UNTIL DAWN Review
You might be wondering why a piece on Supermassive Games’ UNTIL DAWN is being written almost two months after its initial release, and why we here at Crossfader think it’s worth reading an article on something most people have probably made up their mind on. Well, the answer is quite simple: after multiple nights of aggressive yelling, sweat-stained pillows, and difficult decision making, we’ve all come to a unanimous conclusion that although UNTIL DAWN is objectively far from the very best game of 2015, it’s easily the best group experience we’ve had since our hands got sore playing GOLDENEYE: 007.
Well, not quite, but we don’t talk about what happens in the Rumpus Room
Previously, I had written on the sorry state of horror games in the last few years and how we have essentially reduced the genre to two extremes: shooters with horror aesthetics (F.E.A.R, DEAD SPACE, etc.) or short, gimmicky Let’s Play bait (SLENDER, FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S, etc.). I also admitted to the presence of better independent games out there, and how lately these developers have helped salvage what has been a mostly weak, zombie-laden genre thanks to releases like AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT, SOMA, and ALIEN: ISOLATION.
Whilst none of these games really blew me out of the water as pieces of high art, except for Hideo Kojima’s P.T, there was still one thing lacking in horror games: a fun, campy slasher that understood the genre well enough to tackle it with a pinch of salt. With the slowly decaying state of split-screen games, it seems that developers don’t want us playing games with our friends in the same room anymore, but Supermassive Games’ UNTIL DAWN is probably the first piece of interactive entertainment since PORTAL 2 that thoroughly encourages you to invite a friend over and play till the sun rises.
Alternatively, if you don’t have friends
This isn’t to say that UNTIL DAWN is literally a group experience. There isn’t any split screen or co-op work, but its sense of communal gameplay is formed much in the same vein as your favorite campy horror film, creating a cult following during midnight screenings. What is undeniably charming about UNTIL DAWN is that it understands it shouldn’t bother being an actually terrifying video game, which is why it allows itself to go totally bonkers, mixing the elements of slasher, monster, and spiritual horror films like some kind of Frankenstein patchwork.
The fantastic character animations make for an endlessly beautiful viewing experience, and similar to Dontnod’s LIFE IS STRANGE, some cheesy dialogue eases you right into the camp factor. But whilst LIFE IS STRANGE aims to remind you of the days you watched DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION, UNTIL DAWN tries to help you live out a horror film and decide exactly how each character survives or dies.
“How dare you associate us with Drake!”
This is where UNTIL DAWN clearly has the upper hand on most of its “interactive cinema” contemporaries, tapping into something you’ve already experienced a hundred times before, but never had a say in. When watching a campy horror film, we always yell that the characters make the dumbest decisions. In UNTIL DAWN there is nobody to blame but us for those choices. This is where the communal aspect of UNTIL DAWN really shines, allowing for friends to yell at each other, trying to figure out what decision makes the most sense.
Whilst my friend would use his playthrough to attempt to save everybody, I’d do everything in my power to kill everyone off as quickly as possible. Although UNTIL DAWN never really branches off as satisfyingly as one would hope, the countless possible deaths are endlessly rewarding, yet also equally gutting when you are attempting to save your favorite character. The fact that the game has such palpable consequences makes for a significantly more thrilling experience.
A waste of a good letterman
The decision making really shines, however, in its subtle complexity. What’s brilliant about UNTIL DAWN is that it really only ever gives you two possible choices whenever a character wants to do something, and although this seems like a pretty meager approach to branching narratives, it often hides the option to do neither of those two things within the “timed” decision making segments.
The fact that oftentimes doing nothing is the correct thing to do is honestly one of the smartest concepts that’s come out of interactive video games, because in a moment of life and death, not making a decision doesn’t even come to mind for the average gamer. This is doubly effective thanks to the fact that each action scene is filled to the brim with Quick Time Events, getting the player so used to pressing buttons that doing the opposite seems ludicrous.
Making smart choices, one bullet at a time
The large ensemble cast of a slasher film lends itself greatly to UNTIL DAWN’s premise, because unlike its David Cage peers BEYOND: TWO SOULS, HEAVY RAIN, or INDIGO PROPHECY, there is an entire bundle of charming, ditzy, rude, and just plain cool protagonists who are all potential victims of the dangers that lie in the mountains. This entire experience is made all the more satisfying through some absolutely masterful motion-capture work, allowing for the video game to basically feel like a film with a digital gloss.
UNTIL DAWN is split into bite-sized chapters that allow the game to play out like a 10-episode horror special, making for an easily digestible viewing experience that eloquently recaps your most important decisions with a brief “previously on” video. These chapters are intercut with short interactive discussions with a therapist who gauges your fear of certain animals, monsters, weapons, and other random nouns. Although this eventually borders on ill-fitting meta territory, the game never loses its sense of self-awareness.
So your mother liked SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE?
Through fantastic voice acting and a surprisingly engaging premise, UNTIL DAWN pits a large cast against an unforgiving setting, and uses plot twists, tonal shifts, and clever decision making segments to complement its already fantastic mood, making for one of the very best interactive stories thus far. Endlessly satisfying and worth at least a total of three run-throughs, UNTIL DAWN is a game I highly recommend playing with a large group of your best friends, admiring how the narrative branches and laughing when one of you kills your favorite character.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4