Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
Gaming Platform: PS4
Every once in a while, a game comes across my desk (not an actual desk but... I wanna sound important) that I just can't define. Oftentimes a game falls into a very clear genre, whether it be due to a specific style of play, or an atmospheric setting, games lend themselves to categorization.
Playing "Until Dawn" is something akin to living in a strange Horror mash-up. There are elements of a Slasher mixed in with a dash of the supernatural, and topped off with a sort of Saw-esque Torture Porn.
This game runs the gamut of horror genres, offering up a rather unique experience. In all honesty, story wise this game is actually more interesting than 95% of the horror movies I have seen in the last couple of years. There is more tension in this game than I have felt in a long while. It's honestly a nightmare in playable form.
"Until Dawn" tells the story of Hannah and Beth Washington, twin sisters from an affluent family. While out with some friends in the family's cabin in the woods, a simple prank turns deadly, and none of those present manage to leave the cabin unscarred. One Year later, their brother Josh invites everyone back for another get together... but someone or something, is hellbent on teaching these kids a lesson.
I have to give the writers and actors a lot of credit for weaving a compelling piece of cinema, in an interactive format. In much the way "Beyond Two Souls" felt like a playable movie, this feels like something that would play well projected up onto the big screen. However, the true genius in this game comes from the branching story. Throughout the game you are offered up choices. Sometimes as simple as whether to turn right or left. Other times, the decisions are more complicated, like asking you to choose whether to drop your sister, or let go of the cliff. You can be put into situations that are completely unwinnable, no matter which choice you make, the outcome seems awful. You can be forced to make a decision in a split second, only to realize the second you commit, you have made the wrong choice. It's nerve-wracking, it's gut-wrenching, it's beautiful.
Everything is not sunshine and rainbows with this game, and it is not without a small number of issues, that can be rather frustrating.
I picked up the game early Tuesday morning. Began playing it as soon as I got in. By about 5 AM I had had enough for the night, and was ready to turn it off and get some sleep, fully intent on resuming play once I got up. Here, I ran into what is perhaps the most horrifically frustrating issue... I could not find a save feature. I navigated menu after menu, looking for a way to save. The search was for naught, and instead, I had to pause and place the system on standby. As of writing this, the system has been powered on (or in Standby) for 20+ hours, because there is no save function, and nothing indicating that there is an autosave...
Also, the controls themselves can be frustrating as all hell. I'm trying to walk forward, and instead the character decided to go left. I want to aim the flashlight right, and instead the flashlight is pointed up... At no point was this ever "throw my controller at the screen and scream profanities until I was blue in the face" bad, but it was still rather frustrating, and left me a little irate.
This game also makes very liberal use of one of my most hated "innovations" in gaming... the Quick Time Event. I've hated this type of gameplay since the first time I encountered it, and it is with some trepidation, that I must reluctantly admit that in this style of game, this type of control scheme is probably the best fit. Because in all honesty, this is a game in name only. It is more closely related to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book than anything else. There is very little controlling the actions of the character, and a lot more of choosing which action to take, and seeing where it takes you.
That comparison is not made as an insult. While at times you can feel removed from the game itself, it offers up a unique experience nonetheless, that is still quite satisfying, and helps to detract from the sometimes atrocious movement controls.
Best part about all of this, is you will be encouraged to make multiple playthroughs.. Fail to save a character? Try again later! Until you can get as many people as possible to survive. Sure you may know the story by then, but a change in your choices leads to a change in the dialog, which ultimately leads to a change in the story.
RECOMMENDATION: While I am reluctant to recommend you buy it at full price, I like to encourage this type of innovative storytelling. As such, I recommend it heartily for fans of the horror genre. At 60 bucks, it is a little steep for what can amount to just a day playing, but the experience is such, that it makes me teeter on the edge of calling it a "Must buy". I would definitely put it on the "Consider buying" list. At the very least, see if you can find it in your local Red Box.
PLAYER 2 SCORE: 8.5 out of 10