Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Until Dawn M for mature players aged 17 and up because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Ever watch a movie franchise like Saw, well if so you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, this is a horror videogame where you see people get ripped apart, decapitated, and much more. Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near this game.
Plays Like: The best way I can describe Until Dawn is if someone were to take the episodic nature of Alan Wake and apply that to a horror-themed version of Heavy Rain. The game plays almost exactly like that mash up. For those that don’t know either or those games, you are largely interacting with a seven to nine hour movie. You can move one of eight characters around a limited environment, correctly hit the right buttons during quick-time events, and study various objects in the environment. This isn’t your typical third-person shooter, no here it’s all about immersing the player in a highly disturbing world. The big twist is that your choices literally affect everything in the game from the storyline to segments of the game you’ll actually play through.
Review Basis: Sony Computer Entertainment Canada sent us a review copy a week in advance, and I played non-stop until I had not only completed the game, but went through it several times to see how I could affect the storyline.
I really enjoyed the heavy narrative of Heavy Rain. It was a tremendously unique experience. It didn’t play like your typical third-person action game, instead making you interact with the environment in bold ways uncommon for the genre. Until Dawn is very similar in-style to Heavy Rain, but instead of trying to solve the riddle of the origami killer, here you’re wrapped up in a terrifying tale of murder, suspense and dread, where your every action changes not only the storyline, but the entire game. Until Dawn is the butterfly effect realized in videogame form, and it will absolutely blow you away.
The one element that really makes Until Dawn standout from its peers is its incredible use of the butterfly effect. In reality the butterfly effect amounts to the smallest choices we make could have dire consequences in the future. Step on a blade of grass and that could bring about the apocalypse sometime down the road. Until Dawn excels at this because during any given moment there are literally dozens of choices you will have to make. Do you get angry at one character for something they did or said? Do you take the left path instead of the right path? Do you ignore the quick-time event and see what happens, or do you try your hardest to keep up with the ever increasing prompts? Some of these choices may seem trivial, but their consequences can be felt as you progress through the game.
There’s an extremely helpful butterfly effect menu system where you can see how each choice you made affected the outcome of the game. On one wing you’ll see the initial choice you made, and then you can swipe to the right using the DualShock 4’s trackpad to see the next outcome. This is extremely useful to keep track of where branches were made, especially if you want to experience the game again by going down a different path.
I should also mention the choices you make are permanent. There are no checkpoints here, no do-overs. Once you’re make a decision you have to stick with it throughout the entire game. If that choice leads to a character dying, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. This means there’s no Game Over screen, and that allows you to get extremely experimental during your future play-throughs.
- You will be afraid, count on it. The first six chapters of the game are genuinely scary. You have no idea what’s going on, you know there’s a presence out there, something that’s hunting your friends down, but you don’t know exactly what. There are countless jump scares where I almost dropped my controller out of fright, and then there’s the genuine dread that starts to creep in as you’re all alone making your way to some foreboding area. I can tell you I actually had my hands start to shake at one part because I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. The tension slowly eases off towards the end of the game as more and more is revealed about what’s actually going on, but let me tell you, the first half is absolutely petrifying. That’s not to say the latter half isn’t scary, it’s just that you start to acclimatize to the jump scares, and the game really wants to flesh out the story so you get the complete package.
- Speaking of the story, it’s great. A very traumatic event occurred a year ago in a cabin in the woods on a mountain side. Now everyone who was present is back to pay their respects, but all is not what it seems and now each of the eight friends are systematically being taken out. What is going on? Who is doing this? Will anyone make it until dawn? There are quite a few horror tropes featured and many clichés, but what separates the game from your run-of-the-mill teen horror story are the deep and fleshed out characters. By the end of the game you will absolutely hate some of them, and feel true pain when you let others die because of your poor decisions that led to them being massacred.
- Core gameplay works perfectly. This is the one area that won’t be for everyone. Gameplay is broken down into several sections, each specifically designed to draw you further into the narrative. There are areas where you play in third-person, usually at times where you have to explore dark and scary places, then there are decision bubbles where you have to move the right analog stick to select one of two decisions, which will completely change the course of the game. There are also quick-time events that play out during key cinematic scenes, and finally there are targeting sections where you have to aim a reticle at a target very quickly or something awful usually happens.
+ A surprising amount of replay is featured. There are quite a few collectable goodies you should be on the lookout for as these flesh out the storyline, and some can only be found in sections of the game that are unlocked by making certain choices. You can also go back and create new branches in the storyline that affect relationships between characters by changing the choices you make in each chapter. So while the game consists of only 10 chapters which last for at most around seven to nine hours, you could be playing for much longer if you decide you want to experiment with all the different story branches.
- Fantastic cast of characters. Like Beyond Two Souls, Until Dawn features Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere), Peter Stormare, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek, Meaghan Martin, Nichole Bloom, Galadriel Stineman, Noah Fleiss and Larry Fessenden. Each actor does a superb job of capturing the essence of the characters they play.
- The audio visual presentation as a whole is absolutely incredible. From the dynamic camera angles that heighten the tension and suspense, to the sublime particle effects used to highlight snow and fog, it’s just a stunning game to look at and admire. Because of the limited interactivity, Supermassive Games were able to push the PS4 to its limits by creating breathtaking environments and one wonderful setting after another. This very well could be the nicest looking game of this current generation thus far.
- For someone like me, not having the option to use inverted aiming controls really hurts, and there’s one scene in particular where the only way to save a character is to very quickly aim at a specific spot, and because I’m so used to inverted controls my brain told my thumb to move the stick down, instead of up, thereby causing the character to die. That was very annoying to me as I was so close to saving him. I can only hope this gets patched into the game ASAP if it isn’t a day-one update.
I have to mention this because it occurred once, yet never again. During my very first gameplay session with the game I went through eight of the game’s 10 chapters, and since there’s no exit to main menu option I quit the game from the dashboard using the ‘Close Application’ command. When I tried to resume my game I got the following message: “Recovering partially installed data. This may take up to twenty minutes.” It took about seven minutes for the file to get recovered and then I was back where I left off, but it was odd just the same.
Until Dawn truly surprised me as I had no expectations for it. I remember it being announced for the PlayStation 3 as a Move game (thankfully that decision was scrapped and the game now features either motion controls or traditional controls), but it really flew under my radar. So imagine my surprise when the game arrives and it absolutely blows me away. If you enjoy a good scare, close the lights, raise the volume on the TV and prepare yourself for one hell of a good time. Until Dawn might just be the very best PlayStation 4 exclusive of 2015. Don’t miss it!
Final Score: 9.2/10