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Published September 10, 2015

Sony’s latest PlayStation 4 exclusive launched a short time ago. Until Dawn hasn’t received a lot of hype pre-release or press post-release, which maybe isn’t that surprising considering that PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886 released earlier this year to negative reviews and Until Dawn has less gameplay and is more of an interactive movie than The Order: 1886. Until Dawn certainly will not be for everyone, but I think horror fans and non-horror fans both can enjoy and appreciate this game if they know what to expect because Until Dawn is a satisfying and entertaining video game.

Until Dawn is like a horror movie that you get to control. Are you always yelling at the characters on screen “Don’t go there!” or “Why would you do that?” when you watch horror movies? Well, if you’re still yelling at the TV when playing Until Dawn, it’s probably your fault, because you’re going to be making the decisions and choosing how characters act. Sure, there are times when I’d be upset that a character didn’t check the ammo in a gun or when a character wouldn’t turn a flashlight off, but these things didn’t matter at all.

The main draw of Until Dawn is the butterfly effect system in the game. If you’re familiar with the Ashton Kutcher movie from back in the day, you’ll know what the butterfly effect is all about. The metaphorical example of this theory is that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane weeks later many miles away. Minute decisions in life and small actions can have large repercussions later on.

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An example of the butterfly effect system.

The butterfly theory is used to damn-near perfection in Until Dawn and was the main reason I wanted to play this game. You choose the characters’ dialogue and many actions they take. These decisions affect the characters’ traits (which I don’t think matter much), the relationships between characters (which affect the way they interact and what they think of one another) and, of course, who lives and who dies. Every time you make a major decisions that affects the course of the game you’ll see “butterfly effect update” in the top left corner of the screen and butterflies fly across the screen. By hitting R1 and cycling through the menus you can keep track of all of these decisions and see how they mold the story’s progress. While they do unlock in order, as you go through the story you’ll see that decisions made early on actually do influence events later in the game. Always be conscious of the choice you make and things you say.

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You can see how your decisions as Mike have affected his relationships with Jess and Matt.

As for the story itself, I much more enjoyed the first half than the second half. I loved forming my own theories as to who the psycho was and guessing at how each clue I picked up fed into the larger mysteries. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will say that I wish there wasn’t such an exposition dump and that the mysteries of the game remained until later. Also, when I learned what was really happening in the game and the mysteries were solved, I had many logic issues and thought of several plot holes within the game. Did this lessen my enjoyment of the game? At first, but once I got back into it and started playing I still loved the game and enjoyed it my second time through as well. The writers really did do a good job crafting this interactive horror movie experience.

Speaking of playing the game a second time, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you only play Until Dawn once. The game takes about 9 or 10 hours to complete and you’re bound to miss some clues or totems on your first go-round. Playing a second time allowed me make different decisions and see how they would play out and change the story. Sure, sometimes the story is very linear and certain plot points have to happen, but control still rests in the player.

At the end of each chapter there will be a first-person section where you will be talking to a therapist. These sessions will delve into your fears and basically just affect the jump scares and what lies about in the world. These therapy sessions may seem interesting at first but ultimately drag on too long and are rather pointless by the end.

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Interesting at first, but boring by the end.

Gameplay-wise there’s not a lot to do in Until Dawn, which may be a turn off for some potential buyers. I would most liken Until Dawn to a Telltale game like The Wolf Among Us. All you do is walk around (with a fixed camera angle) and pick up objects. Make sure to explore your ass of and spend time searching every room looking for clues and totems. Make sure to turn up the brightness so you can see better because this game gets dark AF. Pro tip: sometimes you need to walk towards the camera to reveal new areas/rooms. There are plenty of quick time events (QTEs) that, as you’ll find out, can be very stressful and sometimes have dire consequences if you fail.

The main objective Until Dawn is to finish with everybody alive. What seem like trivial decisions early on can cost you a character later in the game. Sometimes all it takes is failing a QTE or making a wrong snap decision for a character to perish. There will be parts where you have to keep the controller still. My suggestion to you — before this happens, set the controller down. You’ll be thanking me later. Having all eight characters last until dawn proves to be a lot more difficult than you might think and represents a fun and interactive challenge.

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Sam tries to elude the Psycho wearing only a towel that defies both gravity and the laws of physics.

Until Dawn is a create-your-own horror adventure and to some it may be scary, but I didn’t find myself too terrified during the game. Oftentimes developer Supermassive Games thinks jump scares equals being scary. I’m sorry, but no, jump scares are not scary, they are startling. I found that environments and enemy designs in Bloodborne induced more fear in me than anything in Until Dawn did. There were some moments, like exploring the sanitarium or the mines, that I found myself scared, fearful that I might die if I take a wrong turn, but for the most part, I was more scared that I would lose a character than by anything the game offered up. Except for the needles. I don’t fuck with needles (Hey, if Goku can have needle phobia, so can I!).

The dialogue early on in the game can be atrocious as the characters all have to make terrible sex jokes at one point or another, but it gets better as the game goes on. The music is top notch and does a great job of setting the mood. All the sound effects are well done, especially the sound of walking on snow. Overall, the cast does a very good job of voicing their characters and especially of expressing their emotions through facial expressions. The cast includes actors Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville) as Sam, Rami Malek (The Pacific, Mr. Robot) as Josh, and Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Mike. Having talented actors certainly makes the movie-like experience more enjoyable, although it’s kind of funny that actors in their 30s are playing 19-year-olds.

Ultimately, I think the best way to describe Until Dawn is as an interactive horror movie that gives the player control and lets the player decide who lives and who dies. It’s a fun experience with a good story that could have been told better, but nonetheless still enjoyable. The lack of gameplay may push some people away, but the effective use of the butterfly effect system will draw others in. Until Dawn is a fun and well-made game. If you own a PlayStation 4, at least rent the game for a weekend, even though it’s worth picking up at full price. Until Dawn isn’t going to win any Game of the Year awards or garner any more media coverage, but it is a great game that is undoubtedly a success for Sony.

 

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