Until Dawn Review

Alessio Palumbo
Posted Sep 4, 2015
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  • Developer/Publisher: Supermassive Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, currently priced at $/€ 59.99
  • Review copy provided by publisher.

Until Dawn certainly had a troubled development. The game was initially meant to be released on PlayStation 3, and the plan was to make it a first person title that exploited the Move controller.

After the game went dark during 2013, some assumed that it had been cancelled. However, Until Dawn resurfaced at Gamescom 2014 and showcased its significant changes: Move support had been dropped in favor of DualShock 4, and the game would now be played in third person view. Moreover, it would now release on PlayStation 4.

Usually, there are good reasons to be skeptical of a troubled development phase, as history recorded many incomplete or rough games when it happened. Thankfully, this is not the case at all with Until Dawn: Supermassive Games managed to wrap a polished and satisfying package.

In terms of genre, this falls firmly in the same category of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, although with a far more deliberate horror theme. The premise is that a group of friends gather at a mountain retreat during winter, one year after a tragedy struck them all at that very place.

The first gameplay twist of Until Dawn is that you’ll play as all of these characters at one point or another. Granted, some of them enjoy far longer playthroughs than others, but the relevant point is that you’re ultimately responsible for their fate. All of them are at severe risk of death in this fateful night and you need to keep them alive on your own, at least until dawn.

This single feature ensures that players will get multiple perspectives on what’s going on and on the characters themselves. Early in the story, it’s pretty easy to write off a certain character as an asshole, but while playing as him/her you might change your mind, just like in the best movies or books.

The defining gameplay element of Until Dawn, however, is without a doubt The Butterly Effect. It’s a choice&consequence system that creates ripples in the game depending on your choices, not only in determining whether that character will die, but also in regards to the plot and to the relationships between characters.

A side effect of this system is that you won’t be able to see all the content or learn all the mysteries of Blackwood Pines in the first playthrough. The very structure of Until Dawn encourages to play the game multiple times, even if just to see if you can save a certain character who died suddenly the previous time.

In terms of raw gameplay mechanics, if you get annoyed by doing Quick Time Events, then perhaps Until Dawn isn’t the game for you as most of the control system revolves around them. However, it’s typical for this kind of interactive story driven adventures, and ultimately even if you miss a QTE there is no such thing as a Game Over screen; because of The Butterly Effect, it all just becomes part of the story thus preventing most of the frustration usually associated with QTEs.

The actors were all most convincing in their performances

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre. In fact, chances to see me in line for the next horror flick are basically none. Despite this,  Until Dawn kept me engaged and interested all the way (and a bit scared – yes, I jumped a few times) thanks to its intriguing plot. Nothing is as it seems up on this mountain, and the writers definitely did a fine job in weaving the story, which is guaranteed to grab your attention.

However, I have to give a merit share for this to the actors, who were all most convincing in their performances. Once again, after hiring the likes of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe for Beyond: Two Souls, Sony brought some renowned faces to work on Until Dawn; some examples are Peter Stormare (Fargo, Prison Break), Rami Malek (Need for Speed, Mr. Robot), Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville) and Brett Dalton (Agents of Shield).

It paid off, that’s for sure, and it’s another indication that Hollywood and the gaming industry may very well work together successfully.

In terms of graphics, Until Dawn uses Killzone: Shadow Fall’s engine. Regardless to say, it looks quite stunning at times, however its frame rate clearly dips occasionally below 30FPS;  this doesn’t affect gameplay in any significant way, though.

When it comes to the rendition of facial expressions, the game does well enough, but it doesn’t quite set a new standard. Sony’s PlayStation 4 can certainly do better in this regard, and I fully expect it will with Quantic Dream’s new game. The sound and music, on the other hand, are perfectly adequate for the horror vibe and I would be hard pressed to pinpoint how they could be improved.

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