Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be stranded on a snowy, forested mountain with some friends as somebody is trying to kill all of you? Well, if so, then this is probably the game for you. To begin, I’d like to make it clear that if you are squeamish, bothered by gore or extremely sensitive to horror, you probably want to avoid this particular adventure.
Until Dawn is similar in style to The Wolf Among Us and Heavy Rain, if you’ve played either of those. Strictly speaking, this is a cinematic guided adventure game. Expect a lot of quick-time events, walking around and making decisions. Gameplay beyond that is minimal, so if you’re looking for something with a little more in-depth gameplay, then this isn’t the place to be. With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s jump into the quality of the game!
The first thing I noticed, when jumping in, was how gorgeous the game was. Supermassive Games did a fantastic job of taking advantage of the PS4 hardware. There is much detail to the environment, the characters look good, the animations are usually spot-on, the lighting is perfect and to top it off there are a good number of particle effects (snow, for example) that really help to set the mood. While graphics shouldn’t necessarily be a selling point for a game, this type of game is all about setting up mood an ambiance. This means that graphics and sound are extremely important for that. The music really helps to set up the ambiance and the sound effects are really amazing. The game looks and sounds awesome, and this is a major reason why this game manages to so successfully pull the player in. It also helps that the voice acting is (mostly) top-notch, which really helps to develop these believable characters who you are stranded with.
In a game like this, the characters make or break the game. Luckily, the characters are actually really well written. Each character is fairly unique in the type of personality they present, so that making decisions for and with each character feels significant. Even though you may like or dislike some characters more than ever, the presentation is done in such a way that you feel bad no matter who dies. Oh and don’t you worry, everybody can die (and they can all survive as well).
Everything that happens in Until Dawn is completely dependent on three things. The first thing has to do with decision making. Your conversations with each other and interactions play out during certain moments where you have to decide how to respond. You can actually make or break relationships between characters based on your responses. The second thing is with quick time events. Since this is a horror game, there will be many tense situations where you are running, surviving and fighting. During these times button prompts will appear on the screen which need to be pressed (sometimes you need to aim and shoot quickly or choose a path quickly). If these prompts are failed, or if you choose the ‘wrong’ option, then usually something really bad will happen. Either right away or in the near future. The final way is the most subtle and quite possibly the most important: collectibles. In this game, there are many collectibles to hunt down. The difference between this and most games is that the collectibles actually enable story progression. There are two types of collectibles. Totems give you quick foreshadowing videos that will warn you of danger, give you hints on positive decision making or show you how people can die. It’s a clever way of giving you a hint as to how some outcomes can be good or bad. The other type of collectible comes in the form of clues. There are various clues hidden around that will give you insight as to the past, the story behind the characters who die in the prologue, behind the mystery person who is trying to kill you and also about the overall setting. Keep in mind that every clue is actually important, so if you want to try and figure out what’s going on you need to pay attention to them. To top it off, from a gameplay perspective, these clues provide possibilities to save some characters from certain death. So there is an actual incentive to get 100% completion in this game, which is really refreshing. The reason I love this concept even more than normal, is that none of it is frustratingly challenging.
Those are the distinguishing features of this game, which is essentially like a choose-your-own adventure book of old. The story is actually quite nice as well. If you are clever, you can not only divine the identity of the killer early on (I did), but you can even divine the plot twist for the game as a whole (this one I did not). I’ll just say that there is much more to the story then just having a psychotic serial killer trying to pick off a group of teens stranded on a snowy mountain. The twist caught me off guard and I really loved it.
Until Dawn isn’t a very long game. It took me about 5.5 hours to complete my initial play through. The average seems to be about 7 hours. From a gameplay standpoint, that might be a bit short for the full price tag, but from a story telling standpoint it’s the sweet spot to develop a horror game without dragging on and without being too short to settle in.
The trophies are actually mostly simple, though it’ll require a minimum of two playthroughs to get the platinum (it took me three, due to a stupid error I made at the beginning of the game). When you beat the game, it gives you the option to replay any chapter in the story. The trick is, whatever decisions you made prior to that chapter stick. So if you made an error in the first chapter, you would essentially need to start a new game. The good thing is that all collectibles save across all chapters so you can jump back and forth as needed. The quirk is that the only way to have new decisions carry from whichever chapter you select, is to do a continuous play from that point. If you do Chapter 4, then jump ahead to Chapter 7 it’ll reset your choices to what your base save file has stored. I learned this the hard way. So if you need to make a decision change to carry through to the ending, then be sure to play continuously until the end.
Another quirk I had with the game was that there was originally no option to invert the controls. I’ve grown up with inverted Y-axis and not being able to make that choice was driving me crazy in the few sections where you need to aim weapons. When I got about halfway through, a patch was released that allowed you to change this option. This is great, but the problem is that the option is a bit buggy. When an aiming sequence initializes, it seems to default at non-inverted mode THEN convert to inverted mode. I noticed this because the first second or so is clearly not inverted then suddenly it will be. This isn’t too big of an issue, except for the rare time where it fails to actively convert the controls to inverted in a tense situation. This is a very clear programming oversight and feels like they used a very lazy solution to patch in the inversion option (being familiar with coding, I have some ideas as to what they may have done to enable this option). Another problem I had with the game was that sometimes, at the default brightness, it could be painfully dark. To the point that I literally couldn’t see anything. This is easily fixed by setting the brightness up a little, but it’s unfortunate that the default suggested brightness isn’t quite right (It’s not my TV either. I have it manually set up for optimal gaming, and have had no problems in any other games I’ve played on there, regardless of console or genre.). A final issue is with the controls of movement. The controls feel slightly sluggish at times. Couple that with slightly questionable collision detection (getting stuck on tiny rocks, for example) and the controls can be slightly frustrating at times. Luckily there are no situations in the game where manual movement is key to survival or decision making.
Aside from those (mostly) minor issues, the game plays extremely smoothly and is quite the nerve-wracking adventure. I haven’t had this much fun playing a new adventure game since I played Heavy Rain. If you’re into the adventure/horror genres, or you merely like a really well-written story, then I can’t recommend this game highly enough. This was a beautiful way for me to break in my new PS4, and I hope others will have similar exciting scenarios.