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When it comes to horror it has to be done right. When I say horror has to be done right, I am referring to horror needing to be B-Grade. Cliche Characters and Storytelling, full of cheesy lines, jump scares and ridiculously gruesome, over the top death scenes. Supermassive Games have taken their inspiration for the PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn, directly from B-Grade horror and fused that with a choose your own adventure style of gameplay. The end result? A terrifying masterpiece of survival horror that is sure to be one of the genuine hits of 2015.
When it comes to great B-Grade horror there are a few essential ingredients. Cliche story, an eclectic bunch of teens (most of whom are sex-crazed) and preferably a remote setting where escape is near impossible and death, all but guaranteed. Set in the winter, 8 teenagers venture up the isolated mountainside to Blackwood Pines on the one year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of their good friends and twins, Hannah and Beth. Of course it wouldn’t be a horror game without a serial killer and rest assured the killer is lurking, ready to help the unsuspecting teens into the afterlife in the most gruesome ways possible. With the intro’s out of the way it was obvious that Until Dawn had all the essential ingredients, including bad one liners like “let’s party like porn stars”, that being said there was a lot that could go wrong, especially when it is the player left in charge of the destiny of each and every one of the teens.
That’s right folks, many people will find it hard to believe but the fate of the teens rests entirely in your hands. Throughout Until Dawn the teens will split off into groups and you will have the chance to play as each and every one of them. The path throughout the game is linear but the linearity is perfectly implemented, ensuring that you are kept in the moment without being filled with too many distractions. When characters interact with one another you will ultimately be responsible for dictating how a character responds, this in turn will have an impact on that relationship and in most cases, cause an irreversible shift in the story-line thanks to the brilliant Butterfly Effect. At first it’s easy to think that the consequences are non-existent but time heals all wounds, well in this case it opens some wounds but the point is, with time the consequences of the Butterfly Effect will be revealed. It may be something small like whether or not Jess stays in her clothes or gets down to her underwear in the cabin, however it may be something major like an earlier decision causing a character to die. In fact it even goes deeper, finding or not finding an item, choosing or not choosing to tell your companion what you found, it all will have an impact on the game. If you still aren’t convinced then play through the game then go back and play it again (and again) and make different decisions, you’ll then discover first hand the full impact the Butterfly Effect has.
The game is broken down into ten episodes, each broken up chilling encounters with Dr Hill. Every appointment with the good Dr was disturbing in its own right and a great way to break up the action whilst maintaining an eerie atmosphere. Each of these episodes have their own idea that will focus on a different aspect of the physique and play on the emotions exposed by Dr Hill. The first couple of episodes set the stage for the game as a whole and gives the chance to get to know the characters and form opinions on them. You’ll quickly figure out who the bitchy one is (Em) and who the naive one is (Sam), etc. It is fantastic to get that time to bond with the characters but the flip side of that is that it makes the first couple of hours of gameplay a tad slow. Trust me when I say this though, that slow beginning is just a precursor for a joyride of terror that will have you on the edge of your seat all the way through. Mix that tension with the compounding effects your decisions have caused and you’ll be left cheering or dreading the impact you have had on the story. I absolutely love the way that Until Dawn let me play on my pre-conceived ideas about the characters and then interact with them in a way that plays off how I feel about them. For example much like watching a horror movie I get pissed off with the bitchy character then scream at the TV when someone tries to save the bitchy one. Here I can choose not to be as helpful and thus satisfy myself that she got what she deserved. It also means that for many, the instincts will be to protect Sam at all costs and putting her in harms way is a genuinely emotional rollercoaster ride.
When it comes to the audio visual side of things Until Dawn continues to showcase its class by delivering a wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack that compliments some of the best visual ever seen on the PS4. Character modelling and motion capture in Until Dawn is absolutely remarkable. Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek will be instantly recognisable in the game and do a fabulous job, along with the rest of the cast, at bringing these characters to life with incredible voice acting. Yes a lot of their lines are cheesy but they are meant to be cheesy and they are delivered exactly as I would’ve expected them to have been delivered in a movie. The graphical beauty doesn’t just stop at the character modelling though, the environment has also been given the brush over with a fine tooth comb. The environment has been given realistic traits, right down to footprints appearing in the snow. If there is one let down visually it comes from the odd frame rate drop, although that is clutching at straws because it is a rarity.
From the moment you first boot up Until Dawn it is clear that Supermassive Games have pulled out all the stops to make a truly memorable and unique game. The game may start off a bit slow but before you know it you’ll be drawn into Blackwood Pines and struggle to put the game down. Choice is at the very heart of Until Dawn, every decision is handed over to the player as are the consequences. With so many variables at play there is an incredible amount of replay value on offer. I continue to have an absolute blast going back and making different decisions to see how that impacts the story and seeing if I can do the near impossible and get everyone out alive (to date I have failed on that one). Until Dawn takes B-grade horror and hands the end result over to the player, the visual feast will draw you into the world and leave you gasping for air. Makes no bones about it, Until Dawn is a must play for PS4 owners. Until Dawn is a special entry in the Survival Horror Genre, at the top of the pack and in my book a title that should be in the running for a few game of the year awards.
- Classic B Grade Horror
- Butterfly Effect is Well Implemented
- High Replayability
- Amazingly Well Rendered World & Characters
- Frame Rate Drop at Times