Until Dawn describes itself like this: “When eight friends are trapped on a remote mountain retreat and things quickly turn sinister, they start to suspect that they aren’t alone.” The goal of this group of friends is to survive until dawn, and apparently, any of the characters can die depending on the choices you make. It’s that classic “cabin in the woods” horror setting, and the eight friends are about as stock character and stupid as you expect people in these settings come. That’s okay in this case, however, since it’s an homage to horror movies, and horror movies wouldn’t exist without people doing inadvisable things.
Since it’s trying to look and feel like a horror film, the Until Dawn demo sacrificed ease of play in places for a better looking camera angle. It’s hard to tell from twenty minutes of gameplay whether Until Dawn will work as a complete product, but I did get a sense of how it plays. Until Dawn combines two niche genres – survival horror and walking novels – into a game that, based on its demo, is for gamers looking for story instead of a gameplay-driven experience.
Until Dawn works by letting players explore the environment as various characters and make choices that then impact the game via a butterfly effect. I’ll have to take their word for that, because I only had the chance to play the demo once. There were three versions of the demo set up and I did notice slight differences between the preset choices, and I don’t think there are “good choices” and “bad choices” per se. Since it’s a horror game, getting various characters killed in different permutations is part of the… I hesitate to use the word, but “fun”?
The thing is, I didn’t feel especially in control of outcomes. For instance, I chose to give the flare gun to Matt instead of Emily, and yet I couldn’t figure out how to use it in the mine shaft to prevent his death by industrial hook. Furthermore, the demo gave me the thoroughly inadvisable option of hacking at deer with an axe. I saw absolutely no reason to do this, so it seemed like a rather silly choice. Perhaps these things will make more sense in the full game.
Furthermore, the version of the demo I played had the female character, Emily, set to behave hysterically instead of logically, and wow did it get old fast. Emily’s panicked weeping was so uncomfortable to watch that it inspired a defensive desire to laugh inappropriately, and I’m sure certain critics will have a field day with that. This sort of bold, deliberately binary experiment in player choice is certainly a worthy thing, but whether or not it’s a successful experiment will come down to quality of execution, and it’s impossible to judge that from this demo.
In terms of graphics, they look quite shiny, but that’s sort of a hallmark of PS4 experiences. Sound was similarly good, in an unimpressive way. Until Dawn‘s demo is so dialogue heavy that ambient sounds and music don’t set tone the way games like Silent Hill, The Evil Within, Amnesia and Outlast manage. The controls, meanwhile, are not going to be something everyone is going to take to. It seems like the default scheme is some motion control system, and the button-based controls took some getting used to.
I was left with the impression that Until Dawn has potential, but I’m not prepared to recommend it until I’ve played the full game. In games with more gamelike gameplay I could praise the core mechanics, but this is a game thoroughly based on narrative choices. When we have the chance to judge Until Dawn as a complete product, it may be amazing, and it’s unfortunate that the preorder incentive is an additional prequel chapter, because this forces gamers to choose between buying a game that may fail to deliver to avoid a retail experience that may feel incomplete.