Even though Until Dawn dropped us into the ski boots of perpetually horny, relentlessly hunted teens, I identified much more with their pursuer(s). I violently fluctuated between doing my utmost to get these douchebags butchered like hogs, but then I’d also move Heaven and Earth to keep them alive for sexy times. In terms of bat-shit, schizophrenic behaviour, I basically outdid the worst on-screen psychos in this glorious shitshow.
Oddly, after posting my first playthrough on YouTube, nobody now wants to go on a Thredbo trip with me. Because that’s pretty much the setup here: a winter weekend getaway with eight friends (though the term ‘frenemies’ seems just as applicable). In classic slasher fashion, these vacuous fools think that revisiting a secluded mountain homestead – exactly one year after two of their buds went missing there – is, like, a totes good idea. Obvs.
Yes, your urge to kill your avatars will rise quickly in the first act as you’re made to switch between them and select decisions that will either strengthen or jeopardise their personal relationships. Some practical tips I can give you here: people generally don't like it when you try to read their phone texts, deliberately miss a quick-time event to snatch them back from a cliff edge, or if you point your gun at them in a Russian roulette scenario. Some people, man. So fucking precious.
How all these American Pie rejects feel about one another is measured through trackable stats on your pause menu, too, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get drawn into the he-said-she-said bullshit of it all. Mostly because it greatly affects who lives, who cries, who bangs (no, it never gets that good), and how many of you are getting out of this six-hour adventure.
Don’t let that duration put you off. Until Dawn has multiple endings. Dozens of them. Well, apparently, though I clearly didn’t have time to check that fact. Personally, I went through twice and then compared notes with a colleague. He did his damnedest to save his gaggle of cretins, and managed to rescue every single one using nothing but common sense earned from years of watching horror B-movies, and some well-honed hand-eye co-ordination. I also didn't fail a single QTE moment, but I did go through deliberately making what I like to call “douchisions”. If the choice was insanely unsafe, or outright dickish: yeah, I did it.
I'm very ashamed to say that I got all but two of the kids torn to pieces. I wanted them all dead, obviously.
From what I've experienced, it's clear that Until Dawn has a lot of replay value in it. Using a system called the “Butterfly Effect,” the sordid tale of *your* Until Dawn will either murder you all, get you all out of danger alive, or you’ll experience a helluva lot of variations between those two extremes. Trophy whores out there can forget about cheating the system by reloading their save to erase a permadeath. There are no restarts in this baby.
Clearly developer Supermassive’s intention was tension, and I’m happy to say they achieve it. There are no difficulty levels as such, which means some of those speedy button prompts are really going to screw over anybody who doesn't instinctively know their triangle from their square; ditto for the people who can't keep their wits when it's time to paint reticules onto targets (that want to decapitate you). It’s also going to take a while for you to figure out which 'grey-area' decisions are the most important in this “Choose Your Own Adventure book” for the new generation. For example, gathering your nuts in a sack to kick a growling wolf in the face seems very ill-advised, but if you’re successful your newfound ‘alpha dog’ status might pay dividends later on. Or will you just lose a foot? Have fun finding that one out.
Interestingly, sometimes there’s the illusion of choice; somebody might fall down a mineshaft whether or not you make a bold leap to save them, or try to shout instructions from afar. Last but not least, flat-out inaction might be the best course. Take the early option to shoot a squirrel, or nail a bird using the game’s less-than-intuitive ‘shooting’ controls, and the forest around you might react by scratching your pretty face with a psychotic raven attack. Best leave Mother Nature alone in this.
Outside of the action moments, your controls in this are extremely limited (think: Resident Evil 4 with very intermittent access to gun controls), but clearly there are a lot of path variations to find and Easter Eggs to hunt in the 10 chapters. There’s even a series of mid-chapter questionnaires with an unexplained, creepy psychiatrist, Dr. Hill (Peter Stormare). Answering truthfully about “what makes your bunghole pucker in real-life” will shape what horrors are about to befall you. I was also appreciative of the fact that dipping in and out of episodes is made possible after a successful game clear. Though it has to be said that any game that prides itself on its immense replayability – but offers no skippable cutscenes, or even dialogue fast forwarding – is problematic in the long-run.
Beyond that minor annoyance, Supermassive is to be commended for the job they’ve done in the visuals department. Until Dawn runs on the engine that previously made love to your eyeballs in Killzone: Shadowfall, and the lush blizzard effects, pitch-perfect lighting, and expert camera direction create a fantastic atmosphere. This is especially true if you’re home alone with your lights out and some adult nappies on.
The characters themselves are essentially photorealistic, as well. In one memorable instance I imagined I would have nothing but a schadenfreudeboner when the most reviled teen of the group got their comeuppance. When that particularly heinous end did come along, by my hand, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of shock at how brutally they got dispatched. R-rating: deserved.
In the end (typically *your* end, multiplied eight times) Until Dawn proves to be both visually and narratively compelling. Niggles creep in due to the rudimentary control scheme – and the option to reconsider decisions that are obviously heading a bad way would’ve been nice – but otherwise I still found I couldn’t put this slaughterrific adventure down.