What are you afraid of? What makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as a feeling of unease creeps up your spine? Until Dawn, the first major release from Supermassive Games, is going to exploit your deepest darkest fears in a horror romp that feels uncannily familiar, but at the same time surprisingly complex. With more clichés than a teen slasher flick, and mechanics that feel heavily inspired by Quantic’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, it won’t take long before you’re heavily invested in Until Dawn’s multi-layered plot.
The game follows standard horror flick modus operandi with a group of teenagers returning to a secluded cabin in the woods a year after a tragic turn of events saw a pair of sisters run off into the woods, never to return. As you’d imagine, things hit the proverbial fan pretty quickly. You’ve got preppy kids with their tongues down each other’s throats, the blonde survivor, the geek and well.. you get the picture. The draw is that every one of the main characters can die and you can actually finish the game with all of them surviving the night or none of them.
The butterfly effect is the concept where small decisions create large and unforeseen consequences and as you move through the story you’ll play as each of the characters and make decisions that’ll come to impact your game, sometimes quite quickly, and at other times when you least expect it. Luckily, Until Dawn does a good job of tracking your choices and by digging into the menu you can see which decisions are going to come back to haunt you. You’ll also come across totems along your travels, which reveal the future – anything from a death to an opportunity. These are the hints that’ll give you an opportunity to save a life if you think quickly enough when presented with a decision or perhaps you’ll fluff it anyway in a moment of panic.
Just like in Heavy Rain, you’re free to move around the environments which are suitably atmospheric, from a snow-covered wilderness to a sanatorium or an abandoned mine. You’ll explore these detailed areas until a set piece is activated - there the game takes control of your character and requires you to make a narrative choice or complete a quick time event by tapping button prompts. An inspired mechanic was where you have to keep the DualShock 4 controller completely still to avoid being spotted; funnily enough, holding your breath in real life actually helps with this and makes things even tenser. The game manages to straddle the line perfectly as it makes you feel like you’re in control even while you’re carrying out a quick time event - it’s worth noting though that, as a whole, the motion control scheme is pretty poor and should be avoided at all costs.
Some of the most thrilling moments happen when you’re trying to evade your impending doom; for example after making a series of what we thought were fantastic choices, and thinking escape was likely, we were quickly falling into the clutches of the killer. Tension ramps up fast in Until Dawn and you’ll often find yourself questioning whether the game is trying to double bluff you. Between each chapter you’ll meet a psychiatrist played by the excellent Peter Stromare, and as you answer his questions the game starts to learn what pushes your buttons and how you feel about the rest of the characters in the game. You’ll find yourself choosing between snakes or wolves, needles or gore, ghosts and zombies and naturally, if you say you’re afraid of knives your attacker will come at you with sharp implements.
Whilst this almost breaks the fourth wall, the choices you make are still woven nicely into the game and once again ramp up the tension. Until Dawn is an experience that makes you question whether it’s a game or not, and at best you could say it’s a piece of interactive drama with added gameplay mechanics, but that’s not to say that it’s not an incredibly immersive and fun experience by any stretch. You do question whether the title would have been better split up into episodic gameplay, as masterfully exemplified by Telltale Games’ products. Still, Until Dawn is a fantastic title from Supermassive Games with plenty of scope for replay given the amount of alternative choices available. If you've missed out on it so far, get it in time for Hallowe'en, but just remember to watch your back...