Overview - Until Dawn Review
+ Nails the teen slasher horror film genre, for what it's worth
+ Excellent use of choice and impact engine
- Not a very compelling story because of the "source" material
- Some wooden voice acting is distracting
Until Dawn INFORMATION
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
Developer/Publisher: Supermassive Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
In the modern sense, Until Dawn is much less a traditional game by design than its contemporaries. Despite this, Until Dawn finds more gameplay mechanic variety to combine with its stellar cinematic influence than most other experiences, especially in the adventure genre it occupies.
The teen horror movie vibe is apparent throughout and Until Dawn has fun with it but both the content and the gameplay may not be for everyone.
Story - The Until Dawn Review
Until Dawn's story is standard stuff and draws heavily from the teen slasher horror movie sub-genre. There is a main protagonist and antagonist, but really each character has their own story and it's up to the player how much of it is told by making certain choices. There are many different endings, and several scenes that will change based on player choices.
Regardless of many of these choices the main plot remains the same in terms of the who, what, where, when and why. In this sense, the story isn't great. Any fan of horror films involving teenagers knows what to expect, and even on the film end of the genre the plot is never great. Can you name a terrifc teen slasher flick with a wonderfully told story? Nope. That sets the expectation for Until Dawn and it's impossible to be disappointed by the story. What Until Dawn excels at is capturing the film genre it mimics so well. Until Dawn doesn't turn its nose up at the genre's qualities but expertly exudes them. Taking itself seriously is what makes it so fun, and that's the whole point of the storytelling, setting up fun in a familiar and cinematic way.
The best parts of Until Dawn come in the choices that shape the characters. Choosing who lives and dies affects other characters, some you'll care for and some you won't. So while the story, and twists and turns are mostly unaffected on the whole, the specific character interactions help them to be more meaningful and fleshed out. In that regard it's hard to review the story when the intracacies can change the experiences.
Technical - Until Dawn Review
Not only featuring the voices of "well-known" television and film actors, Until Dawn uses them for motion-capture in addition to their likenesses. Having recognizible faces can sometimes be jarring compared to seeing the actors live. Fortunately Until Dawn doesn't strive for photo-realism so that style still makes clear you are playing a video game. However, some of the facial animations, specifically during speech are a little wonky.
While the characters look nice, it's the setting that is the standout. Because the game is essentially linear, the developer, Supermassive Games, was able to craft minute detail. The snowy paths through dark forests as the characters traverse the dark display subtle foot steps, old, derelict industrial buldings creak and leak as vines scale the wall and pipes rust, mines and caves are dark with jagged walls and the main cabin is well furnished but dark and backcountry worthy.
Despite the "all-star" cast, the voice acting is less than stellar. The characters of Mike, Dr. Hill and Samantha, voiced by Brett Dalton, Peter Stomare and Hayden Panettiere, respectively, all perform well, but surprisingly, Mr. Robot's Rami Malek's performance is really flat, and his somewhat slurred speech style doesn't lend itself well to a motion captured facial rendering. It's not necessarily distracting but it is poor.
Music - Until Dawn Review
The music is moody, fitting the setting well. Overall it is very subdued, and most of the time it is hardly noticeable in it of itself. Honestly the most effective use of music is when it's not playing, walking through a quiet house or industrial bulding, hearing only a smattering of sound. The music only kicks in to ratchet up the tension during a chase or encounter. All these musical signals are common among the horror film genre, and again, Until Dark emulates thay so well.
Gameplay - Until Dawn Review
In Until Dawn, you control almost every character at some point throughout the game. But unlike traditional games, life or death depends on the decisions you make rather than the actions you take. Almost every decision you make, when faced with several choices results in the game mechanic, coined "Butterfly Effect." The Butterfly Effect is a ripple of your choice that changes things immediately or down the line. This mostly includes character relationships, and their willingness to help or hinder another character's next critical moment.
Even with the Butterfly Effect decision making taking on such a big role, the moment to moment gameplay involves exploration and quick-time-events. Until Dawn does nothing new in this department, but those three primary gameplay mechanics of choice, exploration and quick-time-events (QTE) are varied enough that they do not become stale. The QTE difficulty is also part of the choices you will make. Depending on the choice of risk or safety, the QTE will be easier or harder to perform. It's a slight choice within a choice and the advantages of one over the other depends on your aptitude for QTEs.
The Butterfly Effect system essentially gauges the choices between right and wrong decisions. Even with "negative or wrong" decisions it is possible for all of the eight characters to live or in turn have them all die. This allows for different scenarios; when a character dies, redeems themselves, eventually lives and who the catalyst is for each of those scenarios. This leads to several different endings for each character. What makes this engaging is that as a player, it's natural to have a predisposed feeling towards some of the characters, whether it's like or dislike, that will influence your decisions. But Until Dawn is also a video game, and it's also in your nature to want to beat it by keeping as many characters as you can alive. This trade-off is a hallmark of Until Dawn's gameplay.
Because of the many choices made throughout Until Dawn, in plenty of cases your decisions may not have the desired effect. Once that happens, an obvious way to combat that would be reload your last save. Unfortunately, Until Dawn counters this tactic by preventing players from this reloading strategy. There is no easy way to change your decision without restarting the game. It's in this sense that playing the game has so much variation. It would be extremely difficult for multiple playthroughs to end the same way, not to mention the subtle changes throughout the game that have smaller, less finite results.
A piece of advice in enjoying Until Dawn is to not play this like a game, but play it how you'd live it one time, the opposite the next time and finally just try to either kill everyone or keep them all alive. There is no "losing" the game, as well as there is no winning it. It's an interactive movie and your skill with games isn't a prerequisite for enjoyment.
Until Dawn Review Roundup
The adventure game genre, especially the Telltale style games have become saturated and formulaic. Until Dawn still includes some of these traits, but also gives the player more control in not just the choices they make, but in their ability to control the action. It's not a true action adventure, but it's close. While the story isn't fantastic, the horror movie genre tropes are represented spectacularly, bringing as cinematic experience as ever yo a playable format.