Until Dawn, video game, box art, skull, cabin, dark, sand timer

Review: Until Dawn

Next up in our Halloween week is a spine-chilling review from contributor Tyler. Are you able to handle the pressure and survive the horrors of Until Dawn?



Tyler, The Young Beards, contributor

Contributor overview
Website: The Young Beards
Description: Husband and dad to an awesome baby boy, Tyler enjoys the horror genre and loves a good scare. His favourite video game franchise is the Twisted Metal series, which actually paved the way for his passion for gaming.


Title overview
Name: Until Dawn
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: August 2015
PEGI rating: 18
Platforms: PlayStation 4
More information: Official website


Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Initial impressions

Supermassive Games first debuted Until Dawn as a PlayStation Move experience. It was set to release at the tail-end of the PlayStation 3’s lifecycle and be a game that made motion control gaming fun for hardcore gamers; but somewhere during development something happened, causing the team to take a step back in the shadows and re-evaluate their product. With the PlayStation 4 launch on the horizon, Supermassive – or maybe even Sony Computer Entertainment – saw an opportunity to take advantage of the system’s powerful technology and deliver a homage to the classic teen-slasher horror.

This isn’t the typical horror game that we’ve all become accustomed to. Your camera isn’t panned behind the characters and you aren’t stocking up on firearms to give the monsters that stalk you a fight. Until Dawn is more in the style of an adventure game: think of the classic Resident Evil titles merged with Telltale Games’ approach to storytelling. This approach, although not original, still felt refreshing from the more recent horror titles that seemed to bank on over-the-top action and gore.

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Plot

Until Dawn starts with a group of friends tucked away inside a cabin on top of a mountain during a winter storm. During their annual getaway at Blackwood Pines a few of the teenagers decide to play a prank on two sisters, but this takes a turn for the worst and eventually leads to the disappearance of the twins. Exactly one year after the tragic events, the missing twins’ brother decides to get the group back together at the cabin just like old times… but little do they know that their relaxing getaway will turn into a trip from hell.

Subtle hints and clues regarding some of the strange happenings around the area allow your imagination and theories to start processing.

The opening prologue plays out as the game’s tutorial where you learn the basics and how the mechanics work, also establishing the story going forward and why these compelling teenagers visit Blackwood Pines. The title does a good job overall of keeping its mystery with subtle hints and clues regarding some of the strange happenings around the area, allowing your imagination and theories to start processing. I will say that a certain part of the plot completely threw me off-guard and veered towards something I wasn’t quite expecting. It’s enough to keep you motivated and continue ploughing through the terrors to figure everything out.

Throughout the course of Until Dawn you’ll come to like some of the characters in your group or simply despise them. Your opinions can be based on the choices you make as they will cause certain protagonists to define who they are as a person. I played the game as if it was happening to me. I’m a nice guy (at least, I think so) so when given the option to be more understanding I’d go with that. These decisions made me care for characters but it also made some of them run all over and belittle me – because you know, nice guys finish last right? This began to take a toll on the way I viewed those who were mistreating me; but more about that later.

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Gameplay

It’s hard to find a flaw in Until Dawn’s gameplay because the mechanics work for the style it uses, but if you strongly dislike quick-time events (QTEs) then you’ll most likely be miserable during the experience. Quick-thinking and good reflexes are the key to success. Once or twice during my anxiety spasms I accidentally pushed a wrong button, making a decision I didn’t really want to go for; so keep your composure and stay calm as scenes get very intense and demand you make fast choices. I loved every second of it because if I failed then that was it: bye-bye. The organic flow of the game was refreshing and very satisfying – or heart-breaking, depending on what happened.

Every action the player takes can determine the outcome of a situation for the best or the worst.

As mentioned above, when some of the characters I disliked were in need of assistance I was hesitant on whether or not I should help. Every action the player takes can determine the outcome of a situation for the best or the worst. Because there’s no ‘game over’ state I found myself trying my hardest to take care of the protagonists I cared for the most; everyone can die and everyone can live.

It’s a classic case of the butterfly effect. One example I came across was with one of the characters exploring a asylum on top of the snowy mountain. Inside this condemned building was a wolf relaxing near a cozy fire; you can choose to ignore him or feed it a meaty bone to earn its trust, and your decision will determine different behaviours in the animal.

Keeping your characters alive is based upon your quick reflexes and decision-making – and sometimes it’s even better to not do anything at all. I managed to complete Until Dawn with only three survivors but that’s because I made an impatient decision towards the finale which caused a good amount of people to lose their lives. There’s no auto-save feature to an extent that will allow you to go back and make different choices; however, after the game has been finished you may go back to certain chapters to redo scenarios, and see how they would have played out differently.

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Visuals and audio

The moon illuminating through the thickness of the forest helping navigate through the blistering winter storm; the sinister cabin echoing uncertain whispers and creaks…

Until Dawn’s visuals are absolutely stunning, almost to the point of being realistic at times. This heightens the believability of the characters as they can express fear, sadness and care through the amazing animation. The moon illuminating through the thickness of the forest providing patches of light to help navigate through the blistering winter storm; the sinister cabin echoing uncertain whispers and creaks as you investigate the beautiful, yet haunting house. The title contains all the essentials needed to create an amazing horror atmosphere.

The setting may be clichéd but Supermassive really nailed the tone and inspiration from the classic teen-slasher movies. From the subtle sound of the floor creaking to creepy whispers flanking in every direction, along with the build-up in suspenseful music which is interrupted by a well-timed jump-scare; these factors and a gritty, pumping atmosphere will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Voice-acting is good overall, with the cast seeming to have good chemistry and interacting with each other as friends would.

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Replay and innovation

I haven’t yet had the chance to replay Until Dawn due to time constraints, but with a concept that revolves around choices and outcomes there is much replayability value there. The butterfly effect mechanic gives you the opportunity to go back and make different decisions to get different results. Players have the chance to help everyone live or let them all die; and the lack of an auto-save feature means you’ll have to make your choices really matter.

It’s very innovative for a horror game and definitely heightens the tension.

The title takes similar mechanics from games like Heavy Rain and any Telltale Games’ series, and simplifies them into a well-made product. If you don’t like QTEs then you most likely won’t enjoy it; they act as a reflex mechanic and will either reward or punish you depending on your timing. It’s very innovative for a horror game and definitely heightens the tension, and I’d love to see more of this implemented in games that focus on story and choices.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

Until Dawn does a remarkable job at delivering the tone, atmosphere and characters of a classic teen-slasher horror. It’s an uninterrupted story that’s all based on the player’s decisions, and the quick-thinking needed to get through it will have you wiping your forehead in a ‘close call’ way – or leave you hanging your head in disappointment, knowing your favourite character won’t continue on.

I’d therefore recommend it for inclusion within future 1001 lists and I hope to see more titles of a similar nature in the future. Whilst its gameplay relies heavily on the use of QTEs and may be a turn-off for some, it’s a great game for anyone who loves a good, mysterious story and is a refreshing change from more recent horror titles that seem to rely on over-the-top action and violence.

If you can handle the pressure, then maybe you can survive Until Dawn.

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Review round-up
Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Source: We purchased the game from the PlayStation Store for $59.99
Positive: A high-tension, no hand-holding horror adventure
Negative: Those who dislike QTEs won’t enjoy the experience
Score: 51 out of 60
Grade: Buy it now!
Until Dawn, video game, review, graph, Buy it now!

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2 thoughts on “Review: Until Dawn

  1. Good review and I had a blast with the game! One thing I enjoyed that set it apart from other QTE based ‘interactive experiences’, such as Heavy Rain, were the totems and the back story you unlock from collecting them, giving it additional replayability beyond the multiple outcomes of each scene.

    There’s also a new Until Dawn title coming soon for PlayStation VR which looks promising!

    Like

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