Until Dawn

The star-studded Supermassive Games survival-horror hit for the PlayStation 4 is as creepy as it is beautiful. Loosely emulating games like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, this story-centred title focuses on sensitive decision-making, that effect characters’ fates, and whether they get dismembered or not.

until-dawn-listing-thumb-01-us-12aug14.pngUntil Dawn is episodic in nature (with a very peculiar intermission between each episode) and crafted like a miniseries. Much effort has been put into making the game feel movie-like, with voyeuristic camera angles and progressive and reactive gameplay. It is a very refreshing title indeed, that is as much fun to watch as it is to play.

With actors such as Peter Stormare (Prison Break) and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) bringing fantastically realistic characters to life, this is one of the most cinematic gaming experiences out there. Throw in a jarring soundtrack and a gloomy snow-capped setting and you’ve got an intriguing fusion of horror film and survival-horror gaming.

 

Nothing better than having big actors in a game

 

Grab your expensive headphones and your mom’s Xanax prescription, because this game is as involving as it gets, and will need your undivided attention if you’re going to carry the story effectively. You are the director here, and it is up to you how things pan out.

Revolving around a group of preppy youngsters – unwittingly summoned to a splatter-fest set in some remote yet gorgeous snowy mountains in British Columbia – players will continually swap between each good-looking character as they attempt to gather clues and survive an onslaught of deadly situations.

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Quick-time event jump-scares

 

Players must combine reflexes with detective-skills to keep as many of the playable characters alive. The story is yours to craft, and almost every narrative-based step forwards is yours to take. By picking up mysterious premonitions (which are kind of spoilerish), one can daringly avoid as much atrocious fatalism as possible.

‘The thing is – I don’t really want any of these unlikable kids to survive. They’re arrogant and shallow – and I am sadistic – and I want to see some well-rendered gore; I’m going to lead each one into the lion’s den!’ is what many people playing this game probably thought.

 

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It’s just a prank, bro!

 

One could pursue this tactic, but that would just squash much of the game’s excellent story and events, and possibly prohibit one from uncovering a titillating mystery. Diligent life-saving and clue-collecting is required for achieving maximum reward and the best possible ending.

If you’ve played Heavy Rain on the PlayStation 3 then you know what kind of gameplay to expect. Players will work through the action dealing with quick-time events and methodological button-pressing sequences. Although the button-tapping antics aren’t as developed as Heavy Rain, it’s still highly thrilling knowing that pressing the wrong button when leaping for a ledge results in a brainy mess.

 

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The game is filled with frantic decision-making, often requiring an instant decision

 

In the case of regrettable screw-ups resulting in the death of a charming twenty-something, don’t even try instantly turning off your console. The developers knew such tactics would be afoot, and so cleverly installed the most punishing autosave system ever made, which will resume the game exactly where you left off.       

There is also much use of the DualShock 4’s added gizmos, such as swiping the touch pad to turn pages or unlock bolts, using the motion sensor by waving the controller around to aim weapons and torches.

As for the horror, there is much homage to various classic horror classics like Saw and Friday the 13th. While tension is pretty constant through the use of rattling violin-scraping and obscure environments, I didn’t find the game anywhere near as terrifying as something like Silent Hill. This is due to the fact that if something ever jumped out at me, it would be a quick-time event.

 

How many will remain at dawn?

 

The meat of the fear probably came from the many jump-scares, which although gimmicky, are still very entertaining. You’ll also be chased a lot and have to decide between continuing to run, or hide, which is an interesting twist on terror: ‘Was that the right idea and am I about to lose another character?’

There are also fantastic moments of stunned stillness where a petrified character must remain completely still to avoid detection. This is achieved by holding the controller as still as possible, pretty difficult for those with an easily perturbed nature. If you don’t fancy using anything more than your index fingers and thumbs to play, you can always just select the simpler controls set up.

This game is for the thoughtful player that enjoys an absorbing story, slowly plodding about searching for clues. That’s not to say more adventurous gamers won’t enjoy it, as there is much heart-pounding action to be had, provided you don’t mind swapping platform for quick-time.

 

Classic horror film tropes galore

 

The game also goes deep into the traits of each character. Players should take note of each person’s fluctuating personality traits, as well as the relationships between the cast, which is displayed in bar-metres. Your decisions will often affect these relationships, which will obviously sway things like being saved or betrayed.

Key decisions will prompt a ‘Butterfly Effect’ moment; seemingly insignificant events will have massive repercussions later on. Weigh your choices against each other and try to predict what the outcome will be before picking a direction. Players can be more effective at decision-making through the studious piecing-together of clues and premonitions.

 

Homage to the countless actors chased in the invincible bath-towel

 

This is a game you will want to play again at least once. Being only about nine hours long (I clocked it in a few days), there are dozens of different possible scenarios and deaths to enjoy in the next play-through. Other than the movement feeling like an early Resident Evil title, this is an absolute slaughter of a game that will keep your sweaty palms glued to the controller.

Rating: 9/10

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