Until Dawn Preview: Survival Camp
Ben Sheene / Jul 30th, 2015 No Comments
Until Dawn is one of the final bullets in the chamber of Sony’s lineup of big PlayStation-exclusive titles for 2015. A healthy dose of indie titles has supported the successful console and will continue to do so for the remainder of the year. But will the Uncharted Collection and the God of War 3 Remaster, it’s hard not to accuse Sony of resting on it’s laurels, especially with a rapidly expanding install base.
Sony may have near equal footing in the third party holiday battle with Microsoft but we all know it’s exclusives that win the war. Initially it may be hard to get around the fact that Until Dawn was once a PS3 game intended for PlayStation Move support. As moderately underwhelming as the Move was, Supermassive Games‘ early incarnation of Until Dawn excited many players as it offered a twist on the horror genre with potentially unique controls.
After it’s formal reintroduction as a PS4 title, Until Dawn maintained the foundation of a bunch of teens being put through horror movie hell. But based off early trailers and previews, one thing had changed: the game had been dipped in a bath of campy fun. Supermassive has created a pastiche of decades’ worth of horror film and television that wears said influences on its sleeves. A group of friends decide to celebrate the disappearance of Hannah and Beth, their twin sister friends, by spending the night in a log cabin that’s isolated in the middle of nowhere. Unsurprisingly, there’s a killer in a mask looking to systematically cut their young lives short.
Does it sound like Cabin in the Woods? Friday the 13th? Scream? Probably Another Scary Movie? Well it is, more or less. However, instead of falling into the trappings of a typical slasher flick and attempting to capture a serious tone, Until Dawn has a little fun in its horror approach. This became obvious in my time with the game playing as Emily and Matt. After one of their friends are murdered, the two are attempting to radio out for help by reaching a ranger station.
Given the dire nature of the situation, Emily is in a panic while Matt looks worried but is trying to come off as strong. Soon enough, Emily’s fear devolves into whiny frustration where it wouldn’t be surprising to hear her groan, “This isn’t fair!” Voice acting is the true selling point here because taking the serious route would push the situation into B-movie cheese. Instead, Emily’s turmoil is melodramatic enough to be self-aware and say that yes, this is a teen slasher flick turned game. Not to mention it provides a nice chuckle and moment of brevity during the more terrifying imagery and scenes.
One of the key components of the game is driving the narrative through player choice. A major part of this is making decisions that can determine whether characters live or die. The notion of the butterfly effect is fully embraced in Until Dawn where even the smallest choice could send ripples far into the story.
Games like The Walking Dead, Mass Effect, or Infamous quantify player choice into blues and reds, good and evil, or moral grey areas. While a certain kind of morality exists in what path a player might take, the hook of Until Dawn is how unexpected everything is, even in a short section like I played. At one point Emily is given the option to hold on to a flare gun or give it to Mike. It seems like such a simple choice but my mind raced with the possibilities. Who’s the better shot? Who would panic easier? If the two were separated, who would need it most?
One of the better interactions between the two characters was when Mike found out Emily was cheating on him. The demo opened with tension already in the air due to the whole murdering thing and this new revelation cut through the air like a hot knife. With playful, flirty banter out the window the player was armed with a new piece of information to base future choices off of.
Near the end of the demo Emily’s life was literally hanging in the balance. In control of Mike, the player is able to confront her about the cheating, hold a grudge and let her die, or try and play the hero and save her. It’s a somewhat ridiculous scene but it doesn’t undercut the suspense. Characters aren’t just believable due to professional voice acting, it’s because Supermassive plays with players’ expectations on how the drama will unfold. During the scene control shifted multiple times between Emily and Mike. But the decisions made by them weren’t exclusive for that character. Having one character withhold information from the other might prevent that knowledge being passed on and unavailable to the other character later in the scene. Players may be thinking a few steps in advance but the game is always a leap ahead.
Afraid of the Dark
Comparisons to Sony exclusives Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls will likely not diminish even after Until Dawn sees the light of day. Fans of David Cage’s work will definitely appreciate the high quality of realism and performance from the actors. Cage detractors are bound to take refuge in the terrifying scenarios and often tongue-in-cheek delivery. Unless the sections shown off so far are vastly different from the rest of the game, players should expect the game to play like other similar “interactive movies.”
The ghost of Until Dawn’s life as a former Move title still linger through the gameplay. Players use the DualShock 4’s motion capabilities to direct the beam of a flashlight, turn doorknobs, open gates, and make dialogue selections, cleverly indicated by the character turning their head to the highlighted choice. I also never experienced heavy quick time events requiring furious button mashing.
Supermassive seems set on the type of game they are making from the tone, inspiration, narrative, and gameplay. Teen slasher is a genre that floods cinemas but is virtually nonexistent in gaming. I’m curious to see how the developer handles a constantly dwindling cast of characters and if there will be obvious incentive to play through multiple times for different results. It should come as a relief that the game will be a deadly affair, but also play it with a bit of camp. Sandwiched between the dry summer months and the deluge of holiday releases, Until Dawn is in a good position to attract the attention of those thirsting for the next unique Sony exclusive.
tags: preview , ps4 , Supermassive Games , until dawn , Until Dawn Preview