Until Dawn is more than a horror game and more than a horror film. It’s a damn near perfect blending of the two, and both aspects are done in such a way that the player actually dictates — through their actions — who lives and who dies and how much of the story is uncovered in a play through, and yes, there will be multiple play throughs.
Supermassive Games, known primarily for LittleBig Planet Vita and the PS3 HD remake of Killzone, has taken every teen horror movie trope imaginable and dropped them all into a prospectors pan. It’s up to the player to sift through the story, shaking out each of these tropes until the true horror of the story is revealed, which happens sometime after Chapter 6.
This truly means that Until Dawn has a little bit of everything for horror movie fans. A group of teenaged friends: check. A secluded cabin in the snowy woods of British Columbia: check. A masked maniac: check. Native American spirits: check. A tortuous game of life or death: check. Monsters in the abandoned mines: check. This list actually goes on and on. The eight friends are all based on stereotypes. There is the princess, the smart girl, the jock, the bad boy, the nerd, etc., they are all here.
Until Dawn opens a year ago, as a prank between high school chums hanging out out a fancy cabin/lodge for the weekend goes terribly wrong and it results in the mysterious disappearance of two sisters. Flash forward to the present, and the brother of the two missing girls calls all of the friends back to the cabin to celebrate his sister’s lives — and to help him cope with their loss. The friends reluctantly all come back, and then very bad things happen, and the eight teens fight to survive…Until Dawn.
The cast includes some name actors, in both mo-cap and voice work, including Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) as Sam, Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Mike, and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as Josh. Peter Stormare (Fargo) even pops us a Dr. Hill, a psychiatrist who talks directly to the player, ala the classic William Castle horror films of the 1950s and 60s, early on in the game, and then he begins to factor in to the events that are transpiring. Everyone in the cast is solid, and it really shows off the amazing work that Supermassive was able to pull of in character models, environments, and even lighting effects — which are the best that I’ve ever seen in a game.
Until Dawn really pushes the boundaries of how good a game can look on the PS4, and it even works to blur the lines between game and movie even further. By successfully pulling that off, Supermassive Games has thrown down the gauntlet to other developers to try and top what they’ve done here. And let me tell you, it won’t be easy.
While the ten chapter story is a mashup of different ideas and genres, the “choose your own adventure” mechanism is solid, and it is so much more than just choosing “right or left.” The overuse of combat that has plagued many horror games is replaced here with quick time events, which adds to the drama and thrills. Hitting square when you needed to hit triangle could actually be a matter of life or death for that character. And dead is dead. If you lose them, they are gone until you start the game over again.
The butterfly effect is also in play here, and actions taken at any time can have rippling effects that change the narrative going forward. In fact, instead of multiple endings, Until Dawn has multiple play-through opportunities. Game experiences change entirely on the littlest decisions or actions all throughout. That’s impressive any way you look at it. It is entirely possible to get through the game with all kids surviving, and it’s also possible to have them all killed. I batted around .500 on my first play through, with the hardest death coming at the very end, when I lost a character I was sure was going to make it.
Until Dawn is a game that I will remember for many years to come. I actually felt like I was playing an eight-to-10 hour horror movie, one that was written and paced very well, and acted superbly. It doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. It’s a horror movie that you are playing — and controlling with your decisions — plain and simple, and the end results are worth the experience at least once, but the beautiful graphics, intense gameplay, and solid story will keep horror fans coming back for more. Because we’re sadists.
Until Dawn is available now exclusively for the PS4 in both digital and retail hard copy. This review is based off a copy of the game purchased at retail.
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