“Forward Unto Dawn”
Until Dawn is all about choice, consequence, and the embrace of a genre’s most absurd, established tropes. Supermassive Games’ newest project smartly uses the butterfly effect to get into the player’s head by way of the smallest, seemingly inconsequential, of scenarios. At first glance, Until Dawn encompasses all the traits of a generic slasher film, with horny teenagers, gruesome deaths, cheesy dialogue and a secluded location to demonstrate its repertoire. Though Until Dawn is more complex than its seems on the surface, for underneath the barrage of seemingly endless 80’s horror tropes is a complex and thoughtful experiment that redefines the importance of player choice. Until Dawn is vigorously confident in every move it makes, and in doing so is able to sell a captivating experience driven by the passion to create something unique. Until Dawn follows eight teenagers of varying personalities reunited on the one year anniversary of their two friends disappearances at a lodge tucked away on a snowy mountain far from civilization. It’s the classic setting for horror to ensue, and Until Dawn sets aside time to make the most of it before things begin to go awry. The perspective of the player switches back and forth between the cast of various, predetermined points of the story, which play out in chapters. Depending on how you play each character will change the way they interact with the world and characters around them. What you choose might lead your favorite of the group to immediate safety or fatal consequence later on, for each and every decision has an affect on the outcome of the game. Until Dawn isn’t afraid to change its entire narrative structure to account for player choice, and in doing so is able to instill a sense of ownership in the player over the fate of the stereotypical characters.
Multiple playthroughs will reveal just how dedicated Until Dawn is to seeing its vision come to fruition. New scenes and drastically distinctive conclusions stem from simple decisions, with each clue and conversation uncovered making a world of difference. The game keeps tabs on every decision as well, constantly reminding the player with a message that reads “butterfly status update.” Diving deeper into the menu that tracks your choices will reveal a set of sliders, detailing the protagonists’ certain character traits and relationship standings with the rest of the cast. As the game progresses and the madness ramps up, the menus will change, reflecting how certain scenarios shaped the characters. Despite the off-putting nature of the cast, a level of sympathy, intimacy, and complexity bleeds through. Putting my own unique spin on not just one, but all eight characters, kept the experience fresh and exciting, even through multiple runs.Not long after the opening credits it’s apparent the player has great influence over the unfolding events, an idea in which transcends to Until Dawn’s simple, accessible gameplay. Those familiar with the work of Quantic Dream, such as Heavy Rain, will feel right at home with Until Dawn. Navigating the frigid, snowy mountainside and creepy interiors, you’ll encounter simple environmental puzzles and the occasional collectible that smartly lends to the story. There’s not a whole lot to it, but it fits the format and style the game has set up. Quick-time-events also play a fairly large role throughout the adventure, thoughtfully incorporating them in ways that work. They’re engaging and intense, carrying with them the weight of the butterfly effect that successfully adds to the tension. How Until Dawn smartly handles the controversial gameplay mechanic resulted in some of the game’s most electrifying moments, where life and death depended upon the precise utilization of a simple prompt. All of the above could potentially derail a game any less confident than Until Dawn, and Supermassive should be commended for their bold approach.
While most of what Until Dawn brings forth excels, there are a few rigid aspects that hold the game back from its full potential. The second half of the game plays too many of its cards, prematurely and can become predictable at times. A better transition could have gone a long way in aiding along Until Dawn’s last few hours, but unfortunately the twists lack necessary character reactions. The absence of proper response from the cast in relation to some of the game’s more horrifying propositions diminishes a bit from the relatable scenarios that came before. Though the all-around strong performances, erie soundtrack and compelling visuals, matched with the captivating tone manage to elevate Until Dawn above its flaws. The campiness of its plot and cliché portrayal of its characters walk a line that has been fallen from many times before, but Until Dawn intelligently stays upright until the credits roll.Conclusion: With Until Dawn, Supermassive Games’ has embodied the product of an experiment gone right. The shear depth behind the game’s choices and branching narrative are at times staggering, with all successfully leading to a satisfying conclusion full of regret and triumph. Until Dawn is an achievement in player-driven narrative, and delivers an anxiety-inducing experience that culminates to form one of the year’s most fascinating titles; one that will be hard to forget.
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