One dreadfully cold night in the Canadian Rockies, a group of high school students visit a lodge owned by the parents of one of their mutual friends and become trapped there. Strange goings-on are afoot, as a killer is on a rampage to kill these teenagers in as brutal ways as possible. And as expected, all the characters are typical horror movie clichés. To start with, you have the jock; the dumb cheerleader; the haughty socialite; the shy girl; the guy who makes awkward jokes; the obnoxious jerk; the movie-star looking nice guy; and then the girl that is the most well adjusted and you automatically know has the best chance of becoming the ‘final girl’ out of all them. Not to mention that all of them are being portrayed by actors obviously far older than they are said to be. What does all this result in? As it turns out, Until Dawn is a fantastic rendition of typical horror movie tropes that creates the ultimate, cheesy horror experience for anybody in possession of a PlayStation 4.
When Until Dawn came out back in 2015, it seemed to go under the radar despite starring actors in mo-cap roles the likes of Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, and Brett Dalton. Not A-listers by any stretch of the imagination, but still recognizable and well-known. It almost seemed as if Sony pushed it out in August of that year to bury a bad investment, but the opposite happened. It was the exact type of game that would find life on YouTube and Twitch. A horror experience that “let’s” players found great success with. I actually found out more about the game just from watching one of these Let’s Play series, and so, I was excited when it became free for PS Plus subscribers a couple months ago. I finally had a reason to play it for myself, and it was just as fun to play it myself as it was to watch it.
Until Dawn is the perfect horror game to chill out with and even play alongside your friends as you bicker over what decisions to make using the game’s QTEs and button prompts to determine the outcome of the story. You will control each of the eight main characters at certain points in the story, all of whom become thoroughly terrorized by the end of the night, and change depending on how you play them. Despite that, they will always fight tooth and nail to survive, as the title says, until dawn. While the cast themselves are not overly complex and somewhat generic, it’s hard to cite this as a flaw seeing as this was intentional. Supermassive Games set out to make a horror game that played like a horror film, complete with all the tropes. It’s a game for horror fans and, more broadly, genre fans alike in that there is a distinct and familiar rhythm to the game that makes it highly approachable. The survival of the characters is going to depend on how genre savvy you are, and you can either make it so that every single one of them survives, or they all die. Brutally.
What sets apart Until Dawn from most linear experiences are the different branching paths available to you depending on what decisions you have the characters make. Of course, this in and of itself isn’t wholly unique given that it is essentially the same style as David Cage games like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human. However, the specific way it chooses to implement said decision making is through the Butterfly Effect system. Every time you make a decision of some consequence, a butterfly icon will appear on the screen that shows that choice you just made has some degree of ramifications. These are either minor in scope or can add up to turning characters against one another which will make things difficult to keep everybody alive. Unless you want to be merciless and have everybody killed off anyways, which in that case, it works to your advantage.
There are also short “psychiatric sessions” that happen in between different chapters, and what choices you make during these portions of the game do actually affect what threats you are going up against. You can choose to make things easier on yourself simply by choosing the options that scare you the least, but make no mistake, you are going to feel at least a little bit of unease by what you choose. This is a great way for you as the player to feel like you’re involved in deciding what happens even more than just with the Butterfly Effect in the individual chapters themselves. Until Dawn is all about the immersion, from a team that understands the horror genre to a tee.
There’s a fine level of detail to the character models and the environments you get to explore. For those of you that have played Horizon Zero Dawn, you will recognize the name of the Decima engine, which is what runs Until Dawn. The gore is glorious, the lighting fittingly spooky, and the frantic animations of the characters capture the terror of the night they are going through. On top of that, the framerate was rather smooth at an even 30 frames-per-second.
Until Dawn does have it’s share of frustrations though. For starters, moving your characters around can be a pain. The game uses tank controls, and some really awkward camera angles as a way of drawing out suspense, presumably. Yet this doesn’t work as well as, say, one of the older Resident Evil titles given that you’ll realize the characters aren’t actively in danger much of the time. There is a constant feeling of tension since you’re not entirely sure what will be happening next, but merely investigating a certain area begins to feel tedious what with wresting the analogue sticks to turn the character a certain direction so they can interact with the required object needed to progress, and this happens quite often. Even if you’re playing with your buddies, you are going to feel the aggravation that comes with having to force the controls to work for you many times in the game and it’s not the most pleasant part. It serves to break up the enjoyment you’re having a little too much at the beginning, but once the plot begins to move along, the problem occurred far less for me.
If you are looking for the perfect Halloween game to crush through over a couple of casual weekends with a group of friends, or even on your own, Until Dawn is an excellent choice. The high level of replayability with all the different outcomes, the visuals, the atmosphere, and even the ambient soundtrack all contribute to a true horror experience that is going to make you want to replay it again and again just to see what the different outcomes are. I highly recommend it, and it’s fairly cheap on the PlayStation store right now. If you haven’t gotten it yet and you own a PS4, you might want to do so. Thank you all for reading, keep the Halloween spirit going, and for more on geeky, genre-based content, please keep checking back right here at Geeks+Gamers.