Review: Until Dawn

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Review: Until Dawn

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:28 am

So, in the interest of not having to upgrade my computer that far and a new PS4 coming out (and thus rendering the older version a little less expensive) I finally broke down and got a PS4. Since I had a gift card for Best Buy, I also picked up Until Dawn, Bloodborne, FF15, and Destiny. With the Winter sales on Steam, I also picked up Doom, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and a few other games that were on sale, so I'll be all set until ME: Andromeda comes out. Reviews incoming for all, but the one I was most eager to play was Until Dawn.

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When high school friends play a prank that accidentally ends with twin sisters being killed out in the snowy Washington mountains, they're brought back together by the sisters' brother a year later, tentatively agreeing mostly through sheer guilt to come together again for their annual ski lodge party. But things quickly go awry as the characters are all stalked through the ski lodge, sanitarium, and mines beneath by mysterious figures.

So the story is wildly teen-slasher-tropey, but it embraces it fully. It plays three different horror movies all in one, and blends them together. It's a game that says "What you do will make a difference down the road" and absolutely means it. How much characters like/dislike you and the choices you make can lead to a character surviving or dying (And most the characters have multiple ways of dying). It's hard to review this game without getting too spoilery, because the game changes entirely with a huge second-half reveal, but props to Remi Malek, Peter Stormare, and Hayden Panettiere for strong performances (Malek especially). However, I will say that while it embraces these tropes, it will sometimes be surprisingly clever in retrospect in bucking some expectations.

There's something of a massive reveal halfway through the story of who the true enemy of the game is that people didn't like, but I found it alright, it's not like they weren't massively hinting toward it all through the first act. I managed to get most of the kids through to the end (goddammit, Matt) before going on a 'kill em all' run, but I found that jumpscares in the beginning tended to be cheap, that some of the deaths were pretty cheap, and the game sometimes wouldn't give you enough clues about how to avoid them.

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The twists and turns to the story were good, if predictable. I'd long already figured out the more minor of the two big reveals in the story about the moment one of the antagonists popped into the picture. The bigger of the two reveals was telegraphed enough that you could figure out something was wrong, but one totem in particular kinda spoiled the surprise for me when I saw in a brief flash something killing one of the characters (more on totems in a second). However, the game is rather clever about the first antagonist (again, it's really hard to talk about this game and not spoil it) in that it defies some of the tropes of the stereotypical slasher villain.

But on my last story-related note, props to the game for being a rare horror game that treats severe mental illness as tragic and sad instead of going the cheap route of making the subject a slobbering psychopath.

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As for the setting, the graphics were well done even if people didn't quite escape the uncanny valley in long appearances (Peter Stormare especially goes full Rogue One Tarkin at times). The settings were appropriately creepy and often so busy as to make every little wave of tree boughs or rattling tools on a wall become unnerving. The sound effects were excellent, visceral, and served to make everything more tense.

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For the mechanics, that's where I'm divided. The game sometimes makes you 'stand still' by holding the controller completely steady, which I found a very compelling idea, but it could sometimes be finnicky and fail me even when I did it right. And I know my hands weren't shaking, because I'd already warded off the shakes with a few drinks beforehand. However, there was one neat section at the very end where the game is deliberately trying to startle you into moving your hands as it tells you not to move.

Picking up clues and piecing the story together ever so slowly was fun, giving me a feeling of accomplishment. Totems are an interesting addition, showing the future in a variety of different ways by telling you what to do or what to avoid. One, however, I particularly frowned on, because it gave away a huge reveal. The shooting was tense, and often had you making tense split second decisions as to whether to shoot an enemy or something else to stop it.

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You also hop between characters over the course of the story, and I didn't realize until halfway through that there was a clear way you were supposed to play each of them. Some are cowards, some are investigators, some are brave badasses, and the game doesn't really clue you in on how you're supposed to make choices with thm.

And, of course, QTEs are in the mix in a big way. There was one particularly abhorrent section in the beginning where shit first starts to get real, and failing any one of a number of QTEs will kill off a character. While they give you some time, the QTEs are always positioned in different areas around the screen (like near the bottom of a screen if you need to jump over a log), making it occasionally difficult to see them before it's too late.

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To go spoilery:
Spoiler: show
Of the characters, my most liked were:
Josh - Surprising, maybe, but what impressed me was how they handled his schizophrenia. He does some fucked up things to his friends, but it's made quite clear that he never intended to kill or seriously injure them. In one case (Chris) he even tried to help him in his weird, very messed up way. And it was sad that there was no way to save him at the end of it all, since either of his two endings are horrible.

Sam - The real hero of this story. Wasn't in on the prank, is the action girl, and generally just proceeds to be one of the drivers of the action.

My most hated were:
Mike - Seriously, fuck off, guy. I think most of my hatred of him came from the prank, and how he was the only one of the group that didn't seem to have any remorse for what he did (he literally is just like "I'm just here to get busy"). Also, who the hell brings their new girlfriend to a party with their ex, who was once best friends with your current GF, and then acts surprised when they loathed each other? But above all, the game tries to make him out to be a hero, but he's really just an exceptionally skilled asshole.

Jess - I suppose it's her proximity to mike that irritates me, but it could also be her refusal to ever directly say "We're going to have sex" for an entire hiking trip up a mountain. Though, to be fair, she does go through some shit by the end no matter how you play her. Most people would pick Emily but I don't know, she clearly went through some shit, too, showed a lot of remorse for the prank, and had to put up with her ex bringing her old best friend to the party so he could bang her. I'd be kinda bitchy, too.


All said, I'd highly recommend anyone with a PS4 and an interest in horror try this game out. I wouldn't say it's the absolute best video game horror experience (RE1, SE2, and Amnesia are still my top picks), but it'd definitely be in a top ten, maybe even top five.
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Re: Review: Until Dawn

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Dec 27, 2016 9:32 am

Yeah, this pretty much sums up my experience, positives and flaws and all. It was easily my fourth favorite game of 2015, right behind SOMA, Life is Strange, and Undertale, so I hold it in generally high regard even for the problems I have with it.

Regarding the divisive twist:

Spoiler: show
Count me in the camp who hated it. Not because it was exceptionally poorly done -- it was a decent execution of its premise, and I'd already gone in knowing there would be some kind of monsters -- but I bought Until Dawn after being sold on the concept of "run from killer / killers in this mountain lodge", only for both supposed killers to be revealed as respectively a non-threat and a friendly ally. And while Josh is a great character and the elaborate hoax stuff was delightfully intense (if only there'd been more of it), the fact that there was never actually a serial killer and all of the real deaths come from the Wendigos just kind of bored me. Their designs didn't break any ground, they can't have personality by definition and so are less interesting than human killers, and while the deaths they provide are brutal, they lacked a lot of variety.

I would have preferred if the game just went along with the premise as it initially appears: there are two separate killers on this mountain, and also there are monsters, 'cause fuck your day, kids. There are far too few serial killer-focused horror/thriller games, and I can't think of a single one that blends both killers and monsters and plays both seriously. In that case, I'd even be fine with Josh's stuff still being a hoax, because there would still be interesting threats to replace him. Hell, if that were the case and they still wanted to streamline it the way the "I was hunting them for you" reveal does, they should have gone in the opposite direction and pulled off a Jeepers Creepers reveal where the flamethrower guy turns out to also be the occasionally-glimpsed monster.
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Re: Review: Until Dawn

Postby octoberpumpkin » Sat Jan 14, 2017 10:38 pm

Good write up! I loved Until Dawn and it convinced me to try more horror games. I love Jess though, personally. She does get annoying sometimes but she's playful and has a good sense of humour and I enjoyed seeing her talk about her insecurities and why she acts the way she does.
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