Until Dawn is a surprisingly gripping suspense title.
It’s been a while since I really got into a game outside of an RPG pretty intensely, and frankly I never expected it to be a title like Until Dawn. But then again, this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure/Survival-Horror/Interactive Horror Movie has surprised me quite a bit since I loaded it onto my PS4.
You play the game not as a single person, but as an entire clique of eight teenagers off on a trip to their friend’s secluded ski lodge, both to have a vacation and exorcise some demons of their recent past. You switch between characters as per the story events, but cannot switch actively on your own.
First off, it has to be said that the game looks fairly gorgeous. In full 1080p, with high resolution HD prettiness, this game is all eye candy made for your big-screen TVs. Where other games fail very consistently- in the character models- Until Dawn makes the grade with impressive results. The onscreen cast of young people that are put under the player’s care are not only uniformly attractive and lifelike, but for the most part likeable and very easy to get invested in. Yes, I’d say it would be fairly easy to be immediately drawn to the person we readily assume to be the game’s main heroine- the good-hearted and level-headed Sam, played by the beautiful Hayden Panettierre (Heroes), simply because her distinct features readily make her familiar. but it’s not long after you meet her friends tbat we should soon become very protective of these teens (unless you’re pointedly wanting to get them killed).
The character models are very well-done. Yes, facial expressions still aren’t perfect- they’re nowhere near even the detail of L.A. Noire. But I guess the excellent voice acting and script fill in whatever gap the digital actors’ faces still can’t quite convey.
In terms of gameplay, Until Dawn is very similar to Heavy Rain- it’s a mix of exploration, Quick Time Events and Choices. Choice, by far, is the most significant gameplay factor. Based heavenly on the Butterfly Effect, which basically states that even the smallest choice can cause vast consequences, this game pretty much ensures replayability since entire paths and branches in the storyline are locked off by choices you make. A strict Autosave prevents players from being able to stop and reload if they make a mistake or decision they regret- this is as punishing as Dark Souls in this regard- once you do something, it’s HISTORY. You have to live with it until your next playthrough. Get someone killed, the story continues onward without them (yes, even without Miss Panettiere, potentially). In fact, you can apparently finish the game with everyone dead or everyone alive (or any combination in between, I assume).
Aside from pretty spot-on controls and an environment which is immediately immersive and atmospheric, the game nails the Horror TV Show aesthetic, complete with an Opening Title Sequence and music and a ‘Previously On Until Dawn’ catch-up interlude in between game chapters. It’s like playing your own slick AMC Suspense/Mystery TV series.
Special mention also has to be given to what may so far be the CREEPIEST psychiatrist or ‘analyst’ I’ve yet met in a game, played by Peter Stormare. In between the game’s story chapters, you go through a ‘session’ with him, as a mysterious character who may or may not be involved in the goings-on at the Ski Lodge.
For some reason, this game has gotten hold of me from the first moment- and from there it hasn’t let go. This game does indeed demand your full attention- lest you miss a QTE and potentially screw up your story. But so far I am having a ball. Until Dawn, with all its horror show tropes, cliches and jumpscares strikes me as an exceptional title for the PS4. I still have to play this for quite a while before give my final, final verdict, but so far this game is coming out aces. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m still working on getting Sam back in the jacuzzi…