It’s games like this, that remind me why I have loving fur-companions, or “pets”.
The second that I loaded up UNTIL DAWN, I remembered why I did not play horror games. I am a little pansy bitch. I spent more time watching the game through squinted eyes, than actually playing. It is both immersive, horrifying (if you too are a little pansy bitch) and beautiful.
UNTIL DAWN is a teen-slasher style horror game from Supermassive games. Not dissimilar to and Friday the 13th or Cabin in the Woods style film. It is episodic in every way, except release. Which is really where my first complaint comes in, but more on that later. You play as a group of teenagers who are spending the weekend at a…wait for it… CABIN IN THE WOODS (see what I did there) that belongs to one of the group’s parents for the 12-month anniversary of a tragic event that befell their group. If you have ever shouted “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!” and/or “DON’T GO IN THERE, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!”, then this game is for you. Because, you can stop them doing the dumb thing…usually
The characters are the first thing I want to speak about, because the “goal” of the game is to have all of them survive…until dawn.
The character development of this game is pretty great, every character has sides to them that you love and sides that you hate. They do fill stereotypes a little too much, in my opinion (with the exception of a “geek” guy [wtf Supermassive?! HOW DARE YOU UNDER REPRESENT ME]). Even the character introductions give you brief a brief description of each character in the form of adjectives such as “intelligent” or “irreverent”. This is awesome, as it gives you a chance to identify with each character as they are introduced. Supermassive have done a fantastic job of fleshing each character out too, as there are no times where I personally felt like “Uhhh, I’ve gotta play this dude again?!“. I definitely had favourites, but those who were not in my “elite” circle were in no way bad characters and as ‘cliché‘ as a lot of them were, they all felt like the belonged in the setting.
On the topic of setting, that’s probably the best thing about this game. I was playing under a blanket, heater on full and my wonderful Pomeranian pup asleep next to me, and I felt cold. The attention to detail this game has is incredible. From the sounds of footsteps on snow, to the concerned look on a characters, and out the other side with the tone of their voices. Everything was captured beautifully. However, regardless of the world’s beauty. There were times where I was sick of it. One part in particular had me wandering around in circles for near on 10 minutes, trying to find the bathroom. Usually games with this sort of “open exploration space” come fully equipped with character cues. Taking too long to find the objective? A character’s inner monologue states that they remember the bathroom is upstairs! But not this time!
But now, that complaint that I had earlier that I didn’t come back to (but Josh, you’re typing this, can’t you just go edit it in?) NO! I can’t!
The game is laid out in a episodic fashion, complete with “Previously on Until Dawn…” moments. These moments are great. Or rather, would be great if they didn’t appear every hour or so and did not assume that I had not been playing for the last 7 hours straight. Or, y’know, if they could be skipped! This feels like a super-massive oversight on behalf of Supermassive (man, I am just funneling these out tonight, aren’t I?!) I am not the only person to be complaining about this feature, so I would not be surprised if it was patched in by the time you are reading this. These scenes are prefaced by a very seemingly immersion-shattering gameplay section known as The Analyst, not entirely dissimilar to the psychologist sections in SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES and if you’re reading this having just started, or before you start the game, trust me, those scenes make sense eventually, just keep playing,
The story of UNTIL DAWN is strong. Not as strong as they were making it out to be, but it is definitely what kept me playing. It is a branching one, with twisting paths that alter based on the choices you make within the game. Any character can die, and your “goal” is to get them all out alive. The ending, without spoiling anything, left quite a lot to be desired. It did not grant the wonderful story the conclusion that it deserved, and it made me feel as though the only thing that REALLY changed due to the decisions I made throughout the game was the characters I saw escaping the cabin, if there were any (OoOoOoOH, vagueness!)
This leads me to my final point about the game. If you’ve ever heard me talk, or read anything I’ve written surrounding “choice” based games, you know how much I hate being fed the illusion of choice (where the outcome remains essentially the same regardless of what choice you make). UNTIL DAWN has a very clever way of getting around this, using a Personal Attribute style meter that measure different aspects of each characters personality, things like Romantic and Brave are changed based on the response that the character gives in a particular situation. Choices also affect their relationships with other characters. Yes, the two choices may end up at the exact same destination, but the route you took to get to that destination will change how two characters feel about one another. This opens paths to different options along the path, and it really fixes the “illusion of choice” problem, without actually removing it. I was super happy with this, until I realised that at the end of it all, relationships mean nothing.
UNTIL DAWN is a game I paid for with my own cold, hard, cash. It is one that I am incredibly happy to have on my shelf. It is long enough to justify it’s price, but not long enough to steal away all of my free time. I can definitely seeing it become a game that I go back and visit every now and again, just to see what happens this time around. Is it perfect? Nope! But for UNTIL DAWN, my verdict is a resounding