I’m not a horror guy. I’ll be the first to admit that I try to stay far away from anything that has the potential to make me jump or make me tense or even put me on edge. That applies to everything except for video games. I could not tell you why, but horror genre video games consume, inhabit, and dominate my curiosity. Hence is the reason I came to Supermassive Games’s Until Dawn.
The plot plays like a traditional teen slasher film. After the tutorial, which jumpstarts the story, there are eight friends who return to the ski lodge they visited one year prior where a tragic incident occurred. Each character carries with it familiar tropes and characteristics you would find in any run-of-the-mill horror film. Nothing about them ever comes across as being a complete spoof of something that has come before, but it does add a lightness to the game that makes it more accessible to the horror wary like myself. However, that is not to take away from the horror aspects that do exist; they are very much present and at work.
What makes this game so unique is the amount of choice you have in how the story develops. Throughout the course of the game, you will play as each of the eight characters that have made their way up to the ski lodge. Through the use of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ system, you’ll be prompted to make a choice between, generally, two options. In one example that could mean confronting a friend with something or letting it go. Another could be the choice of which path to take. Whatever choice you make though will influence the continuing story. It can be big or small. The greatest part is that you have no idea what consequences your choices will have, and that alone put me on edge during my play through.
In terms of gameplay, expect a fairly light experience. That isn’t a bad thing. Supermassive Games has made a concerted effort to focus on the story of this world and that is ultimately what will drive you to get to the end of the game. Along the way though are some quick-time events, just to make sure you’re paying attention. In my experience, quick time events very quickly become predictable, thus taking the effect they have away. While that does happen here to an extent, Supermassive Games does a good job of making sure the quick-time triggers don’t completely overstay their welcome. This is due to the fact that in some instances you can make yet another choice to utilize or ignore the quick-time trigger, thus allowing for more positive or negative consequences. Everything is on the line and nothing can be dismissed casually, that element brings an added level of intensity to an already tense game environment.
Movement overall is slower, and almost every character carries some sort of light beacon to show the path. A lot of times it comes across as just a placeholder, but there were a few times where I did need to see where I was going. The only problem is that it is difficult to control. The action is mapped to the right analog stick and the movement you see on screen doesn’t entirely match the movement you are making with your thumb. Luckily it never really gets in the way.
As an additional task in the game, there are multiple types of collectibles scattered around the mountain. Totems carry with them a 1-3 second preview of what could happen with a future choice. There are six separate totem columns that predict different things. There are also various papers, files, and in some cases, signs that give you some more information about the events of the evening. Both the totems and the files can influence how the characters respond to the revelations of the plot. Just like the choices you make as a character, the plot can change based on how you handle the collectibles. You could ignore all the collectibles and the characters would appear possibly more frightened and/or more surprised than if you decided to collect them all. The choice is yours, like almost everything else, and that is what makes this game such an enjoyable experience.
This is a very tightly wound and focused gaming experience. Story driven adventures tend to stand out amidst the pack, and Until Dawn is no exception. I know this Autumn will be filled with talk of Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V, but if you’re looking for a bit of a smaller experience and you have a PS4, Until Dawn is an excellent choice. Sony has yet another great exclusive on their hands, don’t miss it.