So with determined persistence I got through my first play through of Until Dawn. My nerves are shattered, I am breathless but I am satisfied with how the story ended.
Until Dawn is a great little game and well worth your time. It is also one of the creepiest horror games to come out on console. I must admit I haven’t played all of the Silent Hill games, but I have played quite a few Resident Evil games and Until Dawn is right up there with the scare factor, as well as no slouch in the gore either.
So let’s start with the graphics. Boy, this is a game to show off your PS4. The graphics are outstanding. The set design and level layout is just great and it truly shows off some impressive lighting at all times. Throughout the game you are controlling characters using your left stick and the right stick is used to aim your torch, lantern or flashlight as you are walking along. This helps show just how impressive the lighting is.
The motion capture is fantastic, apart from a little weirdness that occurs from time to time, particularly with the mouths of the characters. This is more apparent at the start because you notice something not quite perfect with the mo cap of the mouths, but once you get into the game this becomes far less noticeable. You really appreciate the level of animation for the characters too. On more than one occasion I pressed a button to jump up a ledge (with another character following me) and then jump down again. I noticed the second time I jumped up the ledge a different animation was used. So it appears that Supermassive Games recorded multiple animations for the same action. It is this level of detail that makes it really stand out with the high production values: everything feels so fluid. The detail of the setting (the Canadian mountains) is just incredible and you can tell the developers went out of there way to find a suitable creepy and isolated location.
The sound is brilliant too. Creaking doors, strong winds, howling wolves and other unnatural sounds all combine to make you hide in your couch. The use of 5.1 sound does wonders here. The acting from all of the players is very convincing too and adds a more serious tone than what you might find in the earlier campy 80’s slasher flicks. The story is quite a somber one. Ten teenagers go up to a cabin in the Canadian forest for a weekend of alcohol and fun and due to a bad prank gone wrong, two of them go missing. These plot points all come to light in the Prologue. To say anything further would be ruining the surprise journey you’ll have in store when playing Until Dawn. There are ten chapters and my first play through took approximately 11 hours. The plot revolves around a “Butterfly Effect” scenario, where one determination can drastically affect events later on. This does look like there would be some replay value here. Once the game is completed once the chapters are made apparent and you can play from a particular point in the story. This is helpful as the main goal is to try and make sure the remaining eight teenagers survive until dawn.
Other nice touches to the game are at the end of each chapter you are greeted with a “Previously on Until Dawn”. This is great and gives you a good summary of how things are progressing for you in the game. This mechanic is similar to what’s been seen in Battlefield: Hardline. I found this especially helpful when you have to take a break from the game, as I often did. I could only manage a couple of hours at a time as it is that intense. I was also pleasantly surprised to find the game didn’t have a day one patch either so I was able to play straight away. Since launch day a patch has been released for the game to fix a few bugs though.
Another great touch early in the game is that you are asked about what your fears are (spiders vs snakes, heights vs drowning etc) and who your favourite characters are. This is done via the introduction of a Psychiaritist, Dr Hill. Dr Hill visits you at the beginning of each chapter and I also found these segments very effective in making you feel quite unsettled. He is a great character and it certainly made sense to me as to what his presence was all about. There are a lot of references and even though the game borrows inspiration from many different horror films it still manages to have a really engaging story with characters you actually grow to care about.
In terms of gameplay there are some quick time events (QTEs) and these overall feel fair. I didn’t find them quite as hard as say, some of the Telltale games, which is good because generally if you screw up a QTE in Until Dawn you are probably dead or in severe jeopardy. The only game mechanic I did struggle with (probably because my nerves were so shot) is during certain segments of the game you are required to stay still. To measure this the PS4 controller’s light bar is used. If you move the light bar, you make a sound and this generally means you are in deep trouble as well. I found this mechanic to be incredibly sensitive and a couple of times I actually cheated a little by placing the controller on the arm of my couch. I actually think it is a good mechanic, but for those who don’t have steel nerves it can be frustrating to die, only because you couldn’t hold the controller still enough. You also have plenty of opportunity to explore as you try and find clues to unravel the mystery on the mountain. You can also find totems as well, which can give you an idea of what potentially can happen in the game, depending on your actions. All of this makes a really nice touch because you feel building pressure on whether these premonitions will actually come true.
Until Dawn is a great effort. Considering the development hell it went through (starting out as a move only game on the PS3 before finally making it as a PS4, with the move controller optional) it has turned out to be a great, well thought out horror game. I think the only reason I won’t jump back in to try and replay the game is because there are just so many scares I can cope with. For a horror game I think that is the best kind of praise. If you want a good engrossing horror game with great acting, graphics and story, then you can’t go past giving Until Dawn a try.