Do you remember the first time you played Heavy Rain? Can you recall the feelings you experienced as the main characters took the stage and you thought to yourself “these people look and feel so incredibly real”? As the game came to its finale and the deep, twisted plot reached a close, players everywhere knew that Heavy Rain was a true gem —a gem that was intended to redefine console gaming as we knew it to exist. All of these feelings and more will revisit you as you enter the terrifying world of Until Dawn.
As the main menu came to the screen, I was greeted with Hayden Panettiere’s face, which was both thought provoking and breathtaking. Using the right toggle stick, I was able to move the direction of her face which simultaneously shifted her eye focus. As her broken stare became fixated on me, I saw tears glistening in her eyes and I almost instantly knew, “this game will be everything.”
The gruesome events of Until Dawn take place on Blackwood Mountain, a desolate location where eight friends have returned to honor the deaths of two dear friends who went missing exactly one year earlier. Shortly after the group of teens arrive to the chilling cabin home, strange events begin to occur, begging the question, are these characters really alone?
As the spine-chillings events on Blackwood Mountain begin to escalate and players are forced to make critical decisions, you will soon find yourself either regretting this trip into madness, or loving every minute of the ride. Utilizing jump scares, player-specific fright techniques, amazing visuals, a chilling soundtrack and fantastic narrative, Until Dawn will surely be one of the most terrifying games you will ever play.
The game plays almost identical to Heavy Rain using simple player navigation, interaction with objects in the environment, anxiety inducing quick time events and rushed decision making. There will be moments where hitting the right button or choosing to “run” or “hide” will determine whether your character lives, dies or becomes trapped in a very sticky situation, making the game ultimately more difficult overall.
Another similar trait to Heavy Rain includes the replay value. Unless you are curious as to how certain events could play out differently if certain characters weren’t killed off or if different decisions were made, Until Dawn can get away with being played once. However, if you do wish to go back and make different choices, you can. Again, this all depends on the player and where they choose to end their experience in Blackwood.
Until Dawn places heavy significance on the butterfly effect —and no, I’m not talking about the Ashton Kutcher movie. The idea of the butterfly effect phenomenon is that one small change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Whereby, choices made by one character, can ultimately effect the experience of another.
To remedy this butterfly effect, players are able to find totems scattered around Blackwood Mountain to even the odds of fate. Picking up these totems will trigger a 3-4 second cinematic which will hint towards death, danger, loss, fortune or guidance. For example, I picked up one totem as Character A which showed me a quick cinematic of Character B falling to his death. With this knowledge, I was able to avoid the death of Character B.
By far, the most incredible feature of Until Dawn is how the dev team was able to incorporate player-specific fright techniques into the game’s narrative. Although it would seem typical to ask players what scares them in a straight forward, introductory way, the selection process is far more creative and is worked into the story. Without giving away too much information, players must indicate what frightens them most in a cinematic which — you guessed it, will have an effect on what will appear in-game. For example, I decided to be honest and chose gore as my biggest fear and of course, I lived to regret it later.
On the surface, Until Dawn seemed to be a simple interactive slasher flick and I am telling you now, that assumption is wrong. As I progressed further throughout the game, I came to realize, this is nothing like I imagined it would be. What was debuted before the game’s release was the mere 10% of the iceberg, 90% still lies beneath.
In regards to my personal experience with Until Dawn, there is not a single thing that is worth critiquing. For the first time in my game reviewing career, I can say with confidence that Until Dawn is a perfect ten and deserves wide acclaim for what it has accomplished. Some may argue that there are plot holes present or that the psychologist did not live up to his creepy potential, but all contrasting opinions are inherently subjective. The full quality of the Until Dawn experience is purely observable based on the player observing it, and I speak for myself when I say that based on my play through, there was not one single problem in-game which deserved any demerit.
Moving forward, I have only two recommendations for players who have decided to take their chance with Until Dawn; do not watch gameplay streams and for god’s sake, DON’T FLIP THE SWITCH.
This review was based on a review copy of Until Dawn for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony.