QCF: Until Dawn

t isn’t until the unfortunate passing of Wes Craven that it dawned on me the appreciation for the classic stylings and tropes of yesterday’s fright-fests and the terror-induced nightmares they dished out after spending a couple of hours of watching a bunch a hapless teenagers getting hacked to bits.

At some point, we’ve all exploded out of our seats in excitement back at the screen, so that we could root for the characters we wanted to live to live through the danger they were in, and in some of those instances, we lament over the poor choices that lead to their demise.

This sort of engagement often dissipated the empathy that was intended to connect with the viewer, and would instead lead to them boasting that the scenario would’ve played out much differently were they placed in that lethal predicament in lieu of the lovable idiot that bit the dust.

Well, while no one would ever really want to be wrapped up in that sort of hell, Supermassive Games gives us the next best thing with the exclusive title to hit the PlayStation 4.

Until Dawn proves that something as silly as keeping eight teenagers alive for a whole night can be one of the most intense commitments that you can ever hope to engage out of a video game yet.

When it comes down to it, choice-driven adventures are still limited to be illusory decision-trees that only differentiate the experience to the degree that a player is willing to project out of it.

This all boils down to one comfort that is unceremoniously ripped away from you in Until Dawn; being able to direct the outcome you desire from the background with methods like hot saving, and resets—everything you do is permanent, unless you dare to start it all over again from the very beginning.

It’s an ingenious little element like this sets it wildly apart from any other contemporaries that’re currently out there—removing that comfort of being able to manipulate the outcome to whatever it is that the player wants, removing the impedance of control within a title that is meant to thrive out the helplessness it’s meant to impose on you.

In addition to the pressure of committing to decisions you can’t back out of, each and every choice that you do accounts for the pace and direction the fight-filled night takes for the intrepid cast of endangered adolescents in system that’s designed around the ideology of the Butterfly effect.

Needless to say, something as insignificant as not holding the door open for one of your friends can gradually set a chain of events that lead into some serious shit going down a few hours later, and a super dead teenager as a result of it. It’s all thanks in part to the execution behind the entire thing, the system at work is intentionally convoluted, and vague enough to create an entirely real, organic challenge of judgement that isn’t easily exploitable by some dumb cliché or transparent flaw from a paper-thin plot device—it’s carried out rather well.

The crux of the title’s core-gameplay is done through contextual interactions and subsequent quick-time events between narrative decisions; and a few choice-tree challenges thrown in these segments as well for good measure (like turning left or right at a fork in the road, and so on.) Successful inputs during this high-stress moments will often reward your reflexes with the best outcome and lead to the prevention of a super dead teenager; these moments aren’t as fulfilling as they’re more Dragon’s Lair than survival, but the choices that drive them before and afterwards keep these instances compelling enough to stay engaged to the terrible night.

Searching for collectibles is by no means a new mechanic, but Until Dawn does do something creative with the dynamic in respect to the Butterfly Effect system.

Littered through the course of the mountain property are these small totems that can be picked up, playing a cryptic, but fairly helpful preview of what may come from certain line of choices, representing a number of different events like fortune, guidance, danger, death, and more. These visions will clue in on what to choose when the situation presents itself.

The other collectibles are unique in the fact that they not only elucidate the mysteries surrounding the death and despair that’s plaguing the group, but the group contextual responds to the uncovered details learned, and use these details to allow for new choices where the characters will lean towards making these informed decisions.

This attention to detail creates a much more organic venture to play.

While not to say that Until Dawn is devoid of clichés, all of the conventions and references that are used are done as an homage to the genre it pays tribute to. Dare I say, the outcome hinges on the ironic “it’s so bad it’s good” delivery in a way that could almost considered graceful by the time you reach the climax.

Without revealing specifics to the references found within the PS4 exclusive, you’ll be able to catch shades of cult horror films like Friday The 13th, Saw, The Thing and more. The setup of the presentation to narrative is fact admirable when you think about it; it drives a plot that’s able to incorporate all of the different theme and tones of the films being tribute without making a concession to the direction and development of its own plot.

If there’s one major slight to make note of in this intriguing scare fest of a game, it’s how mercilessly short the whole experience is.

Because the entirety of the campaign takes place within the span of one night, the pace of the story moves at a breakneck pace, leaving little to no room for players to fully breathe in and absorb what had just taken place.

Narratively, the length of the Until Dawn’s night of terror doesn’t force any sort of concession to the quality of the plot’s writing; but there are moments that feel slightly rushed near the finale of the campaign, leaving little to no room for error in what you do in the process.

While the adrenaline and enjoyment of Until Dawn is a bit short-lived, it’s an experience that will reshape what you think choice-driven narrative games are capable of, especially in a scenario that exploits the vulnerabilities of characters that you can’t help but become attached to as you strive to keep them alive.

Until Dawn is definitely a must-play for all PlayStation 4 owners, just don’t expect to get a whole lot of mileage out of it after the finishing it the first time around.

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