Welcome to Until Dawn, SuperMassive’s new exclusive title for the PS4. How can I best describe Until Dawn’s 10 hour experience? Well, imagine two slasher/horror films had a love child, and for some strange reason, that said love child was enrolled in a daycare center with a certifiable psychopath. Until Dawn is SuperMassive’s love letter to cheesy horror films, borrowing elements from film and jamming it into a visually beautiful, interactive experience that is warrant of a play through even though it misses beats with its narrative and gameplay.
SuperMassive incorporates a simple recipe which horror films have used for decades; Add x number of hyper sexual teens, a secluded lodge, a shady backstory, mix in an ominous figure with murderous intent and you have yourself a nice hearty dish of blood soaked terror. A place where unresponsive light switches and cellphones are bountiful, doors mysteriously open, and tunnels lead to the most unexpected places. This is where Until Dawn shines, as it revels in its cheesiness and self awareness. Throwing in the occasional foreshadows and jump scares,I often rolled my eyes and chuckled, but was sometimes caught with misdirection, leading to some genuinely heart pounding moments. Yet, as much as I enjoyed the typical horror film design, it eventually lead to a very predictable story which loss its continuity towards the latter portion of its tale.
The cast offers strong genuine performances, most notably from Peter Stormare (Fargo) and Rami Malek (Mr.Robot). During my initial play through, I found myself gravitating towards certain characters and despising others which lead to genuine choices when the time arose. Deciding whether to hide with a character or leave them for dead came easily after having countless interactions with each character, and assessing my relationship with them. Each character is unique with a specific set of characteristics that will either win your admiration or gain your disdain, which makes your choices weigh just a bit heavier or not at all.
Until Dawn’s graphics are simply amazing. From character models to environment design, SuperMassive’s attention to detail is impressive. Character models are smooth and expressive, especially in their facial features. Looks of concern, fear, and anxiety are clearly displayed in every character, from the furrowed brow to the nervousness displayed in a smirk. Cold conditions are illustrated through your characters body language, as they will occasionally blow warm air into their hands or hug themselves in order to generate whatever heat they can possibly muster. Clothes generally reflect present conditions such as snow falling on your character’s jacket or splatters of blood and dirt blanketing your current winter apparel. SuperMassive goes as far as capturing details on your character’s hands. I found myself astonished when I saw the amount of detail present on the hands such as discolorations and abrasions after a night of trekking through the brutal wilderness. Environments are relatively dark but are enhanced with its use of moonlight in various locations. Trees cast shadows, creating menacing silhouettes easily mistaken for deadly ghouls. Moonlight illuminates rooms that were once enshrouded by darkness, creating small spaces of comfort by offering visibility of what looms ahead. Without spoiling too much, Until Dawn is a visually stunning piece of work with various settings that unfortunately suffers from questionable gameplay mechanics that inevitably tarnish the overall experience.
The central theme of this story is choice. Choices are not only important but also have a rippling effect throughout your journey, affecting not only self but also your companions. Yet, as intriguing as this concept sounds on paper, its execution is weak, held down by the implementation of overly used Quick Time Events. Once chase ensues, you are relinquished of all controls and are subjected to make choices while your character runs for his/her life, essentially eliminating the sense of tension. Sure, during certain moments of danger, you are given an allotted amount of time to make a decision but it does not add to the amount of fear I had hoped for. Instead of QTES, Until Dawn may have benefited from allowing the player to fully control his/her character during extreme situations, giving the player not only the obstacle of choice but also one of skill. It would have weighed heavier on the player. Until Dawn minimizes the gravity of the situation by determining the outcome all with the push of a button.
Another issue was the constant reminder of controls. I can accept the entry tutorial for the new player, explaining certain controls and gameplay mechanics, but when I am seven hours into the story and I am still seeing prompts on lighting a match, it becomes more of a nuance rather than a friendly reminder. With its mere visuals alone, one can become immersed in the world of Until Dawn, but constant button prompts continued to remind me that it was all just a game with no faith in its player.
Finally, the absence of a sprint button was a bit bewildering to me. In one instance in the story, there is enough motivation to warrant the use of a sprint mechanic, yet, Until Dawn forces your character to walk, while the blood curdling screams of your friend is heard from afar. Logically, your character should be able to run to their companions aid but you have to settle for more of a hurried walk and hope for the best. At this moment I felt that this is not my experience, but the experience Until Dawn wanted me to have.
Once you complete the game, there is a moderate amount of replay ability. Different story arcs can be accessed by revisiting specific chapters and making new decisions ultimately revealing new information and outcomes. For the completionist, there are a number of clues such as newspaper articles, pictures, and documents littered across the 10 chapters for the grabbing. There are also a number to totems to collect, so be sure to revisit if you are up to the challenge.
Where Until Dawn succeeds in its visuals and strong acting performances, it unfortunately falls short on its narrative and gameplay. Yet, it is still an enjoyable game within its own right, offering some laughs and scares along the way. With a stronger narrative and unrestricted gameplay design, Until Dawn may have acquired a truly frightening experience.
- Stunning visuals
- Great cast
- Stories tend to separate mid game
- Too reliant on jump scare