Eight teenagers reunite at a mountain cabin a year after a tragedy saw two of their friends go missing. Soon after arriving, they realize they may not be alone. Only quick reflexes and a clear head will see them all live Until Dawn.
Playstation 4's Until Dawn was terrific. I think it delivers on its promise of an immersive gameplay experience modelled on one of horrors most recognizable sub-genres – the slasher film. It is also a beautiful looking game employing excellent motion capture technology. Maybe not quite Naughty Dog quality, but it's pretty darn close.
The great thing about video games now is that they've reached a level of quality that is now attracting Hollywood talent. Hayden Panettiere takes the lead as Sam and Peter Stormare appears as a psychiatrist that bookends the game's chapters. I've always thought Stormare's acting style cartoonish, so he fits in perfectly here.
One of the main things that had me excited about Until Dawn was that Supermassive enlisted indie horror darlings Larry Fessenden & Graham Reznick to write the story. This was a great choice on their part because these guys not only understand the genre, but they also know how to subvert it.
Building on the gameplay popularized by 2010's Heavy Rain, I really enjoy these kind of games, as they are interactive interpretations of a film genre I've loved my entire life and I feel they are also pushing the industry forward creatively. Even if you weren't a fan of Until Dawn, you cannot deny the potential here is immense. Which brings me to comment on the things people have been calling out as negatives, namely the last act and the unlikable characters.
I don't really agree with either criticism. To be honest, anyone familiar with Fessenden's body of work shouldn't have been surprised it eventually ended up where it does. Besides, the shift from Saw territory into another property that was arguably the best horror film of the last ten years (no spoilers here, I'll let you figure it out once you've played it) was a choice I am fully on board with.
As for unlikable characters? Well, since Fessenden & Reznick used slasher archetypes, I suppose that's fair. However, the difference here is I'M RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM. I'm not a sociopath, so if a character, no matter how obnoxious, I've been controlling for several hours gets hacked to pieces because I didn't press the right button, it bothers me. And in this case, the stakes have never been higher. The auto-save system is such that once you've made a decision, there's no going back. You have to completely reset the game if you want to undo something. That makes things incredibly stressful, especially toward the end.
|There was much yelling between Player 1 & 2 during this tricky situation.|
Until Dawn wasn't particularly long (I played through it in about seven hours) though there may have been more content had certain characters lived longer. Under normal circumstances, that would be an unacceptable length for an eighty-dollar game, but that also makes it a manageable length for replays. And believe me, I'd like a better result. Only three out of my initial eight characters saw the sunrise, and I am still thinking about my fuck-ups – missed QTE's took two out, and an ill-advised decision killed two more.
As I said, I love these kinds of gaming experiences and I hope that Until Dawn does well enough for companies to take heed and bring us more. Ideally, a VR platform supporting co-op would be where I'd like to see this type of gameplay eventually go. For now, I give props to Supermassive on a job well done.