The premise of Until Dawn is something every horror movie fan will be familiar with – a group of teenagers go to a very secluded place, away from civilization, in this case a cabin in the woods (get it?) for a weekend party and end up being picked off one by one by someone or something. It sounds like a typical 80s slasher movie and that’s because that’s exactly what the studio was going for. You might think, the game’s generic, but there are a plethora of twists to make this seemingly stale formula seem fresh.
You’ll be playing as 8 teenagers and the game will constantly switch between them. Just like a horror movie, you’ll come to like some characters and you’ll come to hate some. Here’s the twist, you can end the game with all of the characters alive or all of them dead or of course, some alive and some dead. So, if you don’t like someone, you can get them “accidentally” killed. The game has a pretty talented cast with some stars such as Hayden Panettiere, Peter Stormare and Rami Malek and you might recognize the other actors from certain T.V. shows. All of them put in stellar performances as a result of which I never thought of their characters as just video game characters, but rather as real people.
The game plays like a choose-your-own adventure with choices that you have to make that will shape the outcome of the game. It utilizes something called the “butterfly effect” – the theory that a single occurence no matter how small can change the course of everything following it. For example, a butterfly may flap its wings and change the air around such that a hurricane takes place two weeks later because of it. One choice leads to another which leads to another and you finally have a long sequence or chain of events that are all interconnected due to your decisions. (If you’ve played Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain or Beyond Two Souls, you’ll be familiar with this system.) Your choices can be the determining factor for the survival or death of all the teenagers. In one instance I chose to reveal something I had seen to another character and as a result of that, that character was in a constant quarrel with another character throughout the game. In another instance, something I had found right at the beginning of the game led to a completely different outcome for a certain character. The most trivial of decisions can save or kill your character, so one must play with utmost caution as if it were real life. For example, I got my favorite character killed due to being a little too curious. It’s choices like these that make you want to play the game over and over again to see how things might turn out differently.
The story is really strong and very intriguing. It keeps you guessing as to who the killer is and I always love it when a game makes you think for yourself instead of serving things to you on a silver platter. There’s a huge twist that completely changes the dynamic of the game and its something that you’ll probably never guess. The story builds and builds like a crescendo and when it finally hits that last high note, its one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Horror movies and games are all about the pacing and Until Dawn has almost achieved perfection in this department. It knows exactly when to take its foot off the accelerator and when to put pedal to the metal. Until Dawn is a genuinely scary game. I rate horror movies and games on the basis of how long I’m scared after watching the movie/finishing the game. In this case, it stayed with me for a while and for a veteran of the horror genre like me, that says something.
The game looks astoundingly pretty – the environments are beautifully rendered, the characters look exactly like their actors and have excellent facial animations (bar a few times when certain characters make very weird faces. *cough* Chris *cough*). Blackwood Mountain, the setting of the game is one of the most eerily beautiful game locations ever and I’m sure anyone who’s played the game will attest to that. It looks so good in fact, that a friend walked in on me playing it and asked me which movie I was watching. I’m of the opinion that sound plays one of the biggest roles in setting the mood for a scene in a horror movie. Go watch any part of The Conjuring without the sound and you’ll see what I mean. You’re often more scared of what you hear rather than what you see (fear of the unknown). It has a subtle yet very influential soundtrack that always dictates the mood of the scene instead of the other way around.
The gameplay is typical adventure game stuff – you pick up items scattered around the environment; these may range from clues to weapons or even traps. Like I said before, you can’t play this like a video game, picking up every possible object. You have to play this like its real life and make smart, calculated decisions. The completionist in me led me to interact with every object until a character almost lost his fingers because I pressed X to interact with the wrong object. After that fiasco, I had to restrain my insatiable curiosity and kept asking myself, “If this were real life, would I pick up that (insert weird object here)?” This kicks up the realism up a notch and I love that. There are these items called totems that you can pick up in the game and upon doing so, they give you a vision of an upcoming event. They are of various types – some can show you how to get out of a particularly difficult situation, some can show you upcoming danger and some can show you the death of a character. So make it a point to pick up totems whenever you see them because they really help you. There’s quite a lot of usage of quick time events and for once in my life, I actually think they’re a nice addition to the game. The game also utilizes the motion sensors of the Dualshock 4 controller in a very neat way and I really loved this feature.
I’m pretty sure all of you have had a moment where you’re watching a horror movie and you think, “I wish I could change his/her actions, thereby saving him/her.” Well, this game allows you to do just that. I love watching horror movies, but after playing this game, I can certifiably say I like playing them more because Until Dawn is fundamentally an interactive horror movie. The PS4 has struck gold with Until Dawn and you would be a fool to miss this game. This being a PlayStation Exclusive, I pity the XBOX users because they’re missing out on what I think is one of the most exhilarating horror games ever made.