When it comes to putting my experience with Until Dawn into writing, I immediately thought of words like “frightening,” or “suspenseful,” or even “engaging.” However, I think my time with Until Dawn is best summed up by the following messages exchanged between myself and a friend who watched as I played the entire game.
If I had to put just one word to Until Dawn, it would be “surprising.” After originally being revealed a few years back as a Playstation 3 title that utilized PlayStation Move, Until Dawn went under a complete reboot and found its way to the game it is today on the PS4. The game has flown under many people’s radars for its years in development, even up until its late summer release. Argubly, this is part of what makes Until Dawn so special. In an age where expectations for games are sky high and often fail to deliver, this horror title from Supermassive Games seems to have done the exact opposite.
The premise of Until Dawn’s story may sound familiar if you’ve ever even glanced at the plot of a low-budget horror film. A group of eight teenagers reunites in a remote lodge on the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of two of their friends. Blackwood Pines lodge is tucked away at the top of a mountain, literally removed from civilization, yet this weekend gateway is hardly relaxing. Naturally, things seem to go awry before the trip even begins when the group of friends, each of whom is controlled by the player at some point throughout the story, suspect they are not alone on the mountain, and discover they are being hunted by a mysterious figure that lurks around every camera angle.
Without diving into spoilers for the story, a number of twists and turns occur along the way that make Until Dawn go to places I failed to expect. What seemed to present itself as solely a cliché horror film copycat actually became a lot deeper than expected thanks to its underlying story presented through clues gained by finding meaningful collectables that explain past and present events. Photos, objects and totems to discover along the way all reveal hints and answers to mysteries of what is really happening on the mountain. It’s a shame that by the end of the game, the story derails so far off from where it started that it hardly seems to connect to its origin and leaves you wondering what the conclusion has to do with the beginning.
Where Until Dawn truly shines during this dark, dark night is in its gameplay. Until Dawn is built on making choices and watching how they affect the outcome down the road, all the meanwhile capitalizing on tailoring to your exact fears (if you select honestly). While titles like The Walking Dead and Life is Strange have previously presented players with choice-based gameplay, decisions made in these games have never felt as intense or as meaningful as the ones I had to make while playing Until Dawn. A choice I made in chapter one that seemed meaningless and silly at the time was still reeling effects by the time I was in the last chapter.
Until Dawn presents these rippling influences as “The Butterfly Effect.” When vital decisions are made, butterflies appear in the top left corner of the screen letting you know the choice you decided on has just caused changes somewhere throughout the story. More often than not, these changes seemed to lead to decision on life or death for one or more of the eight characters. By the end of the game, I had trained myself to truly think about the consequences of my actions, even though sometimes I couldn’t possibly know what outcome a decision could lead to. Other times, I was forced to choose quickly and couldn’t even think it through. Sometimes, the best choice is to sit and do nothing. The game continually kept me on my toes when it came to making decisions, and I loved it for that reason. I wasn’t tense the whole time because of jump scares (though there were still plenty of those). I was tense because I did not know what was going to happen next, which is just another way Until Dawn surprised me.
Developer Supermassive Games has touted that their game can play out over 1,000 different ways, and after a single play through, I’m itching to go back through and change a ton of my decisions to see how they influence the outcome. While each of these supposed 1,000 different endings may only differ slightly from one another, I know there’s a ton of content I’m yet to see. By the end of my game, only three of my eight characters had survived. With a story lasting roughly 8-10 hours, a single play through doesn’t overstay its welcome and is easily accessible to go through another time or two to see who I can or cannot save after another round. Players who are anxious to only change certain outcomes rather than the entire story may select from one of the 10 episodes to play again after the credits roll. Replay value is extremely high in Until Dawn for those who want to explore all that it has to offer.
Beyond exceptional gameplay, Until Dawn simply looks and sounds great. A diverse cast makes for interesting characters, and while the fixed camera angles can sometimes restrict how much the player can see of the setting, the world in the game looks fantastic.
Until Dawn is a title that you can watch, hear, and read about all day, but until you sit down and are forced to make the decisions for yourself as the story unfolds somewhat unevenly, it’s hard to feel the impact the game can have. The game itself is a commendable addition to the PlayStation 4 library and is worthy of your time. Trust me – you might even be left saying “Oh my God.”