Say what you may but the PlayStation has one niche sub-genre that the Xbox doesn’t have – interactive story. Interaction in these games are minimal and players are there to offer input on what to do at certain points.
Set in the mountains, Until Dawn is basically a slasher flick masquerading as a video game. You guide eight characters throughout the course of the game and the actions you take will shape the game’s outcome. You’ll never see all of the game’s multiple endings in one play-through, which means that to get the full experience, you’ll have to replay the game numerous times. The game calls it the Butterfly Effect and pivotal moments in the game are recorded that are based on the choices you made, so that you know what you need to do (or not to do) in subsequent runs. There are also Totems, which give a hint of the future (such as what to do or not to do to avoid being stabbed, for example) and collecting them all provide you with more insights into the game’s backstory. They aren’t required to fully enjoy the game, but if you want to know a little bit more about the backstory behind the game, keep a look out for them.
Depending on your liking of the game, that can be a good or bad thing. If you love the story and gameplay, you definitely won’t mind replaying the game for the story and finding missed totems. Some of the alternate endings are different enough to warrant at least two or three different replays. On the other hand, the story itself isn’t that great and is somewhat predictable after the first few hours, so replaying it might be a chore even for PSN Trophy hunters, especially since most of the things you do you are pretty much the same in every play-through, with only a certain few actions really impacting the story.
Like in Heavy Rain or Beyond Two Souls before, gameplay in Until Dawn mainly has you navigating the characters in third-person and interacting with whatever is glimmering. That and choosing an action when the game asks for your input. There really isn’t much more to it than that and it will definitely get boring for gamers looking for more – Until Dawn is an acquired taste. It may be somewhat more palatable with its horror and supernatural elements, but it still requires a certain appreciation of what the game strives to be (an interactive storytelling medium) rather than what videogames traditionally are to fully enjoy it.
Despite that, the atmosphere and setting of the game really sets it apart from most games. Being stranded in the mountain with killers on the loose is certainly an interesting premise, if not a cliché one. The snowy paths and mountainous terrain is both a feast on the eyes and creepy enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The feeling of isolation is achieved really well, almost as well as Alien Isolation. The graphics come at a cost though, as the frame rate can drop badly at certain locations and during certain events. Indoor locations are generally issue free; it’s the outdoor ones that bog the game’s frame rate down. Seeing as how the game isn’t even a stable 30 frames per second most of the time, the hitches are a massive annoyance and really detract from that movie feeling the game’s going for.
Still, no matter the frame rate issue, Until Dawn has some of the best character graphics in any modern game. The developers used real actors and modelled their faces to match the voices. This leads to some pretty good looking character models. Peter Stomare (John Abruzzi from Prison Break) is creepily awesome as Doctor Hill, though sorely underused in the game. Other actors include Rami Malek (Elliot Anderson from Mr Robot) and Brett Dalton (Grant Ward from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) so if you’re a big TV series aficionado, you will recognize some of the faces in the game.
Speaking of faces, the facial animation done on the game is astounding, even better than the work done for L.A. Noire. I’m not sure whether they used motion capture or traditional animation, but the faces express themselves very well and apart from a few weird animations here and there, are generally a sight to behold. You won’t mistake them for a real person anytime soon, but the faces are definitely better than what’s been done in most games prior to this. Voices are nicely lip-synched to the mouth movements and close-ups show that detail even more accurately.
Until Dawn isn’t a bad game but it certainly isn’t for everybody. To truly enjoy the game, one needs to put aside expectations of what video games are and just think of it as an interactive movie. It’s interesting and has a solid enough plot to keep you coming back for multiple runs but like most summer blockbusters, once the game’s done its thing, one can’t help thinking if that is all there is to it.