I’ll admit it, I was wrong about Until Dawn. While I suspected it would be a Quick Time Event (QTEs) marathon from what was shown in the little media I saw before release. This turned out to be a step in the right direction to merge Hollywood and Games into a more legitimate medium, to show the benefits of a screenplay that might be too big for modern cinema, or a one shot tv series which if successful would get pressured into making a sequel when that wasn’t the point.
Until Dawn pushes the graphical benchmark even higher than The Last of Us. it’s motion capture, 3D scans and animation is visible from the pores of skin to the detail in each character eyes. Hair has always seemed to fail games when crossing the realm of reality, but it’s a moot point in the grand scheme of things, and boy, is it grand.
What I describe ahead is simply the prologue and a few early subsequent chapters to help you as the reader get a strong foothold in the premise of this highly story driven game. To ‘spoil’ anything beyond that would be a disservice.
The game starts off in a mountain cabin where you observe a group of friends pulling a prank on a girl who has a crush on someone. But when the girl starts to reveal her true feelings, only to see it was a prank and being filmed. her embarrassment causes her to flee the house. Her sister is furious and starts to give chase where the game starts to drill you on the basics of how decisions and QTE’s will form the rest of the game. Tragedy is a forced outcome, but this is the premise of the main story.
Here lies the first genuine set up for the game, as you are in a therapists office (Dr. Hill played by Peter Stormare) who is the plot device for psychoanalysing you as the player. This not only helps shape the game to you as the individual, but it does exactly as you would suspect and tailor make a horror experience around you the player as best it can.
A year passes and the friends converge once more at the Mountain cabin for their winter getaway, though the mood is obviously plagued with a sombre remorse. The game eases you in with QTE’s and the rest of the tutorials, along with making your first real genuine choice which will mold the game with its Butterfly Effect System.
As a player your goal is mainly to explore each environment you end up in control of with each subsequent character the game provides you with. to find items or notes. Which will not only explain the events of the night, but also give you the history of Blackwood Pines the setting of the horror adventure you are about to partake in.
At first many of the characters are rough around the edges in terms of personality. but the longer the game goes on, the more choices you make, and events they go through, plenty being life or death decisions. The more the characters are shaped by you the player. which will dramatically affect the experience you have playing Until Dawn.
You might soon come to realise Until Dawn could have been released episodically. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this may have been the plan for a time. As like I made mention of earlier, Until Dawn plays out like an overly long movie. To which the game is broken up into ‘chapters’ or more accurately episodes. Not only giving more casual players a genuine place to stop, and comeback later when they have some more free time. But a genuine way to recap players who might be forgetful to previous important events.
I am under no delusion that in some scenarios, no matter what you chose the overall outcome is the same, just the scenario is extended or shortened. after all its a butterfly effect, not an about turn. An example of this would be when you are in a situation needing to pick a direction in a heated moment, and if you pick the wrong direction, rather than having it be a sealed fate scenario the game will give you a series of QTE’s which will lead into you backtracking and going the ‘correct’ way. the only shortcoming being is the game throws a more chances to fail at you.
The illusion of choice can be off putting for some people I know. but it handles them a lot better than say the ending of Mass Effect 3 for example. you can make choices which will get these eight characters killed. With some characters having their lives on the line more than others.
Now the real issue is replayability. Because you can only really genuinely experience this story once. But trophies inject some much needed life into the game, from obvious collect everything, to survival trophies best and worst outcomes etc and few more situational trophies. Along with the ability to start a new game and choose different options to see how other scenarios pan out.
What is really impressive though, is how well done the stories are. There are at least four individual stories that intertwine with each other and only in hindsight through repeated playthroughs will you see the way they all interconnect with one another.
This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea I admit. But it all depends on what you like to get out of your games. This isn’t going to give you gameplay like Metal Gear or Battlefield. This is a highly story driven game akin to Monkey Island but without dragging it out by forcing you to do puzzles. Every extra is purely optional for you to get more out of the experience.
It’s like being in a horror film yourself but instead of having the screaming girl run upstairs, you get to choose to run outside or even fight if you so choose in the moments it presents to you. The choices are literally yours to make, which is what you’ll learn to love if you like point & click adventure games as a genre.
Now what I would really love to see Supermassive Games tackle in this style of game is a sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. After all it is one thing to make a player make a choice. It is a completely different ball game entirely to get them to trust people they have to rely on to survive.