So this last weekend (8/28) I went over to my sister’s basically for the sole purpose of playing and finishing Until Dawn before I had to leave to go back home on Sunday. I also went to spend time with one of my best friends and her mom, her mom who I haven’t seen in probably 3 or 4 years. I knew in the back of my mind that we wouldn’t be able to finish the game in one day unless we really really committed to it, and I had painfully underestimated our abilities. Because we did it. We started Until Dawn at around 3PM and finished it in one non-stop go save a 20 minute dinner break at around 12:30AM on Sunday. And what a fantastic, stress filled day it was! Here’s a little backstory into why I had to have this experience with these particular people. I will get to my review of the game, but I’d like to add this little bit of detail just to add a little flavor to this week’s blog. (I say ‘this week’ as if I actually post every week.)
When I was a kid, I of course had my own friends, but what I really wanted more than anything was to hang out with my older sister and her friends. Her friends were undoubtedly cooler than my friends. My sister was one to pull the, “You can hang out with us when you’re my age.” trick that I would fall for until I was about 8 or 9 when I realized I could never technically be the same age as her. But finally when this one friend moved into the neighborhood, and she knows who she is, did I start hanging out more and more with my sister and her friends. I was basically the one that they could pick on that would just shrug it off because I was just so unbelievably happy to be allowed to hang out with them no matter the context. It was this friend that when I met for the first time I thought she was a big nerd and never ever would have guessed would become one of the smartest most amazing people I know in this world who I owe pretty much all of my knowledge of video games to because of all of her wonderful influence. She got me addicted to Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Bioshock, and pretty all of the amazing series’ that have come to make up my childhood favorites.
Not only did she introduce me to normal fun family and friends games, she also introduced me to horror as a genre of game that I could appreciate and not simply be afraid of. Resident Evil 3 on the gamecube was one of the first horror games I ever played and it was TERRIFYING to me at first. I just remember going over to her house, getting into my pajama’s at 4PM after getting back from school, staying over at her house, getting a dinner of turkey sandwhiches, pb and j’s, burritos or whatever the heck we wanted, pushing the couch as close to the tv as we could get and listening to the first words of that intro and the feeling on dread just running down my 10 year old spine. “It all began as an ordinary day in September. An ordinary day in Raccoon City.” Oh yeah. It’s just so satisfying. Not only did we often play horror games together, her and my sister have gotten me to attend Halloween Horror Nights, get addicted to horror movies, and just enjoy being scared in general.
So basically my purpose in telling you this story is to say that when I heard about Until Dawn basically being a playable horror movie, I was incredibly excited and could think of no two people who i’d love to play it with more. ANYWAY now that story time is over lets get to the game!
As usual this post will probably contain a few minor spoilers for the game but I’ll try my hardest to not spoil any of the huge or significant plot points. So BE WARNED.
Until Dawn is an interactive survival horror game released as a PS4 exclusive though it was originally supposed to have been for PS3 and PS4. It plays a lot like Heavy Rain in the way that each character you play as has the ability to make it through the game based on the choices that you make but in the same way all of the characters can die based on those decisions. Basically, the Butterfly Effect plays a huge part in the game meaning one small choice could create a huge ripple effect in the game later on. Do I shoot the squirrel, do I not shoot the squirrel? Maybe it’ll matter later so try to make the right choice. The game focuses alot of 1 vs. 1 decision making i.e run or hide?, or be aggressive vs be passive and other than that the game is mostly exploration and quick time events.
The story for Until Dawn goes like this 10 friends decide to go on a winter getaway at 3 of the friends parents resort on an beautiful mountain top lodge when something goes wrong. Whilst playing a prank on one of the friends she runs away embarrassed into the wilderness only to be followed by her sister and they both later go missing. This sets up the plot for the rest of the game. One year later the 8 friends that are left decide to go back to the mountain to celebrate the memory and lives of their two friends that were never found.
You play as characters: Sam, Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Mike, Chris, Josh, and Matt in what equals a big culmination of generic horror movie characters. Sam is the character who you route for but spends almost 2/3’s of the game in the bathtub while people around her are getting murdered and abducted. Jessica is Mike’s girlfriend and the big generic slut of the group. Ashley is the intelligent, quiet character who has a big crush on Chris. Emily is the group bitch who really only cares about herself and proving she’s better than everyone and is dating Mike. Mike is the kind hearted jock. Chris is the class clown who has a crush on Ashley. Josh is rich kid who’s parents own the house and Matt is the douchey jock who ends up being a really good guy at heart. My favorite character to play as by far was Mike because of the different scenarios that he goes through throughout the game. He just seems like character that goes through the most development and changes the most throughout the game.
The beginning of the game is really just setting up the characters backstories and the tutorial where it teaches you about clues and totems. Clues are used in the game to help the player piece together the mysteries that have to do with things going on on the mountain. For example, towards the beginning of the game you find a flyer about a man who committed arson on the mountain years back and the story of him is put together throughout the game as you piece together the clues. Totems are used as ways to predict possible futures in the game. Each totem means something different. A totem with a black butterfly on the back means a possible death later on in the game. I for one, didn’t particular understand the totems because none of the totems that we found really ever came true. We also only found about 10/40 clues and 8/30 totems. Those are rough numbers of course.
The game sets it up almost immediately so that the characters are separated. After Jessica gets into a bitch fight with Emily Josh discreetly shuns Mike and Jessica to a private cabin a few hundred yards away from the big house where the rest of them are staying. Emily apparently forgets one of her bags at the bottom of the mountain and therefore her and Mike go to find it. Finally while Sam goes to warm up in a bath, Chris, Ashley, and Josh decide to perform a seance with an old Ouija board.
One important part of gameplay I should mention is that throughout the main story the game breaks and the character is placed in what seems to a psychiatrists office and are made to pick between different things deciding what scares the player the most. You are given two choices and you have to decide what scares you the most. This is how the game tailors to how you play later on. For example: spiders vs snakes, clowns vs. scarecrows, men vs women, etc. Each choice effects how the game tailors to your fears which I, of course, find very advanced and intriguing.
Without giving away the entire game I’d like to wrap up with what I thought about this games ending. For about the first 6 or 7 hours of our loooooong binge game play I was scared every minute and truly enjoyed the gaming experience. The four of us decided to go with majority rule and pick what scared the most of us to get the most out of the experience. And it was a really great experience, until about the last 2 or 3 hours. Those of you that have played will know what I’m talking about when I say that there’s a great big twist towards the very end that just had be groaning and wishing the game could’ve just ended 3 hours ago. It is something that many bad horror movies do that simply cheapens the entire experience and Until Dawn is no exception. Adding an element of the supernatural DOES NOT add to the scariness of a game, it simply makes the game less believable, and therefore less enjoyable. I was perfectly content with how the game COULD have ended. Before that little addition of the supernatural.
But overall, as I said this game is beautiful, brilliant, scary, and definitely wonderfully made it just had a few kinks here and there that made me cringe. The dialogue was almost overall fantastic. But I’ve forgotten to mention one thing, why I made my two best friend in this entire world hate me. I brutally murdered someone. When it came down to it, there was one character, throughout the entire game that I was routing for to die, and I had the opportunity sitting right in front of me and I HAD to take it. From there on out, every choice I made was unforgivable. If I could back and change my choice…I would never do it. It was just too sweet. In the end I managed to sadly only save 2 of my characters. I hope you readers do better than me. If I learned anything coming out of this its that you really should never binge play an entire game in one day because your choices and the quality of the experience go down very quickly.
I would give Until Dawn 8.5 out of 10 butterfly totems because of it’s wonderful gameplay, beautiful graphics, relateable characters, great dialogue, fantastic jump scares and replayability, but lack of an original ending.