Who Lives? Who Dies? You Decide!

The night is cold, breath wisping in the night air like smoke from a chimney on a chilly winter's evening. Snow crunching underfoot as I walk through the gloomy darkness, heading to a destination that will likely kill me. Suddenly the wind carries an otherworldly howl along for the ride - definitely not human - as a shiver runs down my spine my heart begins to race, this is Until Dawn.

Set in a remote cabin within the sparse Canadian wilderness, Until Dawn begins with tragedy - one in which you will partake. As teenage friends gather for a night of partying and debauchery, a silly prank is about to go horribly wrong. The butt of this joke being Hannah (Ella Lentini), a young girl who proceeds to run from the cabin into the wilderness from embarrassment, hastily followed by her twin sister Beth (also played by Ella Lentini) in an effort to comfort her. The decision will prove to be fatal, as alone the pair become stalked by an unknown figure in the woods, panicked and fearing for their lives they are slowly pushed towards a cliff edge and towards a very grisly death played out in all of its glory in front of your eyes.

Now a year on from the tragedy, after a large scale police investigation and their bodies still missing somewhere in the mountains, those same friends gather once again. Invited by the twins brother Josh (Rami Malek) who wishes to use the anniversary to put the whole incident behind them. Only things aren’t that simple, as once all the friends gather at the remote lodge things start to go awry - and a night they’ll never forget is about to unfold, if they manage to live through it of course.

Until Dawn is just as much a movie as it is a video game - and a fantastic one at that - as evidenced by the Hollywood horror buff’s - Graham Reznick and Larry Fessenden - who penned the game's script. With plenty of twist’s and turns to keep you guessing and blatant homages at every turn to some of the best horror classics such as The Shining, Halloween and modern offerings like The Descent all sprinkled with witty dialog between the 8 controllable characters, that is sure to make you laugh. The aforementioned 8 characters, all representing the classic horror tropes we have come to expect; be it the bitch, jock, nerd, girl next door etc - creating a game that bleeds horror from its every pour - a true love letter to the genre.

To elaborate on the story would spoil the fun that is best played with as little information as possible and in a darkened room with headphones on - but if Until Dawn was just indeed a movie, it would be sure to attain cult status.

But Until Dawn is more than that, it's also a game. One you may even be very familiar with if you have played titles such as Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead or even the recent Life Is Strange - playing out in a choose your own adventure type fashion. Except your choices made through the use of the PlayStation 4’s right analog stick - or the controller’s built-in gyroscope if enabled in options - and the various QTE’s (Quick Time Events) you come across can have a real impact upon the story, in essence you get to choose who lives and who dies in your story.

What enhances this are the character performance’s that have been meticulously motion captured directly from their actor counterparts, so good looking in fact that it makes the non-motion captured animations within Until Dawn look mediocre and sometimes silly in comparison. Thankfully the acting performances exceed expectations, showcasing some well known names such as Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Rami Malek (Mr Robot) and Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) among many others - Until Dawn hit the nail on the head by employing real actors for the roles, rather than relying on generic 3D character models.

What imbues the atmospheric stylings of Until Dawn unto the player is through the use of smart cinematography, the likes of which we have never seen in a video game to this point. Because Until Dawn employs static camera angles - that were made famous in titles like the original Resident Evil - it’s able to play all sorts of visual tricks upon the player, from voyeur viewpoints behind scenery, slow pans toward and away from the player character to lens focus effects that just push that visual aspect over the edge - creating a game that is always holding your attention.

Even when you take your hands away from the controller - leaving the game running - the camera will cut to a close-up of the current character you are controlling, highlighting what a beautiful job they did on the actors 3D models. Said control is via a 3rd person perspective, employing tank-like controls - but thankfully done quite well - that harken back to the days of classic video game horror, the only nitpick would be that it’s a little fiddly to create small movements with your character. The right analog stick in exploration mode meanwhile, controls your characters flashlight direction (if holding one) - you can once again even enable the use of the DualShock 4 gyroscope if you prefer that - thankfully this all feels very natural.

Whilst exploring the detailed environments from the lodge itself, snowy mountaintops to underground mines you’ll be tasked with an assortment of clues to find in the form of letters, photographs and their ilk. Unlike most games, the collectables within Until Dawn aren’t just an unnecessary byproduct, but integral to the story and the understanding you and the characters themselves will have of the situation they are in. There are 3 main mysteries (labelled The Twins, Mystery Man and 1952) to uncover during your dreaded journey through the game, the more clues you find relating to these mysteries results in your characters conversing about them between each other that can even enable you to save a character if they are informed well enough.

What you will also come across - to help in your perilous journey - are small totems. These Native-American inspired creations will be hidden among the environment and come in 5 varieties; Death, Fortune, Danger, Loss and Guidance giving you a brief glimpse into a potential future. Collecting them all will not only help you navigate the branching paths Until Dawn throws at you, but will unlock a special video explaining in more depth some of the mystery that Until Dawn still holds.

The reason why most enjoy horror in general though, is to be scared - and you’ll feel plenty scared in Until Dawn. Whilst the atmosphere the game creates is understandably creepy, it’s the jump scares that will have your pulse racing. Each jump scare has been meticulously crafted and tested with ‘willing’ participants hooked up to heart monitor bracelets to collect data. As the Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games themselves appoint “people may lie, the data does not”. If you’re lucky enough to also own a PlayStation Camera too, then you’ll be able to capture those embarrassing moments in all their glory, as Until Dawn automatically records your reaction to the various jump scares it offers. Adding upon this is a feature within the game that requires you to remain extremely still - don’t even try to breathe - putting you in situations where moving the DualShock 4 controller even slightly could mean certain death.

One of the best aspects in Until Dawn is the sort-of mind games it plays with you, giving you choices that seem right out of your stereotypical slasher movie; do you go investigate that noise in the woods? Or stick with the group? Whilst one may seem the right choice in the moment, it could lead to consequences further down the line that could prove fatal to one of the cast. You may experience entirely new scenarios and dialog if you make certain decisions and it’s these types of moments where Until Dawn is the most fun - making it one of the reason’s you will likely be replaying it after completion.

The most baffling aspect about Until Dawn though is not within the game itself, but outside of it. Supermassive Games, a UK development team based in Surrey have seemingly struck gold from out of nowhere; a team who prior to this you likely have never heard of, with titles like Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock and the ill-fated Wonderbook gimmick Walking With Dinosaurs under their belt - not exactly a standout resume by any means.

Well that all changes now, as Supermassive Games firmly put themselves on the map with a standout title thus far on this new generation of consoles and a game that is currently the lone king within the interactive horror genre - and one that others developers should definitely take note of from both the creative and technical side.

Until Dawn is a must buy for horror fans or gamers looking for something a little different to play on their PlayStation 4, with its twists, turns and fantastic writing - Until Dawn is a game that you’ll have plenty of fun with and hopefully paints a bright future for developer Supermassive Games.

Review copy provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    19th September 2015

  • 5 Out of 5 Stars
  • Tank controls a little fiddly

    Some animations not even

  • Smart writing

    Beautiful camera effects

    Atmosphere

    Character performances

Game Info

Supermassive Games - Until Dawn - PlayStation 4 Until Dawn
Rating: 18
Release Date: 28th August
Platform/s: PlayStation 4
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

  • Heavy Rain
  • Beyond Two Souls
  • The Walking Dead

No, the game contains lots of gore, jump scares and other material not suitable for children.

Originally announced as a PlayStation 3 game at Gamescom in 2012 - with a full trailer. It was moved over to the PlayStation 4 soon after.

A packaging error occured on certain copies of the European box art, indicating the game supports PlayStation Move. Which had been the games original intention in 2012.