Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: August 25, 2015 (PS4)
While the horror genre has had its fair share of the “Cabin in the Woods” layout, the interactivity of Until Dawn adds a few new twists in a familiar surrounding. While I’m one to lean away from the jump scares and a sense of terror in games, the agency that is presented, along with the potential consequence of no character being exempt from certain doom made cause for concern in every choice I ended up making. Upon finishing the story in which I was only able to keep two of a potential eight characters alive, I found myself trying to backtrack and find the errors in my ways that kept me hooked for a number of days to follow.
The events leading to the present day of Until Dawn set the stage, as your group has had a year to reminisce the loss of two of their friends during an annual get together just one year prior. Of course, a year for high school students can have numerous changes occur. Upon their reunion in the snowy mountains of Calgary, relationships have changed, and then friends now hold grudges against each other, and vice versa. The contrast in personalities between all eight members of your group aren’t ones that you as the player can “stay on the fence” for, and ultimately led me to make choices that would benefit one particular person for the sake of the other’s well being. Each of these choices made have a direct impact of the game’s butterfly effect, and knowing this would made each of my decisions tough, as my personal aspirations led me to try and save as many people as possible.
While the cast’s contrasting personalities are typical to a high school themed horror flick, the dialog at times feels forced and cheesy at times for the sack of creating opposing points of view. This approach to the narrative makes sense, yes, but more often than not this killed the suspense for me and ruined the immersion factor of making the story my own. On top of all of that, the chance to take control of such a large number of characters throughout the game meant that there was a lack of any real character development. Sure, characters such as Josh (Rami Malek) and Sam (Haiden Panettiere) are two of the more heavily markets members, but in respect it made me feel as though the remaining three quarters of the gang were undermined.
The key feature of the game is its narrative focused butterfly effect, which is separated into multiple arcs that will focus on a set combination of characters. In the beginning, the choices you make early help set the tone and create of sense of discomfort tailored to each player. As an example from early on, I made it clear that between snakes and spiders that the latter was more terrifying to me. The result: having a couple a run ins during the play through that featured multiple eight legged friends to my disliking. Back to story, every arc tends to revolve around on a couple characters at most and depending on your actions, some story arcs are neglected entirely.
While it’s a small feature I noticed in the grand scheme of things, knowing that you will not encounter every possible conflict in one play through excited me to go back and want to check out the missing narrative pieces to the lore’s puzzle. Also the decisions I made extended far beyond that relationships between characters, and a few pathways helped me acquire and retain important items, weapons, or allies that aided my adventure. Quick time events and finding collectibles can also effect the outcome of certain characters, as the more discoveries you make, the more likely a better end result will be for the cast as a whole.
Until Dawn’s plot may be generic and recycled, but the idea of having the viewer decide how to lay out the story and the choices of characters give it an agency that was tough for me to ignore. As a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome in terms of total playtime, which ran about six to seven hours for me, and found myself going back to replay chapters for a few days in order to achieve my desired outcomes. It’s a perfect example of being handed a plethora of ingredients that you get write out the reciepe for to create your own unique meal.