[As Read on GIO.]
Nothing Beats the Thrill of Running from a Serial Killer while Risking your Life Nudity
Everybody dies eventually. It sounds somber but there’s only so much we can do to delay the inevitable. However, venturing to a remote and far from hospitable countryside during horrible weather conditions, intending to celebrate the anniversary of a friend’s disappearance and probable death, alongside several other compadres, is probably a good way to speed up the inevitable. And as luck, as well as any good horror flick writer’s intentions, would have it- that’s pretty much the exact premise for Supermassive Games’ ‘Until Dawn.’
Until Dawn is at its best in its earliest moments for sure, but that’s not to say the entire package isn’t pleasing. Somewhere along the way some details get tossed aside with a little more abandon, but the end result is still an enjoyable and even sometimes funny experience. Yes, I said funny- despite the fact this is essentially a teen slasher horror flick of a game. It retains the aspects of horror, drama and general suspense of any good jump-scare, slasher-ridden, morbidly-cliched 80’s movie but it also embraces the cheesiness and makes it work well. Whether or not the majority of this is intentional, the world may never know. But it works, and the ends often justify the means where the gaming and entertainment worlds are concerned.One thing remains undeniable: Until Dawn definitely has its moments.
In my mind, Until Dawn finds its own spot somewhere along the line between Heavy Rain’s interactivity and atmosphere and an episodic Telltale play and pray foray. Choice isn’t a figment of your imagination- you CAN and will impact the direction the story takes characters in, regarding their survival and much, much more. There’s definitely room for error where choice-driven gameplay and storylines are concerned in gaming, however Until Dawn performs remarkably well and manages to produce truly meaningful changes to the way the story progresses. Every little decision really could matter, when all things are said and done. The atmosphere is appropriately reflective of the consequences of your actions as well as the brooding musical score and the gloomy, dangerous environment see to that.
Don’t for a second be fooled into thinking this is just your everyday, average teen horror flick in game form. Until Dawn also boasts a fairly intriguing mystery and plot. Sure, all our sad little teens care about is survival when all is said and done, however there’s more to be discovered concerning plenty of juicy plot details the further through the runtime you go. Though a survival horror-adventure story at heart, the only thing you need worry about is exploration, choices, and dynamic encounters. No precious fallback such as a massive inventory or combat system exists. It’s just you (the teens, rotating throughout their escapades) and the story.
The experience is scarily realistic, or as life-like as such a cliched adventure can be. The choices and their resulting consequences play out over the course of the entire game and actually do impact your experience and the story. The visuals and the performances of actors and actresses within the core cast add further life and grit as well. The environments themselves serve as a conduit of the game’s very mood and the score inlaid complements that. All in all, the experience is a polished one even with hiccups to be found here and there. Choices, while not at all spoiled where their outcomes are concerned, are continually tracked in the menu- leading you further and further down the path towards completion and letting you take note of side impacts and repercussions along the way. Just don’t think you’re going to be able to keep trying for a desired outcome, as you’re better off playing through continually one way and making alternate decisions another time in order to compare outcomes.
There’s certainly an air of permadeath constant throughout the game, as you get no retries, no redos, no concessions for your mistakes. You pay with your life, just as somebody would in a horror flick of the same type, often gruesomely so in gratifying if disheartening fashion. However, despite the constant threat of death and disembowelment looming over your head(s), it’s always heartening to see characters evolve alongside your choices too- acting as you cast them, although still retaining some of their true character.
However, the game is no simple point and click survival horror adventure- it also has its fair share of side content in the form of mysterious clues, signs, and collectible items. The more you explore the surrounding area, the higher your risk of being decapitated, impaled, or eviscerated but also the more rewarding the story becomes as new details and hints are discovered, revealing more about just about everything. Foreshadowing plays a large role in gameplay as well. There is the usual amount of “nothing could possibly go wrong, so everything will go wrong” laughably cliched tone throughout the story, but then there are also brief bursts of visions foretelling doom and delight equally for your characters, depending on what encounters you steer them towards and away from. Which brings us to the points where you actually physically steer your characters…in life or death situations. Yes folks, QTEs make an appearance, and yes they’re as generally annoying as usual, but remarkably well handled (as well as can be) and used more conservatively. Failure is not an option, unless you have a death wish, but sometimes by happenstance you survive even if you are a second too late.
Nothing sucks more than your favorite character dying in your favorite television show, and the feeling is the same through Until Dawn. The character archetypes are all easily recognizable- you’ve always got to have the jock, love interest, etc. however they aren’t all as memorable as others. By the end of the game, if you’ve managed to keep the more redeemable characters alive then you’ve done something right, as the expendables and general asses might make the experience more entertaining, but they also don’t seem as easy to be genuinely invested in. Your experience will likely clock out somewhere around twelve hours but don’t let that stop you from replaying the game differently- Supermassive is not lying when they say it will be an entirely different experience. This isn’t a case of “red light, green light, blue light” a la Mass Effect- it’s far more than a few diverse choices and then an aesthetic ending cutscene. When it’s at its best, Until Dawn is being ridiculous, scary, and interesting all at the same time.
So let’s talk about the less than stellar details, the ones keeping an otherwise entirely praiseworthy experience from its well-deserved glory. The world is atmospheric for sure and it doesn’t need to be large, but at times even when it wasn’t supposed to, the cramped setting gave off a more claustrophobic vibe than intended. I can’t find too much fault in that choice as there’s plenty of content and story to explore in the variety of settings offered, but perhaps a little fluff around the edges would’ve gone a little ways as well. Until Dawn has plenty of adequately scary moments and shocking turn of events, however sometimes its cheesiness and jokes get the upper hand and really soften the intended pang of consequences and horror. A little finer tuned balancing of that could’ve done wonders. What’s more, even the light humor sprinkled throughout falls flat and gives way to a much more convoluted and conflicted storyline somewhere around the eight hour mark, and from then on out the experience in the second act is much less than that of the stellar expository scenes.
So, despite the small flaws and cracks in its casing, Until Dawn is an entirely competent and enjoyable horror adventure and certainly a commendable effort on the part of the developers. It is well-worth the anticipation and wait, as well as all the trouble it went through in production. It’s discordant and lacks true focus in certain instances, but it never loses track of what it is or where it’s going, making it a creepily tantalizing game and story.
Concept: Revel in the atmospheric horrors of a classic slasher film from the comfort of your couch, and better yet make the decisions leading to gruesome and sometimes hilarious and well-deserved deaths all the while progressing through an interesting and malleable plot.
Graphics: The visuals, the animations, and the overall content showcase a fine level of quality and add believability to the resume as well. Yes, I probably made that word up.
Sound: Both the melodies and the voice work add to the already well designed experience and add a higher sense of tension appropriately where needed.
Playability: While the majority of gameplay focuses on simplicity, that’s not to say it isn’t still a highly enjoyable and interactive experience.
Entertainment: I hope you like tripping and being cleaved in half by a tottering psychopath, because that and even more is in store for you if you choose to play this game.
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 8.0