REVIEW – Migrated from PS3 to PS4, this long-awaited survivor horror action-adventure game is the surprise hit of PS Plus July! Extraordinary graphics, multiple choices, a clever horror story using several teen characters: that was the premise of Until Dawn. Were the expectations about this highly anticipated horror adventure met? Do I really know, what you bought this summer?
Whatever you might have learned from horror games so far, forget it! Yes we have learned how to decimate zombies in the Resident Evil titles, we were on our edge out in the moody, yet extremely scary Silent Hill series, we saved Alan Wake’s skin countless time in nightmarish adventures, and we hid Ripley as best as we could from the clutches of the Alien – just to name a few franchises. Still, the makers of Until Dawn shows us another yet another kind of horror experience. What if you had several heroes, yet you could lose every one of them? And the real catch is: it’s up to you, whether they survive or not!
The eight-passenger is Death indeed…
What the hell I am talking about? In every horror games, should you die anywhere, there’s one thing which ease up on the tension: not matter, how gruesome is your character’s death, you can reload the game, and voila, your hero lives and you can continue your adventure. Well, you can kiss this option goodbye in Until Dawn. You have eight teen heroes, and heroines, all of them under your control, and if you make a wrong move at some crucial point of the game, you take the wrong, fatal path, you die, that’s it you cannot reload the game.
And that’s just clever game design. Since you can die at every moment, and no reload is possible the already high tension – thanks to the extremely creepy atmosphere – will rise to the top. Since you can lose every one of your main characters, you will care for them, fear their death much more compared to a horror game where reloading is always an option.
Eight little Indians
A bit like in the famous Agatha Christie’s novel, we have several heroes (eight here, instead of ten) and even if they are the kind spoiled rich kids you see in those teen horror movies, you will grow to like them after a while. Yes, the teen horror genre’s clichés are all there: we have the very sexy young girls – many of them all too obsessed to conquer the heart of the handsome “alpha male”: Mike, we have the geeky Chris, who is smitten with Ashley (who also likes Chris, but their love is… oh, whatever) and all the other clichés you might expect.
It has to be said, there are some pretty stupid story elements, which are also related to the teen horror genre. Mike and Jess want to hump each other, that’s okay (they are together) so they are making a long trip in the scary and cold Canadian woods to a cabin just to… well to have sex here. Just for you to understand: there’s an extremely big lodge, where they could “69ing each other” (as one of the characters described their lovemaking) but no: they make a long and useless trip to some unknown cabin far away. I mean, ok, we this level of stupidity is somewhat to expected from a teen horror movie, but when we are actually making this very long trip, it’s still a bit annoying.
Make one wrong move, and your hero won’t TELL the TALE!
While this game is since a long time in the making, it still plays a lot like the Telltale games, and the heritage is pretty obvious. We can move our characters with the right stick while looking around with the left stick. If there’s some blue shining object, we can take the look, either manipulating it later with the thumbsticks or the right trigger.
There are also LOTS of quick time events here. In fact, if you truly hate QTEs, I discourage you from buying the game, since the game relies on them all too much. There are basically two kinds of QTEs: in one of them you perform some dangerous, adrenaline pumping action, like running from the serial killer, or climbing up somewhere, and you have to just push the right button at the right moment, fast thus avoiding to fall down, or hurt yourself in the process of running.
The other one is about using guns: you have to aim your target (it won’t be hard since there’s a blue target on every target) and a limited time to fire your weapon. (A bit like in The Order, when you fought against the werewolves.
You can also explore your environment and find clues about Josh and his family, and also some strange Indian totems, which can show you a possible future. There are also some scenes involving a sicko psychologist: Dr. Hill, where you have to choose between different concepts, but that doesn’t have any effect on the game, you can’t do right or wrong here.
Basically, that’s pretty much what the Telltale games, or Heavy Rain and Beyond were about, except, that Until Dawn is really scary. That isn’t due the subtle psychological effects since this game rather has the ambiance of teen horror/slasher kind of movie, but besides the fact that the environment is so exceptionally moody, scary and you are also always hunted or threatened – one wrong move and you can die in a gruesome way.
Also, the top notch visuals are exceptionally realistic – the game looks almost like a real movie, without the uncanny valley of that kind of games. Every character looks like a 100% real person, and the effects and the different kind of monsters and animals are especially well done as well. There aren’t many areas in the game, but the lodge the Canadian night forest, and the old sanitarium is truly well designed same goes for the other environments as well.
There’s also an Indian lore which gives a nice background to all the events in the game. While the story itself isn’t really special, the Indian tribal “vibe”, and some horrific events which passed here ages ago gives a sufficient ambiance to the whole story. Since I was just expecting some teen horror slasher story, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole backstory of the game.
Shining? Yes, although it has its flaws
Until Dawn is an excellent Telltale kind of horror adventure (don’t expect the usual survival-horror experience here) but, unfortunately, it’s still lacking in some aspects. It’s pretty short: if you start the evening you can finish it “until dawn” haha, (pun intended). Yes, there’s a strong replay value, since the story will change if you save or let die other characters and you will also learn a lot more about the whole backstory.
However the beginning of the game – with all those teen horror clichés at the start – is not that interesting replaying for the second time. Going with Mike and Jess through the long forest way so they can have sex, isn’t that exciting either. The same goes for the cut scenes before the horror part is starting. There’s also the Dr. Hill parts, which are enigmatic and interesting enough, but they are a bit boring for the second walkthrough as much as Peter Stormare is terrific as the sick psychiatrist.
That said Until Dawn is a pretty good horror title, if you like the idea of a Telltale adventure title on steroids, with the better story, much better graphics, and a creepy horror ambiance. Just remember: start the evening and play it until dawn!
+ Top notch AAA presentation
+ Story is surprisingly good
+ The fact that you can’t reload brings tension
– If you hate QTEs, forget this game
– The beginning is a bit boring
– Replay value is “double-edged sword”
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Supermassive Games
Genres: adventure, horror
Release date: August 25, 2015