I am not fond of horror games, nor do I ever watch horror films. I cannot deal with the unnecessary stress I feel while watching it, and as a kid, I have read enough scary stories for it to affect the way I grew up, somewhat. Call me a loser, I don’t care. So why am I reviewing a horror game?
I actually did not know Until Dawn was a horror game until I played it, but I played it anyway because I wanted to do this for myself and for whoever reads my reviews. Thanks to my cousin for
forcing recommending me to play this nightmare!
Released in August 2015, Until Dawn is a survival-horror-adventure game developed by Supermassive Games, an indie development studio based in Britain.
Story / Gameplay
The plot of Until Dawn is based on horror cliches, or as it was originally explained to me, a “spoof of all kinds of horror films in one”. This makes me appreciate the game more because if it were a serious story, I don’t think I would have liked it so much. Native American culture is tackled in the game which explains the use of totems which allow you to see what could probably happen depending on the choices you make.
The gist is that a group of friends go for a vacation on Blackwood Mountain (set in Canada) in the Washington Lodge. Two of their friends, twins, run out in a snow storm due to drama that happens, and go missing. On the one-year anniversary of their disappearance, these friends are invited back by the twins’ brother Josh (played by Rami Malek) to get some sort of closure, have a party, and just enjoy their time there for the sake of his sisters.
As I already mentioned, I don’t watch a lot of horror films so I’m not very familiar with probable formulas, but I’m glad I saw some cliches and scares coming. Other people seem to have already guessed the plot twist so early in the game, I never did, but I was pretty surprised. Even if you think you’ve got the story down pat, that it would be predictable (because really, what else could happen?), there is a feature called the butterfly effect which is one of the cool features of the game.
One of the reasons why it was easier for me to play this game is because rather than being thrust into a Silent Hill/Bioshock kind of gameplay, most of the progression is triggered via choices and/or quick time events (QTE) where you have to press a certain button or make a certain choice within a given time limit. I get really stressed when it comes to these kinds of games, so I really take my time, and conveniently enough, you can sort of “pause” at any moment in time, even during cutscenes, and even during QTEs. Simply put, the game remembers your choices, which affects the individual characters’s stats and relationships with others, which will also matter greatly in your journey. There is no right or wrong choice (depending on what you’re going for), but I really felt like I made horrible choices. Then again, playing into horror cliches, I wouldn’t keep leaving my weapon behind or return to a place where two of my friends went missing. Even if I would, as a student, why would my parents let me? Why!?!?! (The topic of parents were actually mentioned in the game, which is why I am also mentioning this.)
It’s designed to be played more than once, but considering how I scare easily, NOPE. But to be fair, playing the whole game again can give you more clues since there are three different stories you piece together which then gives more context and explains the weird events that occur on the mountain, and in doing so will unlock bonus content and complete a movie of sorts that explains the horror of the game. Then again, experimenting with different variations can be a chore since the game is pretty much described as an “interactive drama survival horror adventure game”. You can’t skip the cutscenes because almost every time, there will be a QTE, and gameplay is somewhat slow which adds heavily on the suspense factor, so I appreciate that you can only play certain episodes, but some players say that even if you choose the right action or try to change it up, you might have probably botched another choice in a previous episode, so it can’t really change the ending unless you play a new story.
I also like how it is user friendly to people that don’t get to play video games often, each chapter has a recap of the events that took place in the story and also remind you what buttons to press while playing. Some screens don’t provide a guide, and at one point I thought I was going to die when I was supposed to hit something because I had completely forgotten the controls. Fortunately, not every QTE means you have to do something, so I lived, but there are no list of controls either. So just to guide you for those scenarios, press R2!
Dialogue / Characters
This deserves its own section. I like how the characters were developed, however I also think that the writers also tried very hard to make these characters relatable (maybe a little exaggerated?) while keeping to a certain stereotype and also making some references to pop culture. As a college student myself, I questioned a lot of the dialogue, and I am very sure it wasn’t just me.
“Holy bat cave.”
“Let’s party like f*cking porn stars, okay?”
To be fair, maybe this was playing on the stereotype? The dialogue can be funny and witty without this (and already is), but okay, sure, let’s keep it there. Also when going through the woods to get to a cabin, the characters hear a scream, acknowledge it, and keep walking, seemingly unperturbed. I’m guessing this is also a cliche?
Also this stereotype that all the youth wants to talk about is sex. There is a couple in the game that cannot stop talking about it, and openly doing so in front of their friends. I’m not sure how it is in Canada or America, but it feels a little off… To be fair! It gives off the notion that these people are “teenagers” or young adults that are still very much living in the mundane world until they are actually faced with the dangers on the mountain and are forced to be serious or “grow up”. Even when this happens, their personalities either stay the same until the end, or show a distinct change based on what they’ve seen which I think is a very good and realistic touch.
Let’s get straight into it, shall we?
What the hell. Holy cow, development team, congratulations. Everything looks eerie, as you most likely envisioned, but it looks so realistic; the environment, the characters, I can safely say it wasn’t sloppy work. You can see how they played with the light, and even made the characters easily distinguishable from the other. It may be hard at the start to remember who is who because of the number of playable characters, but it becomes easier later on.
What I really love about Until Dawn is the fact that it’s not merely a video game; it is also part horror film. A great collaboration between filmmakers and an indie development studio, Supermassive Games got Hollywood actors to be a part of the game, acting for both cutscenes and gameplay. I highly suggest you click the photos for a better look.
You see these used everywhere, on your menu screen, cutscenes, gameplay, and even when you become idle while playing. I have played games with great graphics like The Last of Us, Skyrim, and on occasion I watch my brother play the Division (and other gamers out there are probably yelling at me: “Crysis!! Mass Effect!!”) but damn was this a breath of fresh air. I definitely love where video game development is going.
The angles used when exploring certain areas or even just walking around can become very cinematic (aka pretty), but can also be frustrating when you want to know what you’re seeing. At the same time, it seems that this is what the developers want because it wouldn’t be scary without the slightest bit of suspense or mystery. If they want you to see something foreshadowing, they will make sure you don’t miss it, and this isn’t delivered conveniently through sound or something elaborate. It’s very similar to good directing or blocking in a film. Probably one of the only errors, or error that I’ve noticed is only where Chris (Noah Fleiss) and Josh push something with snow on top of it, and the snow remains pristine, none falling.
This was probably one of the things that half annoyed me and blew my mind: Sam (Hayden Panettiere) trudges on in a bath towel that never falls off. As a girl, I need to constantly hold it just to make sure. Are there towels in lodges that can make bath towels act like a dress? Last I checked (and I actually did try), it will come off, but who knows, maybe there are actual towels that–wait, that’s not the point. I’m guessing this game just HAD to have this? Not really complaining, but I just thought it was worth pointing out.
The music sounds great and definitely works at making scenes sound ominous (as it should). There’s a quality to it that works and caters really well to that of a horror game. Watching the BTS, you can see how much effort was put into not just the background music but also the sound effects. To be completely honest, I didn’t enjoy the starting song with the girl singing, and nor can I hum a tune that I distinctly remember from the game because I don’t remember any. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but what’s good about it is that it enhances its immersive quality. It’s well done. Although who knows, maybe if I hear the theme outside of playing the game, I could remember it. For now, I can’t really say.
Overall, this was a really great game if you’re not the queasy type. It’s rated M by the ESRB (click at your own risk of being slightly spoiled) and for good reason what with the blood and gore (emphasis on the gore), language, and the sexual themes I’ve mentioned earlier. I did call this a nightmare (which it was) and I just wanted to finish the game ASAP. I actually had to stop playing for a month due to school, and playing again wasn’t so bad, although I did forget some of the controls, it worked in my favor, but that was probably just my luck. I definitely recommend other people to play this.
Rating: 8 / 10
Until Dawn won Best Horror Game in the Global Game Awars 2015, was nominated in 4 categories for the Develop Awards 2016, won the Original Property category in the British Academy Games Awards 2016 (BAFTA), and many more. You can check out Supermassive Games’ Website, Facebook page, and Twitter for more information.