Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Until Dawn for PS4

I’m a big fan of interactive stories. My fiance isn’t much of a gamer, but gets really into game stories. She loved BioShock: Infinite and The Last of Us for example, but games like that can get pretty dull for her to watch because of all the…well, gameplay. Games like Until Dawn are a brilliant way to spend time with another person and I would almost describe it as a perfect ‘date game.’ There may not be any mechanical complexity, but that means we have a more purely narrative experience that’s perfect for sharing.

Until Dawn is, at it’s core, a fairly loving homage to that most classic for horror movie set ups; a bunch of horny dumb teenagers in a cabin on a mountain. A year prior to the events of the game, a cruel prank at the cabin had indirectly led to the death of sisters Beth and Hannah, with the bodies never discovered. A year later their brother Josh invites his friends back to the cabin in an attempt to move on from what happened, but it soon becomes clear that dark forces are at play on the mountain and that there will be no safety until dawn (geddit?). Intermittently in the story, a strange man analyses your decisions and probes into your motivations.

There isn’t a huge amount of gameplay  in Until Dawn, with the core mechanics being your basic wander around and input QTEs type of deal. One of the most interesting things about Until Dawn is that there is no failure state, if you mess up a QTE you just have to deal with it and roll with the punches. There are a few types of event, such as standard button presses and targets to hit. Sometimes the best thing is to not take an action and an itchy trigger finger could spell trouble in Until Dawn. The coolest mechanic is that sometimes you just have to stay perfectly still, with the motion sensor in the controller picking up any movement. If you’re a wuss like me this is terrifying and such a good idea I can’t believe nobody else thought of it sooner. The only real irritation is that it can be very easy to miss clues and totems, which give you a vision of the future and unlock a clip detailing the backstory. It would be nice to have a way to avoid stumbling onto the next story beat, but I do appreciate that this may have been a bit immersion breaking. Until Dawn is split into episodes which vary from about 45 to 90 minutes, which chunks things up very nicely.

The plot of Until Dawn won’t be winning any prizes for originality, but the element of player choice manages to make what would feel cliché in a film genuinely terrifying as a game. The plot starts out intriguing, but as is often the case with horror, as we come to understand what’s going on the tension drops and the final few twists lack the impact of those earlier on. It never stops being enthralling however, as Until Dawn follows through on the idea of player impact in a way that Telltale doesn’t. With Telltale it’s all smoke and mirrors and your choices never matter as much as they may seem, but your decisions can either have everyone survive or turn Until Dawn into a bloodbath. In many ways I didn’t feel like I was actually controlling the characters, but instead playing the role of a director.

Until Dawn looks very nice, with an atmospheric environment and excellent character and facial animations. A higher frame rate would have been nice, but this is a rare experience where the ‘cinematic’ justification holds a fair bit of water. The voice acting is excellent, with a cast including such actors as Claire from Heroes and Ward from Agents of SHIELD, who all do an admirable job inhabiting their respective horror tropes. It’s interesting seeing a larger budget go towards this kind of experience and something which I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Until Dawn is a cool game which likely won’t be for everyone. As a shared experience with one or more friends it really shines. I hope we get more games like this in a variety of genres.

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