I have to say that I am not a big fan of horror movies or games. This is mostly due to the fact that I am a complete and utter coward. Even innocuous films such as Hocus Pocus have a history of causing me to involuntarily expulse my bowels (in my defence it must be said that Bette Midler’s hairdo was rather terrifying.)
Another reason why I am not fond of horror tales is because many of the victims that star in them perish due to unbelievable stupidity. The ill-advised decisions they make have me tearing out my hair in frustration, which may explain why my scalp is as barren as the Sahara. My revulsion for terror wasn’t strong enough however to dissuade me from playing Until Dawn. Finally I had the opportunity to show those pea-brained teens how to survive an encounter with Jason. Nine hours later I completed the game, although my party did suffer two casualties. Hmmm, in hindsight I must concede that sensible thinking isn’t easy when you are combating the discomfort of soiled underpants.
Developed by Supermassive Games (a studio that is clearly overcompensating for something) – Until Dawn is an interactive story chronicling the mishaps of eight teenagers who are trapped in a secluded cabin situated atop a snowy mountain. The group, rather distastefully, decide to mark the anniversary of two former friends passing away by partying it up in the wilderness. I guess karma is going to bite them in the posterior because their celebration is soon interrupted by something that goes bump in the night. The octet comprises of the usual stereotypes you would associate with a creature feature including a jock, bimbo, funny geek and a selfish biatch. No expense was spared when crafting the game, as the cast list contains some moderately famous actors such as Rami Malek and the very lovely Hayden Panettiere.
Gameplay wise Until Dawn is comparable to a Telltale adventure. It’s not too dissimilar to the award winning Walking Dead, aside from the fact that Sony’s budgetary muscle has allowed the developer to tart up the graphics with photo realistic visuals. Intermingled with the state of the art imagery is the use of dated static cameras, akin to what you would find in the original Resident Evil. The intentional decision to use fixed viewpoints works well, as in claustrophobic environments players are unable to detect if a sinister assailant is lying in wait around the next corner (muwahaha.)
Much like in Telltale’s titles, the outcome of the story is determined by the decisions you make and how you perform during split second QTEs. Although I am not normally fond of quick time events, they weren’t too egregious in this game. I even enjoyed the timed aiming sections, despite the fact that I lack any FPS talent whatsoever. The same cannot be said however of the annoying sequences were you are expected to hold your controller in a stationary position. My favourite character was cruelly disembowelled during the game’s heart-pounding finale because of this mechanic. Until my dying day I will insist that my wrist did not twitch, during that scene, regardless of what the PS4 sensor proclaims.
Perhaps I am being overly generous, as the game carries a hefty retail price for a an adventure that can be bested in under ten hours, but I think Until Dawn is worthy of five stars. My only gripe with the title would have to be that much of the terror relies on jump scares rather than suspense. Many times I would meekly creep down a dimly lit corridor not because of the spooky ambiance, but because I was paranoid that a screeching attacker could leap out from the shadows at any moment.
Visually, Until Dawn is a very impressive title. It’s hard to believe that the game was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 release. Based on the noise my stuttering PS4 fan was making, the console was struggling to keep up with the game’s lighting effects and motion capture graphics. The attention to detail is sublime and the technology used to scan the facial expressions of each actor did a good job of conveying what their virtual avatars were feeling. My praise isn’t exclusive to the cosmetic side of things either. The writers accomplished their goal of crafting well-rounded characters. I initially disliked all the cast, but after walking a mile in their shoes I began to root for their safety. The script also managed to keep me on my toes via some very clever twists. Are the kids being pursued by spooks haunting their lodge, a serial killer or a Scooby Doo villain? You’ll have to play the game to find out.
Horror veterans are unlikely to find Until Dawn a terrifying experience, but for what it is worth it did give me the heebie-jeebies. I also suspect it will keep David Cage up at night. As far as interactive movies go, Until Dawn really exposes how sub par Cage’s Beyond: Two Souls was.