I feel there's always been a time and a place for teen horror films in all of our lives. Growing up, they serve as a great introduction to more hardcore horror films that may traumatize most adolescents, which could lead to sleeping with a night light well into adulthood. Until Dawn certainly seems harmless enough as eight teenagers become trapped on a remote mountain getaway exactly one year after some tragic events took place there.
But what lies beneath is a real nail biter that kept me guessing at every turn. Not only did I worry if these characters would make it through the night, but whether or not my heart was going to jump out of my chest in the process of learning their fates.
The Butterfly Effect
While the reason why all of these friends have gathered together won’t change, how things play out will based on the player’s decisions. As I played through Until Dawn, I was asked to make a variety of decisions that either seemed menial or were completely life-altering.
For example, I was controlling Ashley when I spotted Emily flirting with her ex, Mike, using a tower viewer. Then, her current boyfriend, Matt, popped up and asked what I was looking at. The option I was given was to either lie to him or tell him the truth. While it may seem trivial in the large scheme of things, my action would dictate whether Matt held a grudge against Emily throughout the game, which could very well cost her life if he deemed she wasn't worthy of his help. I decided he should try to have a nice experience on the mountain resort, so I kept the engagement between the two to myself.
Some decisions aren’t as easy to make as there are some that will lead to the death of one or more characters based on what’s selected. Should a character hide or continue running as they’re being chased by someone? Does a character risk their life to save someone or fend for themselves for the sake of survival? Should a character run away or lock the door and then run away? Decisions could be decided with the simple push or pull of the controller stick, or through quick-time events (QTEs). I know QTEs can be contentious, but I'm not opposed to its use here considering Until Dawn is more about the player's actions above all else. And sometimes, that means the game needs to challenge your response time to dictate the outcome of seemingly random encounters.
As I made choices, I was changing the story bit by bit. This is something I was extremely impressed with because the changes were seamless to the action on screen, although I was notified of the change through a pop-up message. I could then view the Butterfly Effect menu to see how the story changed, which I always felt compelled to do to see how my story was shaping. I wasn’t always in the dark as to what was about to happen as totems offered a hint at what could happen in the future based on my decisions. These included visions of character deaths, possible dangers, or helpful guidance.
As I progressed through the story, I went from thinking this was a simple attempt at telling a teen horror flick within a game to being absolutely terrified about what was bumping around in the night. The amount of jump scares I experienced in Until Dawn felt endless as the eight friends spend the opening moments of the game messing with each other. I felt like these friends loved nothing more than to mess with each other in ways that would cause anyone to have a panic attack, and I wanted them all to die as a result. But then, more serious elements that actually want to cause harm to the friends appear as well as past events involving the mountain that will round out what’s actually going on.
I spent much of my time not only playing God with the lives of these eight friends, but also learning about the mountain’s past by picking up clues throughout my play session. These also helped in my decision making, although some would contradict previous clues I found. Thankfully, previous ones would become updated when a new bit information was discovered, helping to make sense of it all.
At the end of a long night, only Ashley didn't survive as her head accidentally came off of her torso. As the credits rolled, the survivors explained their experience on the mountain, giving me their own perspective in events they were involved in. Some were bitter by decisions made by their friends. Others were grateful to just be alive to tell their tale. And even though only one character didn't survive, I felt the urge to go back and manipulate the story to see how things would have carried out from a slight change here and there.
Until Dawn kept me intrigued from start to finish. I came for the campy teen horror movie feel and left extremely impressed with how well rounded and influential an experience Supermassive Games delivered. This is a game that you'll be talking to your friends and colleagues about for years to come as you'll find no two experiences are alike no matter how hard you try.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 retail copy provided by the publisher. Until Dawn will be available in retail and digital stores on August 25 for $59.99. The game is rated M.