This review was written in tandem by Sandy and Matt.
While on the surface it seems like your cliche slasher movie (sorry, game), Until Dawn has a more profound and lasting message… if you’re willing to look for it.
The story starts out like any other slasher: a bunch of teens are alone in a cabin in the mountains (but seriously, what kind of parents just let their kids stay there ALONE. With no power. Either these kids are either waiting to be murdered or just like the dark). The teens pull a horrible prank on their friend who (surprise) runs off into the dark woods in an unbuttoned shirt. Smart. Her sister runs after her and they die.
One year later, the friends are back at the cabin to commemorate the memory of the twins and to support their grieving older brother. Then a bunch of weird shit starts happening and it’s literally up to you (as the player) if the teens make it UNTIL DAWN (ha...ha...ha…).
The game starts sets up a promising story full of horror and scares introducing its stereotypical teen players: an athlete, a basket case, a princess and yet none of them are the brain. The first half pulls you right into the story, into the emotions of the characters. The quick time events (QTE) gets your heart racing making you feel similar emotions to the characters.
Certain choices in the game create a sort of “Butterfly Effect” or ripple that will either help or bite you in the ass later in the game. While not every decision is dire, they should all be chosen carefully.
At first, I thought the choices here wouldn't matter. Maybe they would affect which path a character takes and who survives at the end, but I didn't think they would literally shape the story. Every decision you make, every direction you make the character go, and every line of dialogue affects who survives and makes it to the end.
It was a nice change from the Telltale games where there are decisions but they really have no impact on the overall story. Whereas the decisions in the Telltale games are more for fun, the choices in Until Dawn truly have an impact on how the game ends. Telltale games have a clear beginning and end where Until Dawn does not.
The chapters are broken up by appearances of the mysterious Dr. Hill (and by mysterious, I mean creepy as clowns chasing you with knives). Dr. Hill (played by the wonderful Peter Stormare) questions you about your fears and emotions towards the characters. The doc eventually falls into obscurity and sadly becomes a wasted supporting character.
This game is probably best enjoyed with friends, where everyone can shout what decisions should be made. It has the same effect when a group of friends are watching a horror movie except here everyone can decide who dies or not. It’s a lot of fun.
The tongue in cheek humor of the game is dumbed down by the incredible stupidity of the characters and BORING(ish) second half. The actions and situations surrounding the characters are amplified to showcase the cliche of the genre. Hayden Panettiere’s Sam runs around in just a towel, the characters go to obscure lengths just to have sex, and scary legends THAT COME TO LIFE.
About two-thirds of the way the story takes an “interesting” (read: unusual) turn. The sudden change in the story quickly kicks you out of the game. At a certain point, I just wanted the game to just finally end but it kept dragging on (True Lies anyone?).
It seems that the writers weren’t sure how to handle the final or third act of the story. All the suspense and tension built up to that point seemed to quickly unravel. Dr. Hill becomes a pointless supporting character that no longer brings the same creepiness. The “tongue-in-cheek” humor gives way to horribly cliched dialogue and an ending that seems undeserving. While the ending was explosive (read: literally), it didn’t leave a lasting impression.
The third act is redeemed by its grieving older brother, Josh. Oh poor, poor Mr. Robot. Without spoiling too much, Josh has to deal with a lot of shit, never gets to find peace within himself and basically gets shit on. He is literally the only character you cannot save. This “game theory” forced me to look at the game in a different light and like it a whole hell of a lot more. Check out the “theory” here:
The facial animation here is fantastic. The characters look like the actors that portray them and you can tell when they feel happy, sad, angry, or scared (which they feel a lot). It makes you relate to these characters more because you see what they feel. Its some of the best I’ve seen in a game.
Final Verdict: Until Dawn is a fun party game where every choice could result in death. The story is too cliched and vapid with its supernatural turn in the boring third act. A certain (side)story arc delivers a deeply profound and meaningful message. Multiple playthroughs are encouraged but not necessary. 7.5/10
(Honestly… without the lure of that platinum, I would not be replaying this game)
Check out the trailer for the "Semi" DLC. It just additional content specifically made for the new Virtual Reality system hitting the PS4 later this month: