“The following is a guest review by The Green Screen Mage.”
Have you seen a horror movie or played a horror game lately? If so, you’ve probably seen at least one of the tropes used in the new PS4 action adventure horror survival game, Until Dawn. This game somehow manages to cram in nearly every horror movie trope in about 10 hours of gameplay. You have the couple that wanders off together, a psycho, monsters, characters splitting up, ghosts, Ouija boards, an abandoned asylum, finding old footage of weird things, returning to the site where someone died/went missing, the creepy basement. I think you get it. Don’t get me wrong, Until Dawn somehow manages to make all of that work.
The game revolves around eight protagonists that you switch playing throughout the game: Sam, Mike, Emily, Josh, Matt, Ashley, Chris, and Jessica. You use the characters to investigate your surrounding, find clues and totems, and complete quick time events. Depending on how you play the game and what choices you make, you can save all of the characters or get all of them killed in various gruesome ways. There are 10 chapters and depending on how you act in chapter 1 can affect how characters react to each other all the way to the end. If you take the wrong path, miss a quick time sequence, or piss of another character, you could be getting one of your protagonists killed.
The eight 18-19 year olds, or as I prefer to call them ‘my tiny, stupid children’, return to a cabin in the woods on the one year anniversary of two of their friends going missing there. Sound like the set up for a horror game or what? The first couple of chapters let you get the feel for the game, investigation, slower quick time events, seeing how choices effect simple things. Then the fun begins. Monsters and misleading mayhem galore.
You start out assuming just some crazed maniac on the mountain is chasing you, but a little more than halfway through the game you realize there’s something much deadlier going on. When I say deadlier, I mean one of the deadliest of supernatural creatures that I think is severely underplayed considering the creep factor is pretty high. (Spoilers: highlight to reveal) Also, the cannibalistic factor. Ah, I’ma just say it. WENDIGO!!! It’s a freakin’ Wendigo! So cool. Just my favorite. They use this underplayed creature to their advantage and add choices in that require knowledge of them or luck to get right, which made my play through a little easier than I’m sure it made others.
But don’t forget about the crazed maniac, that’s a whole other unique aspect to the story. At the beginning of every chapter, the player gets their own little therapy session. I mean you literally talk to a therapist. The best therapist? Probably not, but that’s another theory. You make little decisions that affect the way the maniac tries to scare the other characters. Oooh, but does that mean I’m the psychopath the whole time??? (Spoilers: Highlight to reveal) No. I mean you do play the psychopath, but it’s not supposed to be you. WAIT! But you said there are only 8 players? Yes. Yes, I did. Anyway, this part of the game let’s you shape not only the character’s decisions, but the terrifying environment as well.
Now when you watch horror movies, what is usually the most frustrating part? When the characters do something obviously stupid. It drives us all nuts and leaves us wanting to yell at the people on screen. Until Dawn takes those same stupid decisions and strategically place them in the game so you have to make them. This allows you the opportunity to take those stupid characters that annoy you and make them make the smart decisions, or find out in a panicky rush you’d make the same stupid mistake that gets someone killed. It’s a great way of immersing you in the horror experience and doesn’t just leave you with cleaning up the messes of characters.
Let me be clear though. Are the characters stupid? Yes. Very. All of them. Are they entertaining? Compelling? Badass? Occasionally make smart decisions? Yeah. Are they themselves smart? No. Two wander off to the love cabin alone. One follows a dark figure into an abandoned building and then leaves the group and wanders back into the same building ALONE later on. Two decide while monsters are chasing them that they should finally hook up. Three decide to play with a Ouija board. One takes a bath for like 4 hours. FOUR HOURS. What the actual hell, Sam?
So you do get to do things that make them less stupid, but you’ll still get that horror movie character frustration. Then, while you’re yelling at them, you realize they’re like fresh out of high school/early college students and everything makes much more sense.
Maybe I should start talking about the game play part. Eh, I’ll leave that for the 8-Bit Review. Here’s a picture of Mike and Wolfie.
The 8-Bit Review
This game looks fantastic! From the creepy cabin to the dank mines, the visuals really immerse you in the game. The shadows are certainly done well enough to make you jump… more than once. Not that I did…
The characters are all motion capture, which works so well with the type of games it is. When the game hinges on the decisions of your characters, seeing the emotions on their faces and hearing it in their voices can guide you based on biases you get from that. If one of them looks more confident, you feel safer playing them. If one of them looks and sounds bitchy, you might just try and kill her off. Even though you’re wrong! Because she’s amazing!
Terrifying. The game uses the audio to keep you on edge. The constant creepy background music that spikes and the monstrous screeches leave you gripping your control and wanting to push your character into running, even when you can’t. Also, a pretty good cover of “Oh Death”.
The investigative/quick time event style to the game was perfect for the story that was unfolding. They make sure you take certain parts slow so you get the chance to look for clues, but that doesn’t stop them from using the audio and jump scares to make you want to run. You have to force yourself to take your time and think, because unfortunately not every death takes place during a quick time event nor every injury. (spoilers: highlight for reveal) Sorry Mike!!
I would have favored a few more quick time events and chances to do more in each environment, but you can’t entirely fault the game for that. This is a story/decision driven game, so it’s not as action-y as some gamers are used to. But it certainly can be gory!
I can’t talk anymore about how amazing the story is in this game. If you’re expecting a run of the mill horror game, you are in for a treat. Aside from mashing every horror genre in it, the baddies have their own twists to them that really leave you thinking and even sympathetic. That is if you find all of the clues. The game experience can change drastically depending on the fate of your characters or how many clues you may or may not find. You find out more about the mountain, the characters, the monsters, and the psycho if you’re up for putting the time in. Trust me, you’re gonna want to put the time in.
I could go on about the monsters and how brilliant their backstory is or how the story revolving around your friends disappearing is devastating, but let me get into my favorite part of the narrative real quick. The Psycho. The one that is terrorizing half of the characters for a good portion of the game. This is real spoilery, so you’ll have to highlight the next paragraph to reveal.
If you read the other spoilers than you’ll know already or have guessed that the Psycho is one of the protagonists. WHAT??? Not just any one, but the brother of the two girls who went missing the year before. Seems like a basic revenge plot? Not quite. If you dig deep enough and find enough clues it is revealed that the ‘Psycho’ really does have a mental disability that has been plaguing him since he was 11. He has gone from medication to medication, each with worse side effects. With the loss of his sisters at what was essentially the hands of his friends, it pushed him over the edge. You realize he never meant to harm anyone. So is he villain? Or victim? Play and decide for yourself. The answer is victim though. Go check out the Game Theory. AFTER you beat the game.
The score did get knocked down a little for the dialogue. It gets just a little cheesy sometimes.
This game wasn’t exactly easy, but it also wasn’t incredibly difficult. Once you get the hang of the quick time events and the investigative aspect, it can get pretty simple. Will you miss totems and clues on your first play through? Yes. If you managed to find over 90% on your first time through, give me your secrets. Some of the quick time sequences can get tricky, but with practice it gets less tricky. Worse comes to worse, just memorize the sequence. It doesn’t change and it will help you… What? I was really trying to change one outcome. I didn’t have to restart the chapter eleven times. Shut up.
Anyway, since part of the game is that you can get everyone killed and still beat it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to beat it, even if you’re terrible at it.
If you enjoy this game going through the first time, I guarantee you’re going to want to play it again. If not to try and save every character, then at least to collect all the totems and clues you missed.The totems will also make much more sense the second time through. Totems are little glimpses into the future that you find throughout the game, but they can be very vague. I managed to find a lot of the clues and totems and save all but one character my first time around, so I had to go again to save him. Now, some people are sadistic and go on genocide runs too. Whoever you heartless people are will also enjoy replaying it, because most characters can be killed in more than one way. The differences in the story based on decisions you make in early chapters is a very compelling reason to go through it again. Oh, and the clues and totems. Seriously, you will likely not find them all the first time through.
Does this game follow a lot of horror movie tropes? Yes. Does that keep it from being unique? No. From the storyline to the gameplay, Until Dawn is a different experience compared to a lot of the mainstream games out there right now. The story manages to juggle all the tropes and mix them together to make a rather enjoyable story that still manages to shock and engage people. The gameplay is unique in that so many games allow you to run or fight back against what’s coming, but Until Dawn makes you experience the fear and builds it up before it finally lets you act. It’s not a revolutionary experience, but it’s a fun one that not many other games capture.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
I love this game. I may be partial due to the creature being my favorite supernatural monster and a couple of actors I really like are some of the main characters, but that’s why this is the personal grade part. Now that I’ve said that, let’s get my unpopular opinions out of the way. Chris is the worst. Mike and Emily are complete bosses. Well the Mike part isn’t that unpopular. Don’t lie. We all know he’s the only character you feel safe playing. Don’t try and sway me on Chris, just don’t. I get that most people love him and feel free to, but I do not. At all. Please don’t kill me.
Back to the game and less unpopular opinions.
At first, I got frustrated and anxious with the way you’re made to walk through the game until you get to the quick time events, but after beating the game I realized how ingenious it is. It makes the experience 10 times more terrifying when you know you can’t run from the monster or maniac when you catch a glimpse of them.
If you read the spoilery bits, then you are aware that I may have gotten just a little excited over the baddies. I just love the use of the monster. They could have picked a more known creature, but instead toss in a number of hints through the beginning that only people who are well versed in the creature might be able to guess. Then continue throwing in decisions that could easily get you to kill a character, because of how sadly unused these monsters are. (Spoilers: highlight to reveal) WENDIGOS ARE JUST SO COOL!! So creepy.
I think I went on about the Psycho enough, so I’ll leave it with this. Try the game. Don’t over think it the first time through. It’s not a long game, so you’ll probably be able to play it again. Go with your gut instinct and see where that takes you. Maybe you’ll kill everyone and maybe you’ll save everyone. Figure out how good you would be in a horror situation and if you can survive Until Dawn.
Aggregated Score: 8.0