As far as love letters to a genre go, Until Dawn will take second place from no one. This is the Ricky Bobby of love letters to horror.
What’s impressive isn’t so much the amount of tropes and angles crammed into this moderately-sized game, but that no matter which path you take, it all seems coherent. This isn’t a Telltale Lego-job of forcing dialogue sections together, but a finely-woven quilt. Of horror.
Until Dawn actually feels more like a Quantic Dream title more so than anything else for good and bad reasons. To the good first, the graphics and actors seem stunningly real. The motion capture feels genuinely crafted around the script with the acting troupe not having any distracting celebrity faces (except for that one guy that become popular afterwards) to take you from the action. You swallow fully that these are high schoolers with insensitivity and hormones pumping through their veins.
The commonalities you’ll find in this choice-driven experience basically serve as tent poles throughout to wrangle you through certain gates. To that extent, this isn’t as varied a journey as some might like. In fact, given how it only hits on the major tropes, you may very well not find anything in this game scary…like me. I’m a tough nut when it comes to horror, so take this review from someone that was generally motionless during the jumpy sections.
Anyways, teens and sex and teen talk and drinking and teens all happen. The group is sequestered on a snowy peak in honor of their “missing” friends (as you do). The setup is a bit heavy for how dumb it ultimately becomes, but the characters help carry everything along in intentionally cliched fashion. Everyone has sexual tension. Everyone. Everyone splits up and screams and doesn’t take their common sense pills. Every. One. For all the annoyances, it’s charming to know that, for Supermassive Games, everything is going according to plan and what they’ve shown, if nothing else, is how to follow a plan very well.
And so, Until Dawn becomes a horror thrill ride where you can choose some forks. These are presented as choices where your character, fully emoting, is forced to stare into your eyes across dimensions until you choose to cuss out some b*tch or put another blanket on your girlfriend. The absurdity can be very difficult to take seriously sometimes, so I rarely did. None of these dialogue choices really grabbed me, nor did the constant metering of who hates who in the menu. I just never cared.
What is somewhat more interesting is when these choices have to be made on the fly while running from (insert scary thing here). Therein lies the Quantic Dreams comparison with button icons plastered all about the screen with circular countdowns pressuring you forward. When everything is framed correctly and visibly, these work like a charm. That is, of course, not always the case, which can end your fragile characters for the rest of the adventure.
I do approve of this aspect coming over from something like Heavy Rain: the game moving forward with or without certain characters. Death is something that many, many games have been softening on for far too long, and I will always believe in other creative approaches such as disregarding the concept of “Game Over”.
The inconsistency principle hits Until Dawn hard by design. If you’re huge into horror and like action-adventure-lites, this can be a Halloween gaming staple in no time. For me, the lackluster interactions and lack of any real horror just don’t grab me as much as others. With all the present effort, it’s tough for me to sink this as low as a Goosebumps novel, but I think R.L. Stein is eating popcorn somewhere in the same ballpark as Until Dawn.
Until Dawn Score: