Until Dawn Review

By Blair Nokes on September 11, 2015

Supermassive Games isn't a very relatively known developer. Having only a few HD remasters, LittleBigPlanet DLC content, Vita Ports and smaller budget move titles under their belt, they're finally ready to debut with a full fledged AAA exclusive for the Playstation 4. Until Dawn debuted as a promising horror title when it was originally announced, highlighting the game's ambition for a multi-branching narrative in ways we've not experienced. The PlayStation family certainly has seen games of a similar nature "“ most notably David Cage's Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. My biggest issue with those games, especially Heavy Rain, is that their central gameplay mechanic involving listening in on your character's thoughts formed a pretty large plot hole, and the story itself was rather weak. Until Dawn is most effectively the best form of this type of genre to date, offering an absurd amount of branching alternatives, and genuinely terrifying moments.

Like typical horror plots, we need a creepy setting. A lodge (Blackwood Pines Lodge) at the top of a mountain is a pretty standard archetype, with our cast being a group of friends on a winter retreat. A few of the group members wanted to play an innocent prank on one of the girls who had a crush on one of the guys, and it caused her to embarrassingly race outside in the dead of the night. I've played this intro a few times, and as far as I have seen, both times yield the same result which is the death of this girl and her sister who chased after her. This kick starts the true story, which is the return to the cabin a year later honouring the anniversary of their deaths with the same group along with some new faces.

Until Dawn then breaks the fourth wall by cutting to a scene with an analyst asking you, the player, a series of questions. The analyst is played by Peter Stormare who does an absolutely tremendous performance throughout the course of the game. Depending on how or what you answer will affect the nature of the game. Fearing isolation may affect the core storyline; a fear of clowns might have you facing exactly that. It even lets you play God in ranking who of the main cast that you like and dislike the most. These segments offer a wonderful philosophical take on the player and a video game, and how our choices ultimately affect and manipulate the characters portrayed in a game. Without giving too much of the rest of the story away, the rest of Until Dawn, while mildly predictable in the twist I was given, was still executed exceptionally well. Every choice has a number of outcomes that will in turn branch out into another host of options with their own branching alternatives. One thing players will learn fast is that an unseen option absolutely exists "“ the option of not doing anything. Depending on how you utilize this, it may lead to a positive outcome, or it might result in an untimely demise.

Other talented actors lend their faces, and bodily actions to really breathe life into these characters. Hayden Panettiere of Heroes fame (or Kairi from Kingdom Hearts), Rami Malek of the new Mr Robot series, and Brett Dalton of the ongoing Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series all have some spectacular performances. There are going to be some cheesy moments, and some odd facial animations here and there, but on the whole Until Dawn really delivers stellar performances for a horror game.

Until Dawn is meant to be played more than once, and Supermassive achieves this by not allowing all content to be viewed in one playthrough. The first playthrough will probably run you around the 10-12 hour mark, which is fairly lengthy for this type of game when you factor in the multiple playthroughs. Seeing the different outcomes you may not have experienced in your first run is reason enough to warrant another play. It is worth noting that it is entirely possible to complete the game with all characters alive as well as having all of them die.

Until Dawn is a third person interactive drama. It is fairly linear in the sense that there isn't a world to explore, but that being said there is a lot to manipulate and there is a lot of choice at your disposal. There are plenty of quick timed events that truly are quickly timed. A lot of cases this days QTEs can be pretty forgiving, or offer more time than you really need. With Until Dawn, you need to be quick in your reaction as you don't have a lot of time, much like the QTEs in Resident Evil 4. On top of that, there are a lot of instances that will also continue on with the game if you fail to make a choice, or even press the wrong button. This is the near perfect way to execute QTEs, and a brilliant game design that really does penalize you for failing by just carrying on with the game. There's no need to replay it to make sure you hit square at the right time; the game has already developed a scenario around your failure. And that's the beauty of this game, and what really adds to the replayability of the campaign, and their execution of The Butterfly Effect. The game offers the option of controlling your characters with the analog sticks on the Dualshock 4, or with the motion sensors on the control. I selected the analog sticks, however there are some very tense moments where you need to keep your controller still as the motion sensors will detect the slightest movement and an enemy may see or hear you because of it.

Players can find a series of collectibles throughout the game, starting off with the basic clues that document the nature of the deaths, the history of the setting, and anything in between. Totems are another item to collect; these give players the ability to peer into the future with carefully spliced segments of what might happen. These might be paths you might take with other characters or deaths that might happen. The great thing about these is that you have the option to change the course of this preset history.

Until Dawn can be visually breathtaking at times. Offering cinematic camera angles, panning cameras or cameras that are fixed on a certain position, the game manages to retain tension and suspense this way. Facial animations are some of the best I've seen in many instances, and jarring in a few. The eyes as a whole "“ the shape, gloss, look and movement are phenomenal. The head movement and general lip movements are very well done. Focusing on these individually will probably show some inconsistencies, but viewing them as a whole and as a character make for a pretty believable performance. The lighting system is top notch, with black levels adding to the overall atmosphere and light sources really limiting your visibility. Particle effects can be anywhere from a snowy blizzard, to dust particles in the lodge itself. Character body movements range from jerky at times, to near-human like. The real star is, as previously stated, the performances. With a strong cast of actors at their disposal, Until Dawn manages to give off a great delivery and a range of characters you would expect in a horror. Depending on how you play you have the Jock, the nerdy quiet type, the strong female, the ditsy female, the bumbling male, and so on. But what's even better is none of them have to play like this as you are in complete control of how they act. You control their character development over the course of the narrative and how they change over time.

Final Thoughts

For their first AAA outing, Supermassive Games really hit home with Until Dawn. For a genre that was beginning to feel stale and unimaginative, Until Dawn definitely acts as the defibrillator for the interactive drama "“ giving new life and introducing the concept of change, choice, morality, ethics, right, wrong, and grey areas in ways we really haven't seen before. I can forgive the odd animation and surreal faces at times when what we're given more frequently is a visual benchmark for the PS4. With a decent initial playthrough time, seemingly endless amounts of replayability, and lots of collectibles to find, Until Dawn is a highly recommended exclusive for PS4 owners.

Stellar performances from a list of talented actors.
True branching narrative offers loads of replayability.
Genuinely terrifying.
Some wonky animations here and there.
Expect some predictable outcomes or classic horror tropes.
Some may not like the idea that they cannot replay failed QTEs without restarting the entire game.
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