Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
TO MASTER subtlety is to master true horror writing, with that in mind Until Dawn is closer to being a comedy.
Until Dawn is a horror game with numerous outcomes and storylines, it plays as a sequence of linear exploration sections, quick time events and snap decisions that lead to multiple conclusions.
Some fancy facial animation and big budget landscapes make this a stunning game to look at, even if the particle effects are borderline obnoxious.
The story is the typical cliché of some spoilt rich American brats spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods on an isolated mountain.
“They’re all going to die,” is what I said to myself when I finished the first chapter, not through fearful anticipation, but glee.
To experience fear, we must empathise with the characters, care about them.
I never cared about any of the eight characters I played as, the writing makes them all out to be idiots or just unappealing people.
The actors cannot be blamed for this as they all deliver the lines well, it is just a shame they are so poorly written.
Peter Stormare is outstanding as Dr AJ Hill, a psychiatrist who treats the player as a patient in contextual sections between each level.
Devastatingly, his role fizzles down throughout the story to become meaningless at the end.
In fact the second half of the game is completely different, stamping out what intrigue I had with an early twist, taking the plot in a new and super-natural direction with a faster pace.
I did enjoy the later sections, but the difference to the former is jarring.
There are numerous stages where a character is running away from something, in these levels, one wrong button press means death.
So even if you were making decisions to keep a certain character alive, they may easily die anyway by tripping over a twig.
This can be frustrating, but it is more true to a horror game, where everyone is vulnerable.
There is a lot of potential in Until Dawn, unfortunately it seems to have gone to waste on the dumb story.
The player is treated almost as intellectually barren as the characters, the butterfly effect is explained no less than three times in the first 15 minutes and the idea that we must try to project ourselves onto these repulsively materialistic human beings is almost offensive.
Of the eight main characters, none of them are anything more than a stereotype and all of them (especially the girls) are overly sexualised.
One level as Haydn Panettiere’s character, Sam, is played entirely with her in a towel while another earlier section as head-jock, Mike, has the half-hour objective of fighting through storms and animal mutilation in order to get laid in a hut.
This can only be taken as a tongue-in-cheek poke at the genre, a confusing inclusion when the tone is supposed to be a scary one.
For what it is, I enjoyed Until Dawn in a Big Brother sense and the various story lines do add a lot of replayability.
It is fun to be the all-powerful and omnipresent being who decides whether Jess makes out with Mike and whether Ashley is bi-sected with a circular saw.
+ The modelling is superb
+ The visual atmosphere is nice and spooky (even if the narrative one is not)
+ Strong cast
+ Playing god
- Unfocused story
- Ham-fisted writing
- Occasionally too slow
- Needs more varied decisions
- It is just not scary enough
See full story in the County Times