From Dusk Till Dawn
Your palms are sweaty, there’s regret pouring from you already as you know you’ve made the wrong decision. The score is slowly building up, adding to the insurmountable amount of tension that’s embraced the air. You hear the door open, footsteps slowly making their way toward you. You hold your breath just as your character does, hoping their death isn’t upon them. The footsteps grow closer, the music building to a point of overwhelming tension. The psychopath scans the area, hearing only the faintest of movements – they’ve found you. There’s no escape. You try to defend yourself, but there’s no way out – you’ve let another person down, and with that their life is now over.
That’s how quickly one decision can completely change your game in Until Dawn, Supermassive Games’ teen horror, and that’s one of the best parts about it.
Until Dawn focuses on a group of teenagers and their trip to a cabin at Blackwood Pines, a location in the Canadian mountains, in an effort to gain closure over an event that transpired a year before. The eight teenagers–while filled with your average cliche horror tropes–all have personality and motives that are driven by the way they interact with one another. While they are all somewhat indicative of the horror stereotypes that are ever-present within the teen horror sub-genre, the sense of depth and realism attributed to how they move, how they act in a situation, and how they interact with each other make for a convincing and entirely believable cast that continue to grow on you as you play through the nine hour story.
While it takes a little bit to get going Until Dawn’s story is rather impressive, crafting an experience that embraces the teen horror sub-genre and builds upon the common tropes of horror in interesting and ultimately very effective ways. You’d be remise not to assume that this wouldn’t be the case during the first half an hour of the game, which is fairly lacklustre and features uninteresting and dull writing. Fortunately though, following that Until Dawn really opens up and veteran horror writers Graham Reznik and Larry Fessenden showcase their intelligence and experience by penning a story that’s completely representative of what the best of the horror genre can offer. The story takes various amounts of twists and turns and the pacing is absolutely spot on, producing a narrative that manages to terrify while consistently inviting you to continue on to find out what comes next – something only the upper echelon of the genre has managed to do.
Until Dawn’s presentation is also indicative of the genre itself, with the game utilising environments influenced by genre classics such as Psycho and The Shining, creating an atmosphere that is constantly filled with dread and the unknown. The way you perceive and interact with the environment can change in an instant due to the excellent level design that allow jump scares and sudden movements to be utilised in effective and often terrifying ways, too.
While some of the locations are gargantuan in size and often dwarf the characters, the more claustrophobic areas of the game are where the scares work best. As the game makes use of atmospheric lighting to tell its own tale, you’re always ridden with a sense of dread. As you make your way around tight corners and through claustrophobia-ridden passageways, you’re always pondering when the next scare will come, and that makes for a genuinely exciting experience, especially as a horror fan.
While the environments are beautifully realised, it’s the character animations that are the most impressive part of Until Dawn’s presentation. Characters manage to showcase emotions with only the slightest hint of facial movement, making them feel almost lifelike within the world that Supermassive has created. And even during the more sombre of exchanges, the way they take to each other’s conversation can completely change how you perceive what they’re thinking or what they’re about to say. The fidelity of each character is equally stunning, as each are realised in their own unique way, making all of them instantly recognisable and in some ways quite relatable.
The way you play through Until Dawn is fairly reminiscent of the Resident Evil games, which actually compliments the game extremely well. The camera more-or-less takes care of itself as the left thumb-stick is utilised for player movement and the right thumb-stick is used for controlling the character’s perspective or directing the way they shine their light. You can also pick to use motion controls to replace the latter, although I found the motion controls to be quite annoying to use. Other than that, you’ll be utilizing the face buttons to get through quicktime events and the R2 button to inspect objects, which is fairly standard. Even-so, Until Dawn utilises this control scheme really well and I was constantly surprised at how the camera managed to create moment-to-moment shots that really complimented the game’s themes, tones, and the atmosphere throughout.
I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches during my time with the game too, which was really quite surprising. While the fps was fluid throughout, it is worth mentioning that the cutscenes felt slightly jumpy, although it seemed to be something that I got used to fairly quickly.
The choice and consequence system–dubbed ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by Supermassive–is perhaps the most obvious constant throughout the game, and it’s used to great effect. While there are plenty of pivotal moments that are linked to the major plot points that will determine whether a character lives or dies, it’s also the smaller moments that add to how the game personalises itself specifically for you. The game feels like a combination of a classic Resident Evil and Telltale game, although the outcomes can hinge on decisions you’d made chapters ago. Until Dawn’s story feels like a personal conquest to keep the eight characters alive, and upon finishing the game I already felt compelled to jump back in and make a vast amount of different choices to see how they alter the game’s story. It is entirely possible to have all eight teenagers make it out alive, although it’s also possible for none of them to make it alive as well – and that’s genuinely intriguing from a gameplay and story perspective.
While Jason Graves’ work on The Order: 1886 gave tone and character to an otherwise disappointing game, his score for Until Dawn compliments an already great package, adding a great amount of tone and atmosphere to the game. The exquisitely crafted thematic tones stalk you at every turn, and establish a real sense of dread and terror in some of the more intense sequences of the game. This is a score that gives so much to the game, making for a horror experience that comes together superbly well.
Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn is quite simply one of the best horror games I’ve played. It’s a uniquely terrifying adventure in what is one of the most cliched sub-genres around. The choice and consequence system crafts an experience that begs to be replayed and the writing is engaging and rather impressive. Horror fans will certainly find many things to love about Until Dawn, and it’s very possible that others will too. While we’ll most likely never really know what the game was and what it was like on PlayStation 3, I’m incredibly thankful for what we have now.
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
A review copy was provided by the publisher.