I am not sure about you, but when I was a kid, there definitely was a forbidden attraction to watching horror films. I say forbidden because in 1984 (can you work out my age yet?) I should not have been watching movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street. It originally was rated R18+ and that was a bit of a stretch for me to view. However I thought it was great, I especially liked A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The Wizard Master kid was awesome, pointless because he died a terrible death in the movie, but awesome ha ha.
There were other memorable movies such as Friday the 13th, with Jason slashing everyone to death down at the lake, and more recent ones such as Scream. The formula was always teenagers doing dumb things, going to weird cabin retreats, exploring weird places by themselves (what are you doing!), and generally just getting picked off one by one. I am not saying this is the only formula for horror movies, look at The Exorcist or Babadook for example. For the purpose of this article however, I am reminiscing on my early childhood horror flicks. Actually it does sound a little wrong putting childhood and horror movies together. Maybe that is why I am scared of the dark…
This brings me to the review of Until Dawn. I know this game has been out for a while now, but remember we here at SNR are not paid to write reviews. We do it because we love gaming and sometimes I have to buy my games on sale, a long, long, long while after release date.
Until Dawn is a straight out of the box template of the classic teenage slasher horror films. But there is a catch, a big one. The whole game is a pick a path cinematic where you point a click and watch. There really is no skill required to play this game, with the game play mechanics focusing on the story and experience rather than any skill or player progression. I tried playing this by myself first, and it did not really grab me.
What changed though was when I looked at it as a horror film and how I liked to watch them. Late at night, with a group of friends. These days I can drink the alcohol and not have to hide it from my mum. This is where the game for me has value. If you view it that way, it really is fun to watch and participate in.
The story line has you out at a remote lodge (of course) with a group of teenage friends. Something happened the year before (I won’t say what) which they should all have known was not resolved. As the game progresses there are continuous forks in the road, which are called butterfly effect moments where you have to choose on the direction of the game. Will I antagonise, or do I agree? Each choice you make changes the story line of the game.
This butterfly effect is how we participated as a group with “what should we do?” being called out. These decisions would not always be in passive moments let me tell you. Plenty of scenarios with dramatic music being played while a character is being chased. Definite life and death outcomes based on the choices you decide. After one of these moments occurs, a butterfly effect notice would come on, and we would pass the controller onto a new person. In a group scenario, it is one of the strengths of this game because you do not need to be a gamer to play. Noobs can drive their noob mobile all the way to death town in this game.
Admittedly we did as a group make some of our decisions so that specific characters would actually die. I guess that is another feature. Like any good horror film there are some characters you love and others you hate. With this game, the choice can be yours whether those annoying ones get the chop. The attached video provides a brief snap shot of the story line we went down. Each scenario can play out differently and that is why it is safe to watch. No spoilers I promise.
There are other key elements of the game too, such as finding clues on each characters back grounds and relationships with each other. In addition there are the clues on the history of this weird place you find yourself traversing in the dark. There are also Totem Poles to be found that will provide you with premonitions of possible bad things to come, and food for thought on pending decisions.
Overall I think Until Dawn could conclude with a yawn for two reasons. One, if you pick your moments and play this game with friends it really can be until dawn. On the other hand, if you don’t like horror movies, or basically a game with no skill required it will literally (I sound like Rob Lowe) be a matter of time before it gets boring and you throw it into the Atari garbage tip with E.T.
So many things look good in the dark. You are busting a move on the dance floor, and the club, rave, hoedown dance (I am trying cater for everyone here) looks the business. The place is jumping, lasers or hay bales look awesome and everything is great. You have made so many new friends and life could not be any better. But then the sun comes up and you realise you are standing in a car park (or barn) surrounded by weird looking people (or animals) and it is seriously time to go. That is pretty much Until Dawn for me, great with a group of friends, at night and until dawn. Once the sun comes up, the fantasy is over and only reality will do.