Game Review: Until Dawn (PS4)
What is Until Dawn?
Until Dawn is a survival horror and interactive drama game for the Playstation 4 only. It's developed by Supermassive Games. The game takes place a year after an accident kills twins, causing the brother to find closure by inviting everyone back to the same lodge where the incident takes place. Since the sisters were killed following a prank, everyone is automatically on edge, which makes a series of happenings all the more terrifying, including a psycho killer, supernatural hauntings, monsters, aggressive wildlife, and more jumpscares than you're prepared for. I couldn't play this game on my own in the dark.
What's So Special About It?
As mentioned above, it is a horror game although most of its elements aren't that unique with the twists, settings, scenarios, and characters. But it does add some revolutionary aspects.
Fans of Bioware games are familiar with dynamic character relations and choices that impact the way the rest of the game is played. Until Dawn does this too, except they crank it to eleven. Some simple relationship choices you make will impact how said character (and others) will react to some of your choices from that point to the end. You choose not to confront Matt's girlfriend Emily to her possible unfaithfulness? She treats him like dirt for the rest of the game, even when he tries to save her. There are choices that force you to pick one character or another, really testing how you play and making it extremely difficult to have all potential survivors actual survive.
The other feature that I really, really like is the Totem system. Based on your current playthrough (the choices you've made, who's still alive, etc.), an acquired Totem will give you a brief glimpse of a scenario that may come to pass. Some might be a warning to avoid a potential death (you'll notice there's a lot of fire involved so you want to avoid that), or decapitation (which is a lot harder to avoid threats of). You'll have other Totems that will give you 'guidance' where you can recognize a better outcome to a situation where you may automatically attack an element. Oh yeah, while the game gives you multiple choices to a specific scenario, there are times where it's best to just not choose anything at all. It might literally save your life.
The gameplay is very simple. A lot of the time you'll be moving a character from point A to point B, collecting shiny clues or totems on the ground that light up under your light source (clues will also open up information for characters to have different choices in the future, potentially saving lives). You'll engage in situations that require you to make a choice by choosing either A or B.
Then, there's the more interactive parts. Characters will try to run, climb, shoot, and otherwise survive in more tense moments, and you'll be required to help. There are a lot of QTEs (Quick Time Events) that require you to hit the correct button at the correct time to avoid consequences. Some of these consequences can be minor, such as simply replaying the same scenario until you get it right, while others will lead to missed windows of opportunities or death.
There's also the terrifying 'Don't Move' sections. Thanks to current gaming technology, the PS4 controllers have motion sensing capability. Without warning, you will be given a prompt not to move to avoid detection. This can happen out of nowhere, either from walking around or during a series of QTEs. Apparently I'm not very good at them, having to resort to literally hold my breath even though that didn't always happen.
While you might not imagine it, the game becomes significantly more difficult as the game goes on, in particular after the first real twist. Some of this is because of previous decisions, making some of your scorned characters leave others to their death. Other QTEs and 'Don't Move' moments are far more unforgiving, making characters pay with their lives. It adds to the general feeling of a horror film as everything begins to fall apart, and maybe my frustration with it is a purposeful design. I wasn't just frazzled during gameplay, but afterwards too, especially with the credits showing me everyone's death once again.
Rated M for Mature
It's a proper horror game, so you figure it would be rated M. It's scary, so don't let your young kids watch it unless you're fine with them sleeping in bed with you. There's a considerable amount of profanity (believable for a bunch of graduated high schooler-aged kids up in a cabin). However, the sexual content (aside from liberal use of the f-word) is fairly minimal past the stage of suggestive. There's no nudity, and aside from one female character attempting to unbutton her shirt and another potentially in her underwear for a chunk of the game (and another in a towel), that's as far as the sexual content goes.
There is a good deal of violence as well, just so you're warned. Is it excessively gorey? Hard to say, as there's an option to say that gore unnerve the player and we chose not to (my wife and I sometimes find it hard to enjoy entertainment mediums if there's a sickening amount). Still, characters are decapitated, animals are gutted, and faces can be smashed in, as well as a single character suffering from a gunshot wound to the face. The better you play the less you see of it though!
I am not a horror gaming fan. However, I was intrigued by this game's various element. My wife actually rented it from a Redbox for $3 and we spent two full days playing through it, finishing the game off in about 7-9 hours ( I didn't time it). It was exhilarating and a lot of fun and, if we had purchased it, playing through it again with new knowledge and attempting different tactics to keep people alive (or possibly kill them all), would have been well worth it. The visuals and graphics are strong, especially with the characters whom I find to be some of the highest quality to date. Everything else is purposefully creepy, as one would assume. You're likely to have recognized faces belonging to Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, and Peter Stormare simply by the trailers.
Can I recommend this game at its current $60 value? Maybe. If you're a big fan of horror games and having to deal with choices that matter in the long run, you'll enjoy this game's experience and science. If you plan on delving into it, finding different playthroughs and the consequences of every choice, there's significantly more value in it. I might suggest waiting for it to become a bit cheaper. However, my wife and I played it for $3, enjoyed it greatly, and were content to put it back while looking up on Youtube any elements we might have missed. I usually don't rent video games with demos, gameplay on Youtube, and so forth so readily available, but I would recommend you rent this game if it sounds like something you're interested in.