Until Dawn (PlayStation 4) Review

By Drew Hurley 11.09.2015

Review for Until Dawn on PlayStation 4

Originally planned as a PlayStation Move title on the PlayStation 3, Until Dawn has undergone some major changes between its original conception and ultimate release. It is an interactive story experience that tells a tale that will be familiar to fans of classic horror movies. Eight teenage friends head to a remote cabin for a party and quickly find the situation degenerates into a scene of terror; something is stalking them in the darkness and strange paranormal events surround the cabin. The game promises a focus on player choice, with a big focus on the Butterfly Effect and how actions, however small, can massively impact on how everything unfolds and the end result of proceedings. Since the main aspect that can be affected is who makes it through the night and who survives Until Dawn, the title is quite apt, but is the experience enjoyable?

The main story is very reminiscent of classic horror and slasher movies, and it's evident that this was written and produced by fans of the genre, but much like how the fantastic Cabin in the Woods took signature elements and made something fresh and new, so does Until Dawn, with the final product ending up feeling like a love letter to the titles it draws inspiration from. A group of ten teenage friends escape to a cabin owned by one of their rich parents. After a night of heavy drinking, a stupid prank ends up causing a tragedy that takes the lives of two of their gang. Now, a year later, the eight remaining friends return to the cabin to find some closure over their loss - by getting drunk, having unprotected sex and partying. Little do they know something is waiting there for them!

The action is split into episodes, following each of the group in "present day" and then jumping to a mysterious and fascinating diversion between the episodes. A first-person viewpoint is taken at the start, with a scene in a psychiatrist's office, placed opposite the chilling Dr. Hill, who seems to be breaking the fourth wall and talking about the deaths of the previous year - these moments are intriguing and surreal, accentuated by a breakout performance from Peter Stormare as the doctor.

Screenshot for Until Dawn on PlayStation 4

There are tropes aplenty, with the main cast being made up of the signature archetypes, like the jock, the nerdy cute girl, the virgin funny guy, and so on. Characters do things that clearly nobody in their right mind would do, like wander out into the woods to investigate or take a bath with their eyes closed, their earphones in and the door unlocked. Being a self-proclaimed interactive story, the game will immediately be polarising for the audience - those who don't enjoy titles like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls or indeed the Telltale titles would find little here to their liking. For those who enjoy these interactive experiences, however, Until Dawn is worthy of a place beside any of them.

As expected, the actual gameplay consists of exploring environments, Quick-Time Events (QTEs) or choosing between specific actions or dialogue trees. The exploring aspects feel a little lacking, with very linear areas set up so that trudging slowly through is the order of the day. The slow pace along, with the sparsely spread collectibles, makes for some slow backtracking when it comes to finding every clue and totem. Also, as a horror product, there are the usual jump scares - lots and lots of jump scares. Much of the exploration is in dimly lit areas and while straining to focus what little light there is, to catch the fleeting shine of a collectable, the developer takes advantage and attempts through in a small coronary, just for kicks.

The QTEs are quite hit and miss - while there are some moments where they help raise the tension, such as slapping the analogue to the side to slam a bolt shut on a door or to hit a face button to duck a low hanging branch during a chase, there are equally just as many that merely drag moments out and have little impact on the actual events at hand. For some reason the characters seem to be obsessed with clambering over small obstacles, such as chest high walls, and will require a handful of QTEs to grunt and struggle their way through. Similarly, interacting with items in the environment requires various inputs: swiping the touchpad to light a match or holding an item by holding R2 and rotating it with the right analogue; the remnants of its original incarnation using the Move controller are still quite evident.

Screenshot for Until Dawn on PlayStation 4

The final, and arguably most important, aspect of the gameplay is the focus on player choice. In the menu screens there is a page dedicated to branching pathways in the narrative, made up of 22 butterflies. Each of these focuses on an individual character's journey, or a particular story thread, and each of these butterflies affect events moments later in quite surprising ways. Switching the lead character happens often and the repercussions of choices made while playing as one character can have massive effects when taking on the role of another later on. By switching between the cast of characters in this way, there is always uncertainly on the fate of each of them, leaving some impressive cliff-hangers between. While very much the stereotypes of the genre, everyone is surprisingly well crafted, enough for those in control to care about some of them. Although some more than others, many will find it hard to not purposefully go out of their way to get a certain cast member killed… Emma deserves it.

The cast also has been the focus of much of the promotional material. There is an impressive roster of actors and actresses here, including the previously mentioned Peter Stormare from Fargo, along with Hayden Panettiere of Heroes fame and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Grand Ward in Brett Dalton. All of the cast is fantastically recreated graphically and it's a real showcase of some of the PS4's power. The stars themselves all give some great performances, too, with even cliché and silly lines done with aplomb, using the material and just having fun with it. Peter Stormare's scene chewing as Dr. Hill is particularly good and it's a shame it isn't used more. Dr. Hill's scenes, which pose a series of questions to those in charge of the controller, based upon their fears and thoughts of the game, making for surreal moments where the camera can focus on his face as he makes facial twitches and ticks reminiscent of Heath Ledger's Joker performance in The Dark Knight. The results of these choices impact the world in later episodes also - being more afraid of clowns than scarecrows will find a psycho wearing a clown mask, for example, and it's an interesting diversion between "episodes" of the regular game that keeps gamers on their toes as to who the doctor is talking to, if Dr. Hill even exists, or if any of it is in fact real in the first place.

Screenshot for Until Dawn on PlayStation 4

While a playthrough lasts around eight to ten hours, Until Dawn really requires and deserves multiple completions to see the whole story. Upon first reaching the credits, a chapter select is made available to revisit each episode and make new choices, along with trying to hunt down all the elusive collectibles. There are three sets of collectibles that are each related to different story threads and the mythos of the game, which go a long way to explaining some of the mysteries. There are some major red herrings that turn out to have very surprising truths, as well, if the player can puzzle together the whole picture from the clues each collectable presents. On top of these collectables, there are the "Totems" that give a brief snippet of a possible future, serving as quite a smart plot device, helping tease people into making the right choice later on, if able to identify when the moments shown are about to occur. One totem, for example, shows a character getting their hand stuck in a bear trap, but if figured out early enough, it can be avoided completely.

There are plenty of reasons to revisit and replay different chapters, not only to attempt to change who survives until dawn, but with the prospect of saving everyone or perhaps not even a single soul. There is the chance to also purposefully make the worst choices and watch the fallout unfold in a very satisfying manner. There are also plenty of reasons the game is amongst the top spots in YouTube streams and on Twitch; the way the interactive story develops, the characters, and the choices, all add up to an ideal "Let's Play" event. Many out there will be more interested in watching the foolish choices of others than making the choices themselves and with today's focus on the world of streaming games, the sales of Until Dawn may be noticeably affected, but it's an impact on the world of gaming is not yet clear. More potential streamers may buy it, yet many may pass and choose to watch their favourite players walk through it instead.

Screenshot for Until Dawn on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Until Dawn will inevitably be compared to Quantic Dream's titles and inevitably be found to be… superior. The horror genre works perfectly in the style and although there are issues, the biggest hurdle it has to overcome is the new societal focus on streaming of games instead. Hopefully, plenty of people will give this a go as it's worth experiencing first-hand - to make the choices and have to deal with the repercussions of them. Fans of interactive story experiences, or just horror in general, would be wise to give this a shot. Supermassive Games has done a great job and hopefully they will have the chance to experiment more with titles of this ilk in the future.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (1 Votes)

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