Howdy y’all! Hannah here… OR AM I? Mwahahahahaha!
Okay, I’m done. First of all, let me just assert that I played through the truly excellent Until Dawn in one full day the week it came out. The reason it has taken me so long to review this “game” is because it is so realistic that it gave me a couple of nightmares, and I’m no ‘fraidy cat. It is really more like a very well-paced and -plotted interactive movie than a video game. I haven’t touched it since I finished that first play-through because I don’t yet trust myself (or my subconscious for that matter) to do another. This article is going to mainly focus on the characters and game design, and I will leave as much of the plot out as I can to intrigue you.
Until Dawn’s gameplay is highly narrative, which is why I liken it more to a movie than a traditional video game where you are in control. The narrative style actually increases (in my opinion) the feeling of immersion into the story. In situations such as those that are presented you don’t control every action, and the writers and designers did an excellent job of working in enough interactivity and choice to make it interesting, while still telling the story that makes the game so unique.
The interactivity of the game is based in part on quick-time events, where you press buttons as directed to avoid obstacles and accomplish tasks in-game as quickly as possible. The speed of your reactions causes the game to react instantly and different outcomes occur, leading me into the basis of the reactive portion of the story “The Butterfly Effect”. This means everything you do in the game causes a different outcome, from responding to other characters in different tones, to tripping over a tree branch, or choosing to hide/run. The Butterfly Effect also determines at every turn who dies and who makes it till dawn based on your actions. This is what allows the story to be so multi-layered and interesting and leaves plenty of opportunity for repeated play-throughs, be it the entire game or selected chapters, another awesome feature.
Another fun element to the story are the clues and “totems” you can find scattered all through the game, and for which you must be on the alert during times when you are in control of your character and are roaming around. They give you insight to the events of the past, glimpses into the future, and a deeper understanding of the unfolding story that can make or break your outcome based on your decision-making.
The animation and story-boarding are beyond excellent, lending even more reality to the game. You can also uncover “making-of” elements during gameplay that you can watch at your leisure from the start menu such as motion-capture footage and animation, actor interviews, and score composition/sound effect creation. These videos give a really interesting insight to the creation of Until Dawn, and will make you appreciate all over again that this game finally escaped development hell because it is a masterpiece. I highly recommend watching these after your first play-through because there are some spoilers based on when you watch each clip.
The characters are in their teens, reuniting for a party at someone’s isolated luxury home in the mountains after a terrible tragedy the year before in the same location involving the same people. The game takes place all within the span of one day from sundown to sunrise and makes excellent and realistic use of that time; my play-through took about 9 hours and felt incredibly true to life. As you could probably tell, the game does an excellent job of weaving in all the horror/slasher movie tropes you know and love while maintaining a fresh and new feeling to the plot that will definitely leave you guessing. Let’s do a quick summary of each character that is completely biased because it’s my review.
Emily (Nichole Bloom)
She’s literally the worst. Even when she’s not being a complete b*tch, she just doesn’t mean anything to the plot except to make others unhappy with her demanding selfishness. I’m sad that in my play-through it took her so long to die, but I can’t really be cruel to the characters and kill them intentionally because I don’t know their “story”, right?
Matt (Jordan Fisher)
Pretty solidly a “meh” guy in my opinion. Dating Emily clearly means he doesn’t have much self-respect, but he seems to mostly act with integrity. Bland high school jock for the most part, but you can make some interesting things happen with him based on your decisions.
Josh (Rami Malek)
Josh is interesting. He has a lot of love and a lot of emotions in general. I can’t say that I blame him for any of his choices, if they even count as choices. That’s enough of that.
Mike (Brett Dalton)
Mike is the beefcake you know and love, the prom king. He is reliable and pretty much a badass, and funny to boot. Please don’t make Mike do bad things. He’s a good person.
Jessica (Meaghan Martin)
She’s the girl you want to succeed but don’t really expect her to. Too much self-doubt means she acts out in weird ways and can be frustrating during the game by holding things up. She has a nice butt and she’s cool though.
Ashley (Galadriel Stineman)
Ashley is kind of a cowardly twat pretending to be the endearing damsel in distress in my opinion. She can be petty and deceitful or semi-decent based on your actions, so do whatever you want with her. She doesn’t really matter.
Chris (Noah Fleiss)
Chris is totally bae. He’s crushing on Ashley, but it’s pretty clear that any girl playing the game can put herself in Ashley’s place and be impressed by his chivalry and all around good-guy-ness. He’s also a huge dork, which is incredibly endearing. If you let him die, I will find you and I will go all Psycho on you.
Sam (Hayden Panettierre)
Sam is the consummate good girl that can do no wrong. You actually don’t get a lot of her in the exposition of the game, which I found really strange, but she drives the story completely at the end. Make wise decisions, because Sam can either be untouchable, or completely swept from the board.
Hannah and Beth (Ella Lentini)
Josh’s sisters. You will feel sorry for them, and then freaked out by what happened to them. In trying not to spoil the plot, I’ll pretty much leave it at that.
The Doctor (Peter Stormare)
Is he talking to you or a character from the game? It’s hard to tell at first and the game does an excellent job of taking some basic metrics on your decision-making process and fears through sessions with him in the beginning to tailor the game more to you. The progression of this character is extremely intriguing as it oddly (but accurately) mirrors the tone of the game as well as the mental state of his patient.
The Stranger (Larry Fessenden)
In keeping with his name, I will not reveal too much except that he is without question a BAMF. One of the game writers actually did the voice/acting for the character and you can tell a lot of love went into his creation.
Run, run as fast as you can. If he catches you, you’ll have to make some hard decisions and fast. Things won’t end well if you choose incorrectly, both for the other characters and for your conscience.
There are scary slashers, mind games, creepy woods, things that go bump in the night, isolating snowstorms, freaky mines, spooky ghosts, and mysterious strangers all packed into a game that manages to flow smoothly and not seem overwhelming. While I wouldn’t say this is the best game I’ve ever played, I will say with absolute certainty that it is the best horror movie I’ve ever seen. In conclusion, I highly recommend you play this “game”… But be prepared to wake up gasping at night thinking you’ve been grabbed in the dark of your room, because nowhere is safe Until Dawn.
HANNAHSLAMMA WILL RESPAWN IN THREE… TWO… ONE…