Until Dawn is a survival horror game detailing the winter trip of eight friends. You know the story; they go to a cabin deep in the woods, on a mountain, which also happens to be where two people mysteriously went missing on the exact date a year beforehand. Sounds like every trip you’ve had to the cinema when you wanted that boy/girl you liked to squeeze your hand when you were about 15, right? Well, with Until Dawn, you don’t just watch it, you live it; everything that happens during the game is a direct result of the actions that you have taken during the course of the game. The main focus of the game is the choices you make, and how with every one, a ripple effect can be sent throughout the rest of the story.
Each character of the cast of eight friends, headed by actress Hayden Panettiere, have different personality traits that you can choose to follow throughout the game too. Panettiere’s character, Sam, is honest, brave and charitable, whereas another character like Jess, played by Meaghan Martin, is more honest, funny and romantic, but is definitely not charitable. You don’t have to follow the character traits and you can play the game how you feel best, so each character’s personality is in your hands.
As a survival horror game about eight individuals would suggest, they are all trying to last out the brutal nightmare that has been bestowed upon them. However, depending on how you conduct each character in the game, everybody can live, and everybody can die. This can be seen by picking up Totems throughout your game, which detail how you might die, therefore giving you a slightly better chance of avoiding a grisly ending.
Your actions are paramount. If you have behaved in a less than nice way to one of your friends, they could pay you back by treating you exactly the same way, in an albeit costlier situation. During the course of your playthrough, a man named Doctor Hill, played by former Prison Break actor Peter Stormare, will talk about your own personal fears, cutting away from the main story of the game to let your emotions settle (or is he?). Depending on what Doctor Hill has heard, those same fears can be seen throughout the game, prompting an emotional reaction from the player.
Graphically, the game succeeds at everything. Each character is portrayed in an attractive light; after all, they are all there to party, get drunk and have sex. It’s very much a typical teen horror film, and Until Dawn encapsulates every part of that – to the point where Hayden Panettiere’s character spends about half of the game in a towel, because why wouldn’t you take a bath with headphones in when everybody else in the house is potentially getting murdered and screaming for their lives?
Set entirely at night (hence the title), the mountain is incredibly eerie and somewhere nobody would want to be on their own, yet alas, most of the characters do find themselves alone on the mountain at one point or another. The setting really sets the mood for the game, and be warned, playing in the dark can lead to a few restless hours as the combination of the main story and mind games from Doctor Hill really doesn’t leave you.
The problem with Until Dawn is that while the story starts off very well, antagonising the player right from the get go, it drifts off, and like many horror films, tries to cover too many paths. The story gets way too convoluted, and having to follow numerous timelines makes this even more difficult as you end up getting split eight ways. Even Doctor Hill ends up playing a very circumstantial role by the end of the game, when at the beginning he played a big part in the reason why this game could be so frightening.
That being said, it’s hard to make anything in the horror genre that people will take seriously. Even in film, when looking for the best horror films you will not find anything made recently; according to Rotten Tomatoes, the most recent of the top ten horror films of all time was Alien. Alien was made way back in 1979, almost 40 years ago now. Yet, when looking at the best games of 2015, Until Dawn is always in the conversation. In the same year that had Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4 and more, Until Dawn being mentioned is quite the achievement – not only for the game, but for the genre altogether.
There are plot holes, and with any game, it’s rare that you would find it to be absolutely perfect. What Until Dawn does so beautifully is take you in and out of being in control; one small mistake and that’s you dead, and because of the seven other players featured in the game, there’s no going back with a continue option. Every time you feel confident about what action you’re taking, the game pulls you back and makes you think about that for a second.
This is a game that is beautifully crafted, tells a story that at times will terrify you, and can potentially make you do horrific things that make you question what you would do in that situation were the game real life.