As a horror fan, I’ve watched my fair share of slasher films. While not my favorite subgenre, the slasher film holds an important place in the annals of horror, mainly thanks to its popularity and a formula that proved to work time and time again. So yes, I’ve watched plenty of masked maniacs chasing a group of rowdy teenagers, picking them off one by one in various creative ways. However, it is not often I get to play a slasher film, and a good one to boot. Until Dawn is exactly what it was marketed as – a playable horror movie, with all the tropes, clichés and staples of the genre embedded deep in its core. It follows that tired and true formula to the letter, sometimes even a little too strictly, but the end product is a classic horror experience, with all the terror and cheese you’d expect.
The premise is pretty simple. A group of eight, twenty-something friends travel to a remote cabin on top of a snowy mountain to commemorate the anniversary of their friends’ mysterious disappearance; a disappearance that occurred exactly one year ago on the same mountain. You can pretty much tell where this is going right from the start, though the game does throw a curveball about halfway through, and the plot suddenly take an even darker turn. All in all, the story is quite standard for a horror movie, and it even manages to add a few other horror subgenres to the mix before the night is over. Personally I found it to be quite tense, if a little silly at times.
Of course, the game cannot be a true slasher without the right group of victims. These come in the form of eight different playable characters, each representing one classic archetype you normally find in a horror movie. You have the shy girl, the jock, the awkward geek, the queen bee and other teen stereotypes. Whether they remain nothing more than shallow archetypes, or transcend into a group of individuals with deep personalities, is left pretty much for the player to decide; to a certain degree. In each segment you will play a different member of the group, and will get to choose how to behave, how to tackle a problem, and sometimes even who lives or dies. The choices you make throughout the game as any one of these potential victims will affect the relationships between them and the outcome of entire game.
Choice plays a major rule in Until Dawn, and has a direct effect on the narrative. It can be something small, like if a character gets to use a certain item, or something a little bigger like someone surviving to see the light of day or not. The game approaches the idea of choice using the most basic principle of Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect – one seemingly insignificant action can have unexpected results in the future. As you progress through the story you’ll start to see the consequences of choices you made when you just started playing, and it’s actually really interesting to see just how events unfold. This gives off an incredible sense of control over the story, but also keeps you in a constant state of dread and stress. Since every small choice matters, you can’t help but feel enormous pressure when making them and that can be mentally exhausting at times.
Luckily, the game gives you someone to talk to. In-between chapters, you sit down to chat with a mysterious psychiatrist that will ask you questions and make comments on how your game is going. The way you decide to answer his questions will actually influence certain things in the narrative, so in order to get the most out of it, you need to answer truthfully. While this isn’t the first horror game to use such a mechanic, it is the first game to do so with the likeness and voice of the amazing Peter Stormare. Stormare gives an excellent performance as the Analyst, causing you to wonder what exactly is going on and question what’s real and what isn’t. In general, the whole Analyst idea works pretty well, and adds another layer of tension and mystery to an already tense and mysterious story.
When you get right down to it, Until Dawn indeed has more narrative than gameplay. Providing a compelling story with relatable characters is important, of course, but a game still needs to give the players something to do. That is where, unfortunately, Until Dawn misses the mark. The way the story unfolds is mostly through dialog and clues lying around the environment, so most of your time, especially in the beginning, will be spent walking around snowy trails, listening to your characters talk. When the game does pick up, you find out the most of what you’re actually engaging in a series of quick-time events. Until Dawn isn’t the first game to ditch traditional gameplay in favor of maintaining its cinematic feel, and since the game is basically a playable movie it doesn’t seem all that out of place, but it would have been nice to have more real-time control over the characters when fighting off a masked maniac in an abandoned sanitarium.
However, you might be too preoccupied with your surroundings to notice all you’re doing it pressing random buttons. One reason is the masterfully crafted atmosphere that never lets your mind wander. The other reason is how realistic the game feels and looks. It is especially true for the character models, since every one of them look almost exactly like its real-life counterpart. You might even recognize some of them from various movies and TV shows. The acting is good for the most part, and rarely comes off as too cheesy or contrived. Since every character has a well defined personality, you’ll start playing favorites almost from the get go, something that will no doubt have major and devastating ramifications.
If you’re a fan of horror films, Until Dawn is the perfect game for you. It’s not the scariest of games, but it nails down the essence of every good horror movie, and translates it almost perfectly to the video game medium. The story and atmosphere is captivating right from the start, and the graphics are truly impressive. If you are willing to overlook the fact that Until Dawn is more of an interactive movie than a game, then you should definitively answer the call; a call that is definitely coming from inside the house.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.