The cheerleader. The jock. The nerd. The black guy. The nice guy. And the virgin. Until Dawn presents the six classic American horror archetypes in the form of an interactive horror game on the PlayStation 4. But while it’s hard to top the awesome Whedon/Goddard Cabin In The Woods’ self-referential, meta take on the genre, Until Dawn has a few tricks up its sleeve to hopefully bring something fresh to it. To find out, we went hands on at preview event – here’s what we think.
In about slightly less than half an hour of gameplay, Until Dawn proved to be intriguing enough to grab you from the start. Until Dawn tells the tale of eight friends who are trapped on a remote mountain getaway. I’ve no idea why people still do this, because (surprise, surprise) things go wrong when they realise that they’re not alone.
The premise itself isn’t earth shattering, but it’s great to watch it in action. At lot of this is due to the graphics powered by the Killzone Shadowfall engine. Where it really stands out is the mo-cap versions of Hollywood talent like Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Rami Malek (Mr Robot) and Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). A single glance at Panettiere’s or Dalton’s character will show how close the developers have got to the real thing. Yes, there’s still that bit of uncanny valley here, but we’ve come a long way in terms of realism – that, and one character actually benefits from looking creepy.
At that’s Peter Stormare, who plays Dr Hill. Stormare is in fine, creepy form playing a psychiatrist who’s questioning an unknown patient – and you get to respond as the patient. Now, this all this happens in the past but is told concurrently with – and directly affects – the main story. As a patient, you answer a series of questions on what disturbs you the most, such as snakes vs cockroaches, or scarecrows vs clowns … and rest assured this is going to matter when the scares start piling up. Yes, I’m guessing that “patient” is the killer.
But beyond that, Until Dawn is seemingly inspired by quite a few games: For example, the “psychiatrist” mechanic is reminiscent of something out of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Even the main gameplay itself would be familiar, if you’re into Telltale Games games. It does play a little like Game Of Thrones, where you switch perspectives between different characters throughout the story, and where the choices you make can be life or death (some moments play out as a “Butterfly Effect”, and the game will remind you that you have altered the story). Most of the action scenes I encountered were quick-time events, and time slows done if you need to fire off something – which makes it hard to divorce it from the feel of a Telltale Games game done by other developers. There’s also a strong Murdered: Soul Suspect vibe to it, which isn’t exactly a good thing.
Still, it’s not to say the gameplay was boring and derivative – there’s still also totems in the game that help you glimpse into the future, and as befits American-style horror, there’s going to be a lot more gore than you see on the usual Telltale Game. And being in familiar territory helped me get into the game quickly without having anybody explain much to me, so in the end what it’ll boil down to is the story told, and the quality of the scares – and it does look legit scary. And there’s a lot of the game I haven’t explored, so it’s hard to say what the rest of the game holds.
And is it really wrong if I don’t mind not saving the cheerleader? That’s an actual option here. You could say I’m not looking forward to Heroes Reborn – Until Dawn seems like the better choice.
Until Dawn releases for PlayStation 4 on Aug 25 at the price of S$69.90. PlayStation Plus members can download the game at 10 per cent off and get an extra 25 min of gameplay if they buy the game by Sep 7.