Until Dawn, developed by Supermassive games, is something of a sleeper hit. Published by Sony and released exclusively on the PS4 just a few days before Metal Gear Solid V, it wouldn’t have been a shock to hear you might have missed it. But the truth of the matter is that Until Dawn is totally worth picking up.
Clocking in at about ten hours or so, Until Dawn is full of your typical teen horror cliches. The difference here is that Until Dawn knows this and revels in it. Each of the characters fits the role you’d expect. There’s the hero jock, the sex obsessed blonde, the slightly off kilter guy, and the final girl. There are more characters than that, but that’s the gist of it.
One by one you’ll play as each character through various chapters, each of them being an hour “until dawn” when everybody believes they’ll get rescued. Throughout each chapter you’ll do some light puzzle solving, and do your best to not kill the character you’re playing as – or the person you’re with.
That’s the real kicker of Until Dawn. Unlike a typical horror film, you get to decide if the characters live or die. Everyone can live, they can all die, or somewhere in between. It’s all up to you. Some of the choices are obvious, others are sneaky. The best part is that you’ll have no idea when some decision you made in chapter two will come back to haunt you (no pun intended).
The story takes a few interesting twists and turns, but over course of the game the story begins to delve into other horror genres. The issue here is that it does nothing to justify their inclusion in the story and eventually everything gets turned inside out. At some point you’re not even playing the same type of game. One minor character is literally included just for exposition of the new story elements before getting killed off. It’s an unfortunate inconsistency given how fun and interesting the first two acts of the game are.
Until Dawn also brings back some motifs from old horror games. The movement controls are reminiscent of games like Silent Hill, but upgraded for the modern age. Fixed camera angles make a wonderful return. Things like this help the game call back to its predecessors in the genre. It makes me hopeful for the future of the horror genre as well that these older mechanics have a place in modern games.
The scares in Until Dawn are few and far between. The game does its best to create more of a creepy atmosphere and only occasionally throwing “monsters” at you. This works to an extent, but becomes an issue late in the game when you know you have nothing to fear until the game says otherwise. A smoother balance would have been appreciated.
That said, one of the most interesting aspects of the game are these sections where you’re removed from the action and placed in the office of one Doctor Hill. Here you will answer some questions and participate in a few of the activities the good Doctor has developed for you. Doctor Hill is playing by Peter Stormare in something of a revolutionary performance. In fact out of all the characters, he’s the most interesting one. Again, it’s unfortunate that he disappears towards the end of this game.
You may be sensing a theme here with the third act of the game. But that shouldn’t discourage you from checking out what’s one of the most conceptually interesting games of the year. It’s certainly unlike most AAA titles being released nowadays, and the faults of the game’s ending don’t damper the fun that’s to be had in the first two thirds of the game. If nothing else, this game might be the start of a new path for horror games to build on.