“Interactive movie” is not the way to describe this game. It is like Evil Dead meets Cabin in the Woods meets Dawson’s Creek meets Saw meets Scooby-Doo. Most game developers have tried to create this gemstone and many have failed. Games like Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain are the closest things that have been created successfully in this genre. Until Dawn is pretty much a movie that is told in game form.
This game presents every cliché right from the beginning, from the teenagers vacationing in an mountain lodge to the jump scares placed throughout the terrain. It starts out with a prank backfiring, deaths happen, and one year later the group of friends return to the same lodge on the mountain to continue their tradition. You know, someone recently told me that stupidity and horror are perfect together, and they were right!
Then more cliché experiences continue as doors open and shut by themselves, a Ouija board is used, strange things start happening, and everyone tries to get busy with each other. I just want to speak on that for a second. During the first 1 – 3 chapters, everyone tries to get busy one way or another. They’ll pretty much do it anywhere. In the lodge with their friends in the next room, or outside where a psycho is running loose. One moment that stood out the most to me was when one of the characters, Mike, just chopped the head off a deer and it suddenly moved. Mike and his friend Jessica run like hell back to the cabin because they’re freaked out. As they arrive to cabin, they try to get it on by the fireplace. I guess beheading a deer is an aphrodisiac for them. But I digress.
Your job is to guide all 8 characters through the night, helping them survive until dawn arrives. The game is broken into 10 chapters, where each scene puts you in control of various characters and is changed depending on your choices. Now I am familiar with this mechanism, being a big fan of the game Life is Strange, but it is taken to a whole ‘nother level. If you make enemies, or do something wrong to someone else, don’t expect them to have your back when you really need them. Sorry Ashley. RIP Chris! Some choices are pretty easy to choose, such as question asking. Then you have the more difficult ones, such as choosing whether to go left or right. Choose carefully, because it will decide your fate.
What was really difficulty for me at certain times were the joypad movements. These had to be done at a quick pace while being under pressure. There are no signals when one is about to happen, which requires you to be ready at any moment. Luckily, they are not overused, giving you a lot of breathing room. There are also instances where you must keep your controller still for a certain amount of time. This is harder than it seems, especially for someone like myself who had to hold their breath in order to stay still.
Every character can die or stay alive, depending on your decision, making it hard to figure out the plot of the story. Even though you have some free room to make your own choices, the story is fairly linear in instances where you have to go to a certain location or follow a certain path. There is some room for exploration, giving you the option to find collectables. The one I found most interesting where the totems. They provide a brief sneak peak at someone’s possible future.
The cast choice is very interesting, adding personality to the game. Actor and movie director Larry Fessenden co-wrote the script with indie actor Graham Reznick. You can tell they watched a lot of cheesy horror films. They are supported by a diverse, fully talented cast, including Hayden Panetierre, Rami Malek, and Brett Dalton. They are brought to life by some great motion capture work……except for Sam’s (Hayden Panetierre’s character) magically growing hair. Peter Stormare, who plays Dr. Hill, a weird psychiatrist who questions a mysterious person about their fears and their decisions in the story, adds a unsettling but interesting portion to the game. I enjoy our talks a lot because certain things expressed to him, are added to the game in later chapters. For example, I expressed to him my fear of clowns. Next thing I know, clown masks were randomly placed in the game. Thank you Dr. Hill, thank you!
Since we are in almost complete control over these characters lives, it gets hard not to view them as real people. The graphics contribute to this. You are able to see their pores. The body language makes their emotions seem realistic. Even seeing tears come out their eyes breaks down the barrier between video game and reality. The only thing that breaks that connection is the annoying cinematic views of the camera. It reminds me a lot of the 2001 game Alone in the Dark 4. I had some difficultly when it came to walking because the camera would change depending on what direction you were going. This gave it more of a movie feel. It takes some getting use to.
Yes Until Dawn has it flaws: it does contain a lot of horror movie clichés, some weird plot twists with holes in them, and stories that are stretched way too thin. As a person who experienced this for 6 – 7 hours over the course of two nights, live streamed, I never got bored or frustrated… except for the moments when I got lost. It is the first horror game that gives off that indie horror movie feel and hopefully not the last. This game was a great attempt at that. It does throw a lot at you at once, such as Saw-like torture, random psycho killer, and then mythical creatures, and it can feel claustrophobic at times.
Still, it makes an interesting story! When I completed the story, I felt a sense of satisfaction and also dismay due to the choices I made in the game. But this causes me to want to play the game again to experience the different outcomes and try to save everyone this time! All in all, I give this game a 9.5/10 and definitely recommend anyone who hasn’t played it to play it. Watching a gameplay won’t give you the full experience.