I have to choose which of my friends will die. The lever in front of me is a tool of death, choosing who lives and who dies. The saw blade’s subtle hum begins creeping into my mind as the sweat increases. I look at Ashley, the fear in her eyes cutting me deep. Dang it, Ashley! Stop looking at me like that! Josh, my best friend, has been howling for the past few minutes. One of my friends is about to die and I have to pick who.
Games with gut-wrenching decisions have a way of drawing you and make you feel like you are crafting your very own story. Some of the most beloved games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition to The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, use this and offer a unique playthrough so that no two playthroughs are the same. But Until Dawn, by SuperMassive Games, nails this in a way that nearly every single decision matters and could make all the difference between life and death.
Until Dawn starts off, and continues, like the typical horror/slasher film: a group of studentsgo to a cabin in the woods to enjoy good times, alcohol, and pranks. Unfortunately, one of these pranks goes awry and two of the students wind up dead. Fast forward a year later and the prior group of students decide to go back to the cabin, in memory of their lost friends. Honestly though, who thought this was a good idea?
From here, Until Dawn takes you on a ride of choices that will craft how your game plays out. Using a feature that the game will remind you of constantly, the Butterfly Effect, you can track your choices and see what caused certain things to happen. It’s a neat feature that allows you to pat yourself on the back for the good decisions and hate yourself for the wrong ones.
And this is why Until Dawn sets itself apart from the Telltale games and Mass Effect: almost every single choice has a consequence. Almost every choice changes the story, and characters, in some way, shape, or form. Most choices lead to two different sets of outcomes. The thing with Mass Effect and Telltale games is that every choice is an illusion of choice; there is always one outcome. Until Dawn stands alone as a unique gaming experience. I played through the game twice, getting the Platinum trophy, and both playthroughs were completely different; one playthrough actually contained an extra chapter because of my choices.
The controls are solid, even the motion controls utilizing the Dualshock 4’s capabilities. You can use the controller to open doors, throw items, and remain perfectly still in tense moments of being hunted. It’s refreshing to see someone make proper use of the Dualshock 4’s capabilities, instead of using the touch pad as a means of opening a map.
The gameplay is basic and reminiscent of Telltale Games’ style of gameplay: walk around an area, pick up items (one I won’t spoil because they have a unique way of clueing you in on future events), and talk with other characters. That is the primary mode of gameplay in Until Dawn. You’ll be spending a lot of time watching cutscenes and making decisions that change how the story plays out. If you’re familiar with games from Telltale Games, and enjoy them, you’ll be at home here. If you’re not a fan of that style of game, you may not enjoy Until Dawn. But I couldn’t pull myself away from the tense storytelling and the hauntingly beautiful aesthetic of the game.
Which brings me to my next point: Until Dawn looks incredible! The developers motion captured each voice actor, not only putting their voice in the game but the actors themselves. This offers a sense of realism that is awe-inspiring and eerie at the same time. There are sections of the game where you meet a truly unsettling character (trust me, you’ll know him when you see him) that looks real. Everytime I encountered this character, I physically cringed and shrunk back in my seat, trying to stay away from him. Supermassive did an impeccable job bringing these characters to life.
Now, the story and the characters are stereotypical of most horror/slasher films: ditzy blonde, testosterone-filled/frisky jock, level-headed girl that talks sense, the crazy one, the nerd, and so on. The game’s story touches on the supernatural, eerie off-screen characters, jump-scares and what not. Despite these being all stereotypical, there’s something unique about how it all works together. There are moments where the story, or a character’s line, falls short, but I never had a moment where I was bored by what was happening. Certain characters got on my nerves, and I had to pull myself back from letting them die, but I truly felt like I had to save everyone.
Until Dawn is certain to become a cult classic among PS4 owners. Combining realistic visual presentation, meaningful decisions that impact gameplay, and memorable moments that are sure to hit you hard, it’s a fantastic game that I believe every PS4 owner should own, or at least play. With Halloween here soon enough, it’s the perfect game to pick up, have some friends over, and enjoy a great night.
The Reformed Gamers gives Until Dawn, for the PS4, a 5 out of 5.
For the Parents: The game is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. While I didn’t encounter any sexual themes, save for some typical horror film dialogue, it is riddled with language and violent death sequences. If your child is urging you to get this game for them, please look up a few playthroughs on YouTube to aid in your decision whether to purchase.