08th Sep2015

‘Until Dawn’ – A Horror Fans (Re)View

by Phil Wheat

I’ve been gaming for years, for longer than I have been a horror fan in fact. From the ZX81 through the Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, NES, SNES, Megadrive and beyond, and even back in the early days there were attempts to meld video games and movies. Be it cinematic style games like It Came From the Desert to the huge push into full motion video games like Mad Dog McCree. There have even been horror video games based on the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, though both of those games never made it to UK shores because, back then, games were for “kids” only.

Of course we’ve had games like the Trilobyte-produced PC games The 7th Guest and 11th Hour, which captured the scares perfectly and then there’s the controversial Night Trap on the Mega CD – a game which was one of the earliest to try blending movie and gaming in what was ultimately an interactive B-movie.

But there hasn’t been anything quite like Night Trap since. In more recent years there have been a plethora of scary video games like Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition; and then there’s the pants-shittingly scary first-person titles like Dead Space and also Fatal Frame on the Wii (very popular in Japan but little seen in the UK) but none of those have felt quite captured the promise of the FMV days, when we all thought movie and video game would become one.

It would seem, for me, Night Trap and its sub-standard FMV would be the standard-bearer for the horror movie “game”. Well it took a while, 22 years to be precise, but it looks like we’ve finally got the horror video game that I always wanted…

Until Dawn.

until-dawn-box

Never having been one for quicktime event games – Heavy Rain bored me to tears and I avoided Beyond: Two Souls because it was from the same developer – Until Dawn was not an obvious purchase for me. That was until not only playing the game at Frightfest but also hearing from other attendees about how good it was. In this case word of mouth won out. And I’m damn glad it did!

A gaming experience like no other, Until Dawn is LITERALLY like taking control of a horror movie, shaping and manipulating events how you would like to see them play out, with the occasional frustrating quicktime event to slow you down and take some of that control back out of your hands – the more quick-fingered out there might not have quite so much of a problem though – so much so that my slow reactions cost me the life of a character (but hey, she was a bit of a bitch anyway). The way the game draws you in is unbelieveable, its the kind of riveting gameplay that had me playing the game for hours on end. Something which, in recent years, has not happened outside of of handful of other games – including the God of War and Uncharted franchises.

It might not be FMV but Until Dawn still features a whole host of actors in key roles. Many of whom will be familiar to US television fans. There’s Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville), Brett Dalton (Ward from ABC’s Agents of SHIELD), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Galadriel Stineman (The Middle), Nichole Bloom (US Shameless), to name just a few; as well as a barnstorming role for actor Peter Stormare (who creeps it up considerably). What’s even better about Until Dawn is who’s behind the game… After changing direction (the game was set to debut on the PS3 as an FPS style title), developers Supermassive Games hired actual horror film makers! Namely Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick; both of whom not only wrote Until Dawn but also lend their voices to a couple of characters.

And their influence is clear on this title. This is a horror movie first and game second. The script is well-developed, the interplay between characters works superbly and the voice acting is spot on. Even the motion captured actors look good. Literally the only difference is players ability to control characters and make decisions. Which actually makes for a really engrossing experience – you want the game to play out in front of you (and I say this as someone who hates cut scenes) and at the same time you get to play “god” in this story, making you MORE a part of this experience than if you were merely watching a movie.

For me the sign of a good game is that you want to replay it even before you’ve finished the first playthrough. That’s definitely the case with Until Dawn. Although maybe it’s the sadist in me, but on my first playthrough I managed to save a lot of the cast. Next time I’ll be trying my hardest to kill them all…

Until Dawn is out now on PS4.

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