I’ve been gaming for a solid twenty years now. It’s a semi-strange thing to put into perspective. Even as a child I was always checking out games that hadn’t come out yet in magazines, and looking for the coolest sounding titles at the toy store whenever I thought I could swindle my parents into buying me one. For me, games have always been the one form of media that housed my favorite concepts. I remember all the fantastic box art from those days. For a good while, cover art was the only view I had to guide my decision of whether or not I should get that game. Consequently, I played a lot of bad titles that merely looked and sounded cool based on the packaging. As I grow older, I retain the same eagerness to find the coolest titles, but I have definitely succumbed to feeling cynical numerous times throughout the year as new games are revealed. When I first heard of Until Dawn, I had some significant apprehension as to whether the developer could even pull it off. It was scheduled for the console generation prior, it was originally a motion controlled title, and it sounded awfully ambitious for a developer who had never produced anything that resulted in much critical acclaim. Needless to say the red flags went flying, and I refused to get optimistic until mere days before it’s release. Yet there it was. In my hands on day one. Based on concept alone, Until Dawn should catch plenty of eyes, but should you have a reason to actually be excited to play it? (Note: This review contains no spoilers.)
The short answer is yes. Abso-fucking-lutely, in fact. Until Dawn takes the iconic slasher film and dumps it onto your Playstation 4 in a magnificent manner by offering a murder mystery story where you play as eight teenagers on a cabin trip with terror lurking around every corner. Every character can live or die based on the way you play, and every decision is permanent. It’s dripping with horror movie tropes, and spares no expense in terms of production.
Graphically, Until Dawn is the pinnacle of beauty at the time of it’s release. The characters are all based from real actors and the resemblance is spot on. Movements are fluid, subtle animations can be found nearly everywhere, and the lighting is nothing short of sublime. Most of the time your character uses a form of lighting to interact with the environment, which encouraged me to explore every dark area I stumbled across. Everything from the score to the settings has a distinct feel to it, and I loved adjusting the face in the pause menu to peer directly towards the camera while I took a brief intermission.
Gameplay-wise, Until Dawn is very much a casual affair, similar to the style Telltale has popularized over the last few years. Which works fine, and is a low barrier for anyone who doesn’t regularly play games to jump in. Most of the actual time you will be focusing on making key decisions that will change the story, or possibly end the life of you or a friend. It wasn’t long before I had the sense that everything around me was a death trap, and even simple choices like choosing which way to go down a path were full of suspense and made under serious deliberation.
As for the story, there’s not much I can say without revealing something I shouldn’t. If you want to know our full thoughts on the story, check out our FULL SPOILER podcast here. There are however, a few things to know going into Until Dawn where story is concerned. Though it may seem obvious, Until Dawn wears it’s campy horror stereotypes right on it’s sleeve. However, I actually think the overall cheesiness has been overstated by the press and social media. I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to dialogue, and I never found it overtly or even slightly bothersome in Until Dawn. As long as you are cognizant of the fact that these are meant to be the same naive teenagers that scary movie fans have known for generations going in, Until Dawn's delivery will not surprise you with it’s unabashedly cliché tone. In a world where the average blockbuster game is a story of bro-ified vengeance (and I like those too) it’s great to see Until Dawn shake it up a bit when it comes to character. Overall, I thought the entire plot was well crafted and full of ingenious moments that I should’ve but didn’t quite expect. The alternate paths and decisions will make it worth revisiting multiple times and I appreciate the lengths that developer Supermassive Games went to ensure it all flowed together nicely.
All of that leads me to say there isn’t much I didn’t like about Until Dawn. I thought it hit the mark it set spot on. However, there were a few small technical inconsistencies I encountered, including one that referenced an event that didn’t actually happen during my playthrough. A few small oversights such as the ability to invert the camera controls are fixable but worth noting. There were a few times where I discovered the outcomes of my choices weren’t quite as dramatically different as I was lead to believe, but they didn’t feel abusive or worth dwelling on. Some players may take issue with the dialogue, but it all fits in perfectly with the context of Until Dawn's premise.
Ultimately, Until Dawn is not a horror game in the traditional sense, but it is the closest thing you’ll play to a fully realized scary movie. Each of it’s ten chapters had me holding my breath and carefully trying to preserve the lives of my precious teens. The eight or so hours it took to complete the story were well-thought and never skipped a beat. Supermassive Games should be applauded for achieving such a fine interpretation of an entire film genre into a game without compromising for fans of either horror movies nor games. After it was all said and done, Until Dawn is a no-brainer to receive the highly coveted Adonis Immaculate of the Game Awry Review Scale. Until Dawn is a must-play for anyone without post-traumatic stress related to the murder of a family member or friend, and a true marvel in modern gaming.