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Until Dawn review

We try and survive the interactive horror from Supermassive Games.

Until Dawn has been a long time coming for horror fans – the game was first announced as a PS Move title for PS3 back in 2012. Now the game is finally here as a PS4 exclusive and we’re pleased to say it’s been well worth the wait.

The game is an interactive horror that tells the story of a group of 10 teenage friends who get together at a remote mountain lodge. When a prank goes wrong two of the girls end up going missing in the woods and are presumed dead.

The main game picks up a year later when the remaining 8 friends decide to return to the same location to mark the anniversary. In Until Dawn you get to view events as each of the different characters. The game decides when you will switch characters but you’re in charge of the decisions they make, exploring the locations and interacting with the other characters and objects.

Until Dawn boasts an impressive cast and you’ll definitely recognise some of the bigger names as they use the likeness and voice of the actors that play them. The cast includes Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville), Brett Dalton (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). There are also scenes that feature the fabulous Peter Stormare (Fargo, Prison Break, Armageddon, The Blacklist) as a psychiatrist.

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Fans of horror films will be familiar with the usual character stereotypes that crop up. They are almost all present here including the bitchy girl, the geek and the horny couple. Getting to know them all takes some time but you do get to spend a little time with each of them as they are introduced into the mix. We quickly found our favourites but we’re sure that everyone will have their own too.

A neat feature is that each character has their own traits and personality. Their relationship with each other will also change based on your decisions. You can jump into the pause menu at any time to see how the character you are playing feels about the others.

A large part of the game you spend watching the action unfold but this is broken up with interactive sections. These come in several different ways such as exploration, action sequences or decision making. When exploring the left stick is used to move your character around the environment while the right stick is used to look in a certain direction. In darker sections the right stick will also direct whatever light source your character has.

Looking around and paying attention to the environment is crucial if you want to uncover the many clues. When you look in the direction of an item of interest a tiny sparkle of light will appear showing that you can interact with it. Moving closer and pressing X will often let you interact by using R2 and then the right stick. For example if you find a postcard holding R2 will pick it up then you can turn it over using the right stick.

There are other neat uses of the DualShock 4 such as using a swipe of the touchpad to turn the page in a book or unlock a smartphone. Some sections require your character to be very still forcing you to hold the controller as still as possible. This can be tough to do in a stressful situation and a tiny wobble will be detected by the gyroscope changing the outcome of a scene.

You can influence the outcome of action sequences with Quick-Time Event button presses at the correct moments. You really need to pay attention and have quick reflexes to land most of these. There is no time to check you are pressing the correct button so it helps to remember where each is so you can react in time. Chase sequences in particular can be thrilling and the QTE’s reall help to add extra tension.

Sometimes it’s perfectly ok to not press a button or to press an incorrect button. This might result in your character stumbling but at important moments it could lead to something bad happening such as the death of a character.

All the characters can live or die depending on how you play the game. Keeping them alive is tough and when someone dies it’s always gruesome. There is no rewinding or replaying to change the outcome. If things don’t go as you might like then it’s time to start a new game. This is a brave design decision but one that increases the replayability of the game. This is the same for decisions where you might need to pick a response or choose a path to take.

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The decision making is handled well with a simple push of the right stick. Your choices no matter how little also really matter and can affect the game in big ways. The game refers to choices as the Butterfly Effect and you can view the decisions you’ve made in the pause menu.

No horror would be complete without plenty of scares and gore and Until Dawn doesn’t disappoint. It tries to scare you at every opportunity and features plenty of jump scares. Horror fans will likely find many of these quite predictable but they are well done. The game also does a great job of making you feel isolated and there’s an unsettling feeling of dread the majority of the time.

Until Dawn starts off feeling a bit like I Know What You Did Last Summer but eventually moves into something more like the Saw movies. These aren’t the only influences though and fans of horror movies will enjoy spotting them all.

The story is typical of the genre but it’s interesting enough to keep you guessing with a few twists thrown in. The dialogue is well written and the cast put in some decent performances.

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Graphically the game looks absolutely stunning and is actually one of the best titles we’ve seen. Environments are extremely detailed and the lighting is wonderfully done. The characters deserve a special mention though as they are incredibly lifelike and at times it is easy to forget that you are playing a game and not watching a movie.

A first playthrough will take most players 8-10 hours but the many different choices available make this a game that demands you revisit it. It’s also a great game to watch someone else play as they are likely to make completely different decisions and discover different clues.

Until Dawn is easily the most impressive and enjoyable interactive story experience we’ve had in a game so far. It’s absolutely essential for horror fans and sure to gain a cult following. Highly recommended.

 

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