Developer: Supermassive Games
I have longed for a true horror movie themed game for years, especially in the realm of slasher flicks like Scream or Friday the 13th. Or even the slightly comedic side of Cabin in the Woods that still gave you the traditional jump scares and the gore you would expect from them. With Until Dawn for the PS4, I mostly went into the game blind because I wanted to judge this experience with an open mind.
The premise in Until Dawn is pretty straightforward; eight teenage friends become trapped on a remote mountain trip gone wrong. The story includes a ton of little nods at various horror clichés, from the cabin they are staying at, to the masked killer seen in the trailers. Until Dawn starts off as slow as you would expect any traditional slasher flick, but heavily picks up a couple of chapters in.
The most important aspects of the game are also one of its best traits. This is the effective choices mechanic that comes into play almost immediately. When you are first introduced to each character, you can control them one at a time and make some decisions that will become a huge part of how each of them interact with one another.
By the time I reached chapter three, the tension was running high and things began taking a turn for the worse. Many of the choices I made early on began to affect everyone and you soon realize that you need to think before you make a decision. Having this mechanic as the primary focus of the game was pivotal to the entire experience.
Throughout the story, there is a heavy mention of the "Butterfly Effect" which ends up being the name of the mechanic I spoke of before. The system in the game menu will let you manage all of the Butterfly Effects you encounter throughout the story. In the case of Until Dawn however, you will need to replay the game in its entirety to actually be able to make different choices and potentially change the narrative greatly. For those interested in game length, a playthrough should take 8 – 10 hours.
I found myself regretting several decisions after I had to see the consequences of my actions and it helps give you a reason to feel for each of the eight characters. Making some of these choices at times require you to do so in a limited time frame and can be a life or death situation. The scariest part of some of these choices are, you can't retry or undo them, especially if someone dies. They stay dead until you start the story over.
There is a lot of context in the story that dives into spoiler territory and would drastically vary from player to player. The biggest concern for Until Dawn is simply the type of game it is. It's not an action game or even an adventure game. The best way to compare the gameplay is to look at games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls. Each of these was considered an interactive drama and the gameplay heavily relies on quick time events and simple exploring.
The one thing that is a point of interest to discuss was the overall pacing of the story and how yet some of the plot was predictable. The 2nd half of the game goes in a completely different direction and some may not like that. I personally enjoyed the plot twists because what I had predicted was quickly debunked and gave me even more interest in what was going to happen next.
This type of game is not for everyone, but at the same time, in a world where games in this realm are essentially a cinematic experience, Until Dawn has enough fresh and original ideas and truly explores the choose your own path without having too many restrictions. If you are opened minded to a non-traditional gaming experience and enjoy horror games and/or movies, I would highly recommend giving Until Dawn a try.