For almost two decades, I have been a horror fanatic. I've watched countless horror movies, enjoyed horror games, and my home is littered with horror-themed decor. Needless to say, I was rather excited for Supermassive Games' adventure horror title Until Dawn, and after attempting to save eight teens from a crazed killer, I can honestly say that Until Dawn is one the best gaming experiences I've had.
Until Dawn is a true teenagers-trapped-with-a-killer horror experience; it follows the pacing of a slasher flick to a tee. The story starts with a typical teenager prank: luring a girl to a room using the guy she is crushing on, only to laugh at her when she shows up (with friends like this, who needs a psycho killer). Well, the prank goes awry and it all ends in tragedy. Fast forward one year and all the friends who played the prank reassemble on the mountain to mourn the loss. From here, the game slowly builds tension, jumping between stories to draw out the anticipation of being face-to-face with the killer for as long as possible. Once the teens catch on to the fact that a killer is running around the mountain, Until Dawn turns into a heart-pounding adventure to solve the mystery and save the teens. It's riddled with jump scares, making it near impossible to play calmly at some points. My heart was consistently on-edge during one of the chapters to the point that I had to stop playing to let it rest. Anxiety is a horror game staple, and there is no shortage of it to be had in Until Dawn.
I say Until Dawn was one of the best gaming experiences I've had, but it certainly wasn't one of the most pleasant. Players have the chance to control eight teens as they try and survive one night on a mountain with a killer. Anxiety runs high as you'll try and make the right choices to keep your teens alive. Until Dawn is constantly autosaving your game with each major decision, leaving it impossible to undo any choice you've made, ensuring that anxiety levels skyrocket during tough decisions. Once you finish the game, you will have the option to go back and replay chapters to see how the night can play out differently, but until then, make wise choices if you want to keep those teens’ hearts beating. And with a musical score to revival any cult classic horror movie, it only adds to the anxiety factor.
The backbone of Until Dawn is the butterfly effect mechanic. Similar to Heavy Rain, the choices made by the player will have an impact on how the story plays out. Sometimes the impact is small, affecting things like a character's appearance, but sometimes the impact on the story is dramatic, even killing off one of the teenagers. All the teens can survive the night if the right choices are made; or all can die. Totems can be found scattered throughout the game, allowing you glimpses into the possible future outcomes, helping you to make better informed decisions—supposedly. Whole portions of gameplay can be skipped, depending on who is alive or which physical path you travel. While the story stays relatively the same, the way it unfolds differs drastically, adding to replay value. I managed to miss out on large parts of two characters’ gameplay my first time playing, due to some rather poor decision making on my part. Sorry Matt and Jessica.
Until Dawn features standard adventure-style gameplay; lots of walking and investigating. Normally I'd roll my eyes at the amount of investigating I had to do, but Supermassive keeps it interesting by feeding me clues to unravel the mystery. The story is compelling and you’ll want to know what the heck is happening on this mountain. This is the first game in a while where I found the story kept me coming back. WHO IS THE KILLER!?
Visually, Until Dawn is fantastic. Every camera angle seems carefully planned out to help mock a horror flick and amplify the atmosphere. Supermassive went to great lengths to mimic what an unused cabin would look like. Watching the dust particles floating through the air catch the light made me want to sneeze. The character models demonstrate the newest generation of consoles’ ability to make graphically realistic skin. Buffalo Bill would wear these teens in a heartbeat. The only thing that bothered me visually about Until Dawn was the lack of characters blinking for the first bit of the game. Blink people! All that dust in the air is going to mess you up!
Until Dawn is an incredible game for horror fans, and I have nothing negative to say about it. Supermassive Games didn't disappoint. Until Dawn captured the slasher flick perfectly: typical story, typical teens. Jason, Ghostface, and the fishhook killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer would be proud. However, I cannot stress enough, people not into the horror genre probably won't enjoy Until Dawn nearly as much. If horror tropes or jump scares are not your thing, be warned before you venture in to Until Dawn. But for those of you itching for a good horror game (even if you're not into adventure games), take up the challenge and try and keep those teens breathing.