It’s like Heavy Rain without bad French accents and most things end up making sense!
Going…ahem…Beyond my wildest expectations, Until Dawn does a deserved genre justice. Rarely does a big budget developer get to put a lot of time into a horror game, but when they do, man do I wish they could more often.
I’m a noted fan of all things Spooky, and Until Dawn hit me in a big bad way. Imagine if David Cage had the talent of the Telltale team, and the courage to do what’s right. That’s Until Dawn. It’s a big spooky choose-your-own-trope-filled-B-movie that works in spite of itself. Killer chasing a half-naked girl around the house? Check. Some kids (see: twenty-somethings playing teens) wandering into a basement to find a creepy dollhouse and maybe a ghoooossstttt? Check check. A reckless disregard for human life, and maybe a couple Saw traps for good measure? CHECKMATE. And somehow, through sheer force of will and a good sense for what makes these things fun, it all comes together.
You’ll take control of a
n orgy group of “teens”, leading each one around and sometimes into their utter demise. Supermassive Games makes it very clear that every one of them can live or die, and it’s all dependent on your choices through the story. Make one wrong move and they’re out of the game, totally dead for the rest of the story, and you’re forced to move on and deal with it. At one point, I got my favorite character killed by taking longer than ONE SECOND to make a decision about how to get out of a bad situation. There are times when you feel like the promise of infinite possibilities has been fulfilled.
The game bills itself as having basically a hundred trillion endings, but it’s much easier to see the threads of what’s happening after seeing or discussing a couple playthroughs. Main story events are mostly set in stone. The majority of the cast is guaranteed to survive through at least the first half of the game. You’ll always start in the same place, and you’ll sure as hell always end up at the same climax, with or without eight people still in your crew. You’ll follow a main storyline very closely, but instead of having totally new scenes, the particulars are what change. Maybe you’ll see a clown mask instead of a zombie mask, because you told someone you were afraid of clowns. Maybe there’ll be more animosity towards one characters in your playthrough than there was in mine. Maybe you won’t see the perfectly timed dialogue that made me laugh so hard I had to pause the game and clap at my tv, but hopefully you will. But the same Point A, Point B, Point C will happen for all of us. This isn’t to say things can’t change dramatically -I’ve not heard one person that had the same end-game survivors as me- but the story has a solid throughline that you’ll see every time.
This “one major path” diminishes the illusion of choice just a bit, but not enough to knock the game too hard. Sure, Heavy Rain had some really sweet alternate scenes you’d only see on multiple playthroughs, but it also had some awful dialogue, voice acting, and more plot contrivances than Beyond: Two Souls had filler. The Walking Dead suffered from similar complaints about linearity, but Until Dawn negates them in a similar way: When what’s on stage is this relentlessly entertaining, I don’t mind seeing a bit of the developer’s pulling of strings.
It’s also just as fun to watch as to play, because you’ll notice all of the dozens of tiny things you missed, or see new decisions that you wouldn’t have made yourself. And it’s a fantastic book club game to discuss, with more “You can do that??” or “She can die how?!” moments than I can recollect. My first run through Until Dawn took roughly eight hours, but I’ve certainly already spent more than that just talking about it, reading alternate scenarios, and thinking about what could still be hidden that I haven’t found.
It’s a collection of things we’ve all seen before, (asylums, creepy old guys, horny teenagers, etc.) but it’s done with so much affection for the genre, I can’t help but hope for more.
If you’ve been pining for more works like Alan Wake and Heavy Rain that let you be the star of an honest-to-god thriller, Until Dawn is the next to go down in that short line of true successes.