Before I start this review, let it be noted I am a massive fan of the cheesy slasher horror movie genre. For all the flaws the genre has from the incredibly predictable story, down to using the same tropes over and over again. But there is no denying that they are definitely fun and enjoyable to watch. Obviously not us much fun for the protagonists who find themselves in these types of movies, as they tend to die in the most horrible way possible. Until Dawn is, as you may have figure out by now from what you have seen on the internet take on the teen slasher movie genre.
If you have played games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls and basically any game created by Telltale Games, you will exactly know what type of experience you are in for and you will feel right at home. For those who have been living under a rock you can pretty much sum up the game as follows: A casual gamer friendly control setup, gorgeous visuals, great story and amazing acting second to none. I am not going to go into much detail regarding the story of the game as it is a central part of the game and you are best off going into Until Dawn with as little knowledge as possible regarding the story.
The only thing you need to know about the story coming into Until Dawn is that eight teens get together again for the one year anniversary in remembrance of what happened a year ago at the exact same isolated snowy retreat. Then bad stuff starts happening. (Obliviously) And that is basically all you need to know about the story coming into the game anything more I will spoil it for you. Just know that the writers did an amazing job managing to what really boils down to a 90-minute horror movie and stretch it out over +- 8 hours of gameplay.
This in itself can be viewed as an issue, but the major benefit of this is that we get some excellent character building, with the cast of eight teens each being fleshed pretty thoroughly. Some start off likable and end up being dicks, while others start growing on you, should they remain alive long enough for that to happen while you are playing. How you’re in game choices shape the story is handled very well, some key moments and decisions can cause big shifts and others can slightly alter current events. I played through the entire story three times, and my conclusion for each play-through felt like a good fit for what had gone in the hours prior to making my various choices.
The one thing that sets Until Dawn apart from games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls is that you are given a lot of space to explore various areas, ranging from the massive main cabin and the forest outside it to several nearby abandoned buildings and small sheds. But the game never puts you more than a couple of minutes away from something happening. This has the effect of creating a nice balance of active, involved gameplay and cut scenes, which keeps the story and momentum building slowly until you reach the final conclusion of the game. The game also rewards you with tons of collectibles should you decide to go exploring.
Combat in the game is generally handled well, it plays like an on-rails shooter but thankfully here they don’t feel terrible awkward and neither does hamper the gameplay. Though I do wish they gave us the option of inverting the aim. Whether you are using a gun or a melee weapon, a target reticule will appear on-screen. And you have to guide the aiming reticule using the motion of your PS4 controller over the target before the timer runs out. But it should be noted sometimes, as with other choices in the game, not doing anything might, in fact, result in the better outcome than actively doing something.
Motion controls let you aim using the using the PS4 controls or spin it around when prompted, but these can be thankfully turned off entirely and replaced with analog stick movements if you do not enjoy using motion controls in your games. The only motion control element you cannot turn off is when your character must remain still in order to avoid being spotted. While holding the controller still sounds simple enough, I must admit that the tension this creates is an absolutely amazing. And I have never before seen so much carnage being caused in a game because I moved my PS4 controller a few millimeters.
Graphically, the game looks amazing. The frame rate isn’t quite as high as it should be as the game would have undoubtedly benefited from this, but you do get used to it. Special mention goes to the environments and lighting as it pops out and makes the game come alive. Character models deserve a special mention, which is about the most believable I have seen in a video game in a very long time. These models offer some excellent facial animation that helps sell you on the voice actor’s performances. I felt the audio was slightly out of sync with their lip movements in some scenes, but it’s a minor distraction that didn’t distract from the story.
I expected Until Dawn to be a silly horror game due to its long development time, it was originally slated to be a PS3 move title. But this was not the case, I quickly got pulled into the game’s story thanks to the sheer idiocy of the eight teenagers actions and the over the top nature of the horror story. In terms of gameplay mechanics, it’s incredibly simple, but that works in the game’s favor. Leaving you to become fully engrossed in the story and narratives that the writers were trying to create. If you fancy a gory slasher style game that hits plenty of high notes, then I can highly recommend Until Dawn.