A surprise success in the summer of 2015, Until Dawn is a loving (if somewhat tongue-in-cheek) tribute to the teen-slasher genre presented in a style similar to Quantic Dream titles such as Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain. Complete with a fantastic cast of characters, familiar to any fan of horror and clothed in some of the most gorgeous graphics seen on modern consoles, Until Dawn is a must have for any PS4 owner. The following review is free of spoilers.
Developed by Supermassive Games as a PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn puts you in control of eight teenage friends who’ve gathered together at a remote cabin in Canada’s Blackwood Mountains for the weekend (a cabin owned by the Washington family) to commemorate the disappearance and presumed death of protagonist Josh Washington’s twin sisters from the same location, at the same time, the previous year. Almost as soon as the party arrive, mysterious events occur causing them to question whether the disappearance of the twins was more than an accident on one of the perilous mountain paths – fearing instead the hand of a vengeful killer rumoured to despise the Washington family. From this realisation, it’s not long before events spiral out control and the friends understand they’re in grave danger; however, because of a snowstorm, they’re stranded on the mountain until dawn (I wonder if that’s how they got the title? I guess we’ll never know). Ultimately events aren’t truly revealed until the final scenes of the game, at which point the player discovers what’s really going on, what happened to the twins and who’s really to blame for all that’s happened. From this description, the story may seem rather derivative and uninspired; however, the execution is anything but. Largely tongue-in-cheek, the writing is such that many genre tropes are used to subvert the players’ expectations, creating a sense of uncertainty and even tension as the story unravels. I have to say that although I was slightly disappointed with the climax, due mainly to the change of tone in the narrative roughly ¾’s of the way through, there are plenty of people who think otherwise.
Meanwhile, the gameplay is comparable to titles such as the aforementioned Heavy Rain, utilising quick-time events and branching dialogue trees to progress the story in a manner that is fully reactive to the players’ choices, even allowing you to alter inter-character relationships and the events themselves as you switch between the eight protagonists. Though derided as being lazy and dull (with unfair vehemence in my opinion) the use of QTE’s suits the style of Until Dawn perfectly. A sense of urgency is created which keeps the story moving at a consistent pace; so successfully I might add, that many opponents of the style concede its worth in this game. There are some innovations too. The developers utilise every feature of the DualShock 4 controller in a largely efficacious effort to add diversity to the gameplay. One technical issue does arise from this control scheme, however, namely the difficulty of keeping the DualShock 4 sufficiently steady during the rare occasions when this is required. Even if you have the firm hands of a keyhole surgeon you’ll find yourself failing this task as often as not, which can consequently result in the death of a character in certain areas of the game.
Complementing the enjoyable story and fast-paced gameplay are beautiful graphics that push the PlayStation to the limit; everything from the huge mountains that loom overhead to the individual snowflakes that fall persistently during the night is given due attention and looks sublime. The cast is equally impressive and credit has to be shared among the talented voice actors, which include Peter Stormare, Hayden Panettiere and star of recent Amazon Prime hit Mr Robot Rami Malek.
All things considered Until Dawn has been a huge success, especially considering how little heralded it was prior to release. A short game under ten hours in length with a multitude of possible endings that make it highly replayable, Until Dawn’s unique take on the slasher genre and brilliantly written characters, will have you making the ill-advised mountain trip over and over again – 8/10.