I can’t get away from the dead things. Fresh off of the guilty pleasure reviewing that was Fear the Walking Dead, I’m back; delving deeper into the horror genre with PlayStation 4’s latest exclusive title, Until Dawn. I started playing this game motivated by two things: my undying love of all things horror, and my interest in the much-touted Butterfly effect.
I came for the promise of chills, and stayed because, frankly, Until Dawn is a pretty sweet game…
The basic game premise is the same of that in a-million-and-one horror movies. One year, after the disappearance of two of their own, 8 college-age students return to where it happened to celebrate their friendship and help one of them mourn the loss of his sisters. A remote mansion in the woods, heavy snowfall, and a whole lot of unshared feelings, resentments, and the shadow of the past… plus a creepy figure peering at them from the woods… makes for the perfect setting for this game to unfold.
The Butterfly Effect gameplay ensures that the decisions you make and how you treat those around have a marked influence on what horrors lie ahead. Yeah, choices you made several chapters before show themselves later on.
Over the course of the game you play as all of the main characters, and your choices – should I lie to my girlfriend and tell her I didn’t see anything, or freak her out? Go left or go right? – determine what choices and interactions you will have with the other characters and how well they are willing to help you later. It’s an awesome feature, because it really makes you question your actions and think about which one is likely to help you get where you want to go. Sometimes, however, doing nothing is the best option, and it’s fun to try and figure out when to act, or not to.
Between the chapters you find yourself in the psychiatrist’s office – a place that starts off inherently thanks to Peter Stormare (The Big Lebowski, Fargo) as the therapist leading your sessions, and gets creepier and more disturbing as you delve further into the game – where you are analyzed and asked questions about what disturbs you. At first, these cut-aways irritated me slightly, as I wanted to continue playing; but when I realized that my answers there were important, it became clearer what the room’s purpose was. Every fear you express and every opinion you give is used against you later in the game. Did you spill to the shrink that you’re afraid of needles? Guess what’s coming for you, honey.
The scenery is beautiful, and playing the game, at times, really does seem like you’re just watching a horror flick on TV. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-heavy game, Until Dawn is not the one for you. Besides getting your characters to make it through the night alive, you are also collecting clues. Totems found along the way reveal glimpses into the future – things that may happen if you continue on your chosen path. These can help you make decisions, for better or worse, as you continue to play.
Clues, like pictures, maps, and objects, are sprinkled around and will help you unlock the story of the past and understand what happened when Hannah and Beth went missing. The fact that the game is super story building and atmosphere-driven does lead to frustration, in the form of limited gameplay. You can only interact with objects that are clues, and the area you can roam is very narrow. There is no real interaction with the arctic wilderness that the developers worked so hard to develop.
The PS4’s DualShock controller is put to good use in the game. You can choose to play with the thumb controls, or you can turn your controller into a fancy Wii remote, where the tilt of your controller moves your character and makes your decisions. I played with this option for a while before abandoning it for traditional game play, which gave this “Sister” (in my mind) better control over my characters.
My favorite part of gameplay is the use of the gyroscope feature. During certain high-stress situations, the screen asks that you hold perfectly still, and the controller in your hand determines your fate. Make the slightest move, and you are at risk of being found out, captured, or, of course, killed. The controller is really sensitive; I breathed and ended up getting caught…because I “moved”. It’s a sweet addition that allows you to be screwed over simply because you’re a naturally shaky person.
Overall, Until Dawn is an excellent game from Supermassive, and a fine addition to the Horror game pantheon. The script, acting, and visuals come together to provide a fully addicting, fascinating game that can be played over and over for different results.