Until Dawn PS4 Review
Publisher: Sony Developer: Supermassive Games Genre: Survival Horror, Interactive Drama
Players: 1 Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Until Dawn is what can only be described as an interactive horror film, paying homage to a multitude of horror tropes and clichés and harks back to the days when horror films made you dread the thought of staying at a cabin. The game is heavily inspired by the likes of games such as Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, and is one that is mostly story driven. The focus of the game is the Butterfly Effect and how one small decision or slip-up can result in something all the more terrifying, and the game gives players much freedom to take the story the way they choose.
This is a very well-acted game, which follows a group of eight teenagers – Chris, Ashley, Sam, Josh, Jessie, Mike, Emily and Matt – as they return to a woodland cabin retreat a year later, all to try and overcome the trauma they experienced at the same location a year earlier, which saw the disappearance of two of their close friends after a prank on one of them goes awry. What is supposed to be about coming to terms with something turns all the more horrifying when the group finds themselves up against a masked serial killer.
The story is very fascinating and keeps you guessing as to what exactly is going on, and only the most adept of horror fans will have any idea as to what might be happening. The story starts by breaking the fourth wall and having you chat with therapist Dr. Hill (Peter Stormare), in the same manner as Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Dr. Hill will ask you certain questions and the answers you give determine what happens within the story itself. During the first half of the game, the narrative has you believe the story is going in one direction, only to take a completely different turn, making you think you are playing through two different stories, and Dr. Hill’s role is, unfortunately, less prominent during that second half. The ending is rather anti-climactic and draws to an abrupt close, but as with any game of this type, it is the journey that counts, and with a story that you are in control of, it can take many twists and turns and offers much replayability, and the fact that every character can die and you can’t turn back on your decisions makes the game all the more compelling.
The graphics in the game are some of the best that the PS4 has to offer and helps to build a creepy and claustrophobic atmosphere, one that is devoid of much light and keeps to very grey and bluish hues that helps set the tone of the game. The character’s expressions are amazing and the attention to detail is excellent – the tuffs of fluff that can be seen on Beth’s jumper at the start of the game is wondrous- and you’ll find yourself quickly picking out the details in both the environments and characters themselves. The animation is, for the most part, very fluid, with characters acting very lifelike as you control them and in the way they react to the cold weather.
The star of the game, other than the graphics, is the gameplay, and whilst the idea of choosing your own direction isn’t something new, it is certainly put to novel use here. The game mostly consists of you choosing a certain direction or using QTE’s to quickly help a character through a certain segment of the story. You’ll also be able to take control of the various characters at certain points as they split up and explore the many areas surrounding the main cabin.
The gameplay is varied and offers much in the way of exploration and discovery, and as you look around different areas you’ll be able to find Totems, artefacts that help guide characters via a quick visual of a possible future event. However, considering that a player does not know how their choices will pan out, the addition of these Totems can feel rather unnecessary, especially on a first play-through when a lot of the visuals might not come to fruition, making what is seen incomprehensible and pointless. As Totems offer quick insights into possible cutscenes at a further point in the game, they can also seem like spoilers, though this isn’t too much of a problem with how quick the scene is shown. Should you play the game multiple times, however, then the Totems certainly make more sense, and even though they can seem pointless, they do add a sense of urgency, making you feel that you do not want what is shown to happen.
Another novel addition is the statistics of each character, consisting of their personality traits and how well they get on with each other. As you play through the game, the statistics change to indicate whether a certain character is getting along more with another character or less, and whether they are becoming more or less brave, confident etc. Again, this may seem like a rather unnecessary addition, but it does help you to connect to the characters in a more personal way.
You can also see the Butterfly Effect in action – there is a menu that consists of all of the decisions you have made, and shows you why something has happened the way it has. Also, during the game, when a scenario is playing out, sometimes the camera will zoom in on whoever you are controlling and will show which decision or QTE you failed; a sepia-toned flashback appears of where you went wrong and why that particular scenario is now playing out.
Located around the environments are also clues as to what is going on and the clues keep you guessing as to what is actually happening. However, it can also feel like the game is holding your hand when exploring different areas to find these clues, as they are marked with a shining light, and it is relatively easy to find a lot of these clues on a first play-through because their locations are so obvious. It would have been much better to have been allowed to explore areas at your own pace and would have felt more of an achievement if allowed to find these clues on your own. A lot of additions in the game feel like they are unnecessary and feel as though they were only put there to prolong the game. Still, as the clues do offer an extra level of insight into the story and throw you off the scent as to what is actually happening, they aren’t completely unnecessary.
Of course, no game is perfect, and Until Dawn isn’t without its technical hiccups. Fixed camera angles are used in the game and this can cause the camera to be finicky at times and restrict your view of whatever direction you want to walk in. The camera angles are still put to good use and many cinematic angles have been used in the game to emphasise isolation and the sense that someone is stalking the characters. The controls are the biggest problem and can feel unresponsive at times, and turning a character can feel resistant as you turn the control but they, for a split second at least, still face the other way. Another problem is also the recaps; watching them over and over can become rather monotonous, and whilst these can help you reflect on what decisions you have previously made, it is annoying that there is also no option to skip through them. During the gameplay, on a second run, it can also feel tedious watching the same cutscenes again and there is also no option to skip these and go directly to the next decision, as you can in Life is Strange.
As mentioned earlier, there are times when a character can quickly switch from looking like a perfectly normal human being into a rather stiff-looking mannequin, which can be quite creepy. During a first play-through, it can also be quite difficult to distinguish which character is which; of course they have been designed in a way to make them recognisable, but it does take a while to get to know who they are, and hence who you are playing as, even if they do have a long intro. This is mostly down to the lighting, and even though it is used to great effect, sometimes there is barely any light where you would expect light, such as when the characters arrive at the cabin and don’t turn the lights on straight away; the game doesn’t do too well in helping to differentiate each character at the start, the most integral part in helping to draw you in to the story and connect to the characters.
Every game has it’s pro’s and con’s and whilst Until Dawn sometimes puts more focus on minor points of the game and reduces the prominence of other aspects that could have been something more, its interesting concept and gameplay certainly makes up for any shortcomings and with likeable characters, an intriguing story, amazing graphics and many ways to play, this will be a game that you will find yourself coming back to time and again.