‘Until Dawn’ Puts The Fate Of Its Characters In Your Shaking Hands

4 stars

Many would dismiss Until Dawn as a simple point and click adventure loaded with cut scenes. Honestly, they wouldn’t be completely wrong. Somehow though, Until Dawn still manages to provide sensory frights and emotionally demanding choices. As the first game of this caliber by relatively new studio Supermassive Games, Until Dawn carves a place for itself in the horror genre.

The heart of Until Dawn’s gameplay revolves around choosing between dialogue options, quick-time events, and clue exploration. True to life, choices will often have to be made in split seconds without knowledge of future impact, and the decisions usually aren’t good or bad—they’re simply a choice. These decisions often lead to noticeable consequences and for some the unchangeable results can be frustrating, but this isn’t a quit-reload-your-last save type of game. The weight of the experience comes from the emotional high of rousing victory or crushing defeat. For the most part, the choices feel impactful and the game encourages you to take note of its various clues and totems, which provide you with visions of future dangers and fortunes, to guide you to safety. There was only one instance near the end where I felt cheated by a single choice resulting in the death of three of my character’s friends and often times the totems can be cryptic, but the overall experience manages to hold together well.

The story will seem remarkably cliche at first, and perhaps this is what the game wants, as it slowly pulls you into its own unique world. You start the game switching off between eight obnoxious, horny young adults at their yearly retreat in a mountain cabin one year after the mysterious disappearance of two of the group’s friends. Initially, most of the characters fit stereotypical horror archetypes from the douchey jock and his bitchy girlfriend to the nerd who’s too afraid to profess his love. At the beginning of the game you might ask yourselves if these people are—and if this game is—for real. As the story progresses, however, you learn about the insecurities and quirks of each character and by the end of things you’ll be screaming for their survival as they dodge murderous fiends and leap over icy drops.

One of the most interesting things the story does is make you question who’s really out to get you, as multiple seeming “villains” are thrown at you from the start with evidence subtly provided as to who’s the real threat. To be quite honest, you might have no idea what’s going on for the first half of the game, but that’s what makes it so entertaining as you struggle to understand each piece of the puzzle, which also makes the game a great group experience. Along with terrified embraces and conjecturing amongst the group on possible plot directions we of course had assigned each other in-game characters.

The graphics of Until Dawn are engaging with special attention given to character faces to provide a more realistic range of emotions, which Supermassive Games used to an almost humorous effect. Peter Stormare’s (Fargo) performance is of note and provided an interesting psychological aspect to the story. Stormare aside, the rest of the cast does a solid voice job without sounding too cheesy and the ambient music sufficiently rises to nerve chattering crescendos before climax scare moments—such as being forced to pull back a damn shower curtain— cause you to jump out of your seat.

A $60 tag is steep for Until Dawn given that it is relatively short and has only moderate replay value—the only different outcomes are those in which this or that character lives and the story still plays out relatively the same minus whichever fool you killed. I would, however, recommend you play this game at some point with friends and share in the agony of having to cut your own fingers free of a bear trap or risk prying them out as death comes charging at you on a timer.

Featured Image by Supermassive Games

September 23, 2015