Review – Until Dawn (2015)
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Interactive Drama/Survival Horror
Director: Will Byles & Nik Bowen
Release Date: August 28th 2015 (UK)
I very much enjoyed getting to go back and revisit Until Dawn for review. I loved this game when it first came out and I still love it today. By all accounts, the game should really have been a flop. So many factors of this game should not have worked as well as they did, such as; the fact that it followed the style of a cliché teen horror story, the fact that it started out as a move game for the ps3 and had a long, unsteady development cycle, along with the fact that it was coming out in August, a time of year that is known as the stealth zone, as it is after the summer blockbuster season, but before the big fall line up drops.
Yet, Supermassive games managed to produce an engaging, genuinely scary story that plays on your expectations of this genre and succeeds in keeping the player engaged for a 10-12 hour plot that follows the group of teens trying to survive through a horrific night of terror.
Following the videogame market as closely as I do, living and breathing in an echo-chamber of game releases and reviews for games like Until Dawn means that sometimes my judgement can end up being somewhat clouded and sight can sometimes be lost when it comes to seeing what really makes a game special. This is why I will always greatly value an opinion from an outside perspective.
I have been with my girlfriend for the past 9 years and before meeting me she was a casual gamer at best, playing the odd Wii game and mobile games. So, when I get a game and she watches me playing it and has a reaction more than just, ‘is this all that you do?’ I know that it is something a bit more special than just any other old game. It happened with season 1 of Telltale’s Walking Dead, it happened with The Last Of Us and it happened again when I first played though Until Dawn. As soon as I put the disc in and we played the first chapter together, we were both hooked and dying to find out what happens next.
That was because this game is very well written, with an intriguing, engaging narrative coupled with purposefully written bad cheesy dialogue creating many memorable moments. The cast is very talented also, the facial capture in this game has aged well and when playing you can see each tiny expression of fear or anger on the actor’s faces and the VO work is also pretty impeccable. Hayden Pannietre and Rami Malek stand out, as does Peter Stromare and the actor who plays Mike.
The first quarter of the game is full of ‘mock’ scares that the group are seen pranking each other with, however not to an annoying extent. The scares that follow are very real with the next part of the game being reminiscent of a 70’s slasher movie. The atmosphere is built very well, with well timed audio cues and the use of a fixed camera working both as a homage to classic ps1 era horror games and as to give the player a feeling they are constantly being watched. Some camera angles are unsettling and the tracking shots can be particularly creepy, especially when you could have sworn that you saw something move in the far corner of the screen.
The game then delves more into supernatural horror, which I will talk about more in the spoiler section of the review. Really though, there isn’t anything to spoil in this game in the respect that you can beat the game with everyone alive, or everybody dead. The only thing to spoil is how the characters die, which can be in a few different but increasingly gruesome ways which I won’t spoil here.
That’s not to say that everything that this game has to offer is positive, several of the big twists can be seen coming from a mile away, for example my better half guessed who the killer was going to be within the first hour of our playthrough, but other than that I am struggling to find any real criticisms in this game. It is just a fun experience that I would recommend to anyone, whether you are a horror fan or not.
Okay, it is impossible to fully review Until Dawn without spoiling the end, so spoilers will follow. This game is 6 years old at this point, but if you still haven’t played it, reading on could ruin your experience. Go and pick this game up, it will be very cheap at this point and is totally worth your time.
The twists in the game are fairly obvious. From very early on in the game it is clear that the ‘therapy’ sessions with Peter Stromare are a hallucination, probably a hallucination of the psycho in the clown mask and that psycho is probably Josh. All of these things come to pass, which means when they are revealed to be true the shock value is pretty much lost. It is also fairly obvious that there is something after the group besides the psycho, something that is more than likely to be supernatural.
The only twist is finding out what that is and when it’s revealed to be the Gollum-like Wendigos, I was somewhat disappointed. The creatures are pretty cool in how they move, in that they very twitchy and quick, but they are fairly generic in their design and not all that scary once you know what they look like. The character deaths are quite well done, but half of the characters have fake ‘deaths,’ before their actual death scenes which makes the actual death scenes less impactful and somewhat fall flat.
Overall, Until Dawn is an engaging, entertaining experience that doesn’t really have any major flaws. For the most part the humour and the scares are well executed and while not all of the characters are likeable, they are all well written horror stereotypes that are played very well by their real life counterparts. When this game was first released, it was considered to be unexpectedly great by a number of people, and was seen as a surprise hit This was also the case for me personally at the time; it exceeded my expectations and served as a very pleasant and welcome addition to the modern horror genre. Upon revisiting Until Dawn for review in 2021, I can gladly say that all of this still hold up to be true.
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