change at one point to reflect your innermost terrors. They don’t change major portions of the game, but these little decisions personalize the experience in an unexpectedly welcomed way.
Though our choices with Dr. Hill aren’t story-changing, that doesn’t mean every decision we make is minuscule to the outcome. Quite the contrary, actually. Supermassive throws chaos theory in our face quite a bit, more specifically the concept of the Butterfly Effect. The game is molded after this theory, where every action can bring about an entirely different outcome. The choices range from small decisions like choosing one bit of dialogue over another to saving one’s life over your own. What’s surprising about Until Dawn is the actual weight these options have as the simplest of decisions could lead to the demise of one character, which leads to another great aspect of Supermassive’s move into horror gaming.
When a character dies, that’s it. The story goes on without them and you’re none-the-wiser as to what their presence may have changed in the long run, and it’s kind of surprising what you miss out on when a character is missing. Even more surprising is how these characters go from slasher film fodder to actual likable human beings based upon the choices you make for them. Most characters, save for that bitch Emily, I did my best to keep alive, and when I failed, I actually felt bad. These hateful 8 weren’t the best characters in gaming, but they were likable and mostly believable. For some, specifically Sam and Mike, their likeability can be attributed to their voice actors, Hayden Pannetiere and Brett Dalton. Which is surprising considering I normally dislike Hayden Pantytear.
Until Dawn is more than just a video game. Its quicktime event-driven gameplay makes it more of a cinematic experience along the lines of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. When the action heats up, expect your control movements to be diluted to just the four face buttons and the right thumbstick. Control of the character may be directly removed, but you’re still controlling the branching paths of the game, an element that the aforementioned titles could have benefited from.
It’s been said time and time again that Until Dawn is the game that all horror fans should play, but I think its reach should extend beyond that. It’s a fun, cinematic game that I think could help recruit a few more members to the horror team. Sure, it relies heavily on jump scares as the payoff to the many slow moments, but looking beyond that, it’s a smart title that utilizes its mechanics effectively to create an easily replayable 10 to 12-hour experience.
Fans of Until Dawn can continue the fun with the VR experience, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.