Dead by Dawn?
Horror movies have always seemingly found a core audience that loves to get scared time and time again. As games have moved more into the world of realism, this source of entertainment has started to bleed with Hollywood. You’ve seen games like Heavy Rain that focus on a more narrative driven story that is altered by choices to varying degrees. What if I told you we finally have a horror game that aims to do just that, giving us multiple choices with the ability to weave the narrative and get scared in the process?
Until Dawn stars eight unlucky teenagers visiting a remote cabin in the Canadian mountains. It’s been a year since two of their close friends disappeared at that same location, but time heals all. Upwards and onwards to a night of celebration and fun… or so they think. What transpires is anything but, and as it starts off as a typical 90’s slasher flick with cliché characters, leaves players enough surprises to keep them on their toes guessing.
Price I’d pay: $59.99
How long to beat: 7-10 hours
Gameplay here is very reminiscent of games in the genre that have come before it. What that entails is an experience that involves lots of exploration, note and collectibles to find, quick time events, lots of dialog exposition, and split second decisions that will ultimately lead to the characters demise or success. Do players choose to take the safe path or the dangerous path? If someone is in danger do players leave them or help them? These scenarios and more will test the players and offer some dreadful moments of tension, fear, and even self-doubt as folks second guess the permanent decisions. In Until Dawn, every choice is saved immediately and there is no going back.
Players will control all eight characters over the course of the eight to ten hour campaign. Camera angles are preset in the style of the older Resident Evil games. This allows the developers to use this to their advantage to scare the player and create intense atmosphere with varied camera angles. Viewpoints from above, in front of the characters, around corners, and more add to the suspense and jumps scares. The developers knew exactly what they were doing setting up some of these scares, and it shows. If the PS4 has a PS camera hooked up, the game will even record some of them just so players can see how shocked they look at their most vulnerable moments.
Another touted feature is the butterfly effect, where the idea of certain choices alter and change the path or outcome the characters are on. It’s interesting as there is a lot of variation of dialog, scenes, and moments that a player can completely miss depending on their choice. It’s a nice idea and is implemented well. The core main story is still told throughout, but every little thing can make a difference in certain scenarios – some small, some large, and some unknown, even after a few playthroughs.
For a game that is dependent on its cinematic experience, it can live or die by the actors portraying the characters. Thankfully, all the characters here are modeled by their performing actors with facial animation and detail that is superb. While some of the dialog comes across intentionally cheesy, they all do a terrific job and convey their character exactly as horror fans would expect. Players will have their favorites and the ones they can’t stand, but that’s exactly how the slasher horror genre works, and they play right into that. It’s also helps when a game looks as good as Until Dawn does and brings an immense sense of dread from its location and setting. Add in a moody soundtrack with music cues of action, scares, and other odd sounds and it delivers a package that shines as well as big budget movie production all around.
The few flaws here are ones that are ultimately inherent of the genre. There is no running speed, only walking and a faster walk. Granted it never feels too slow and the action moments are fast paced when they need to be. Cinematics cannot be skipped, even after completing the game, but it makes sense as there is hardly ever a moment where they go on for too long, but for some players this will be a stopping point. Replay is another factor, and while the various choices and outcomes are fantastic in a sense, the same story ultimately plays out and there isn’t any huge alterations of it. So mileage will vary if players want to go through it all again to discover new or altered scenes and go after more collectibles. Lastly, the framerate can be pretty erratic at times. It’s a shame because the game looks great and luckily it never effected gameplay during the crucial action and selection moments, but it’s there and it’s hard not to notice.
Until Dawn is quite possibly one of my favorite entries in the cinematic story telling genre, if not my favorite. It hits on all the right notes, has interesting variation outcomes from the butterfly effects, it looks great, and it’s the closest we’ve come to being in a horror flick. Sometimes funny, sometimes cheesy, sometimes downright scary and tense as hell, Until Dawn is one wild ride, and while not everyone will think it’s worth the entry price, I couldn’t be happier with the end results. I had such a blast with it, I started it over immediately to complete again, a rare thing these days. They aimed to go for an interactive horror movie experience and they absolutely nailed it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.