As most of you are well aware, I have a hard on for Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I am a sucker when it comes to a story that is well told and allows you to choose which path you want to travel down. It makes me even more giddy that this trend is being picked up by other developers and games like Until Dawn are being released to the masses. This game came to my attention by my wonderful girlfriend Kitty who had just watched Markiplier have a play through of the game. After I heard of her glowing appraisal, combined with the fact that it was a PS4 exclusive, I decided that it was high time that I upgraded my consoles to the next generation, and give the game a go. I have to admit that I was not disappointed in the slightest. It may be a little on rails, but with the combination of a great 80’s throwback story and a game that truly lets you dictate the outcome of the game, Until Dawn is one of the next generation games that lives up to the hype of a next generation game.
Taking the traditional horror movie route, Until Dawn is the story of a group of friends who travel to a ski lodge for a week of partying. After a horrible prank gone wrong, Hannah and Beth Washington go missing. A year later, Hannah and Beth’s brother Josh (Rami Malek) invites all of his friends back to the ski lodge his parents own for another party and a way to remember Beth and Hannah. The cast includes the rebellious, yet sweet Sam (Hayden Panettiere), the goofy Chris (Noah Fleiss), the vapid Jessica (Meaghen Martin), the lady’s man Mike (Brett Dalton), the jocky Matt (Jordan Fisher), the bitchy Emily (Nichole Bloom), and the sarcastic Ashley (Galadriel Stineman).
The eight travel to the isolated cabin by cable car for a night of fun and healing. But things quickly go wrong as they are stalked by psychopaths, creepy old men in the woods, and other creatures in a Cabin in the Woods like fashion. You, the player, through your choices and actions dictate how the game will go and who will survive the events of the night until dawn (AH! See what I did there?!)
A Call Back to 80’s Horror Movies and EXCELLENT Characters
This is your traditional, straight up 1980’s college kids go to a cabin in the woods and die type of story and I love every single second of it! I love it! It is the traditional slasher flick/horror movie that I have been missing in my life. It is gory, scary, jump scare, fun that has a slew of likable characters in the midst for me to route for.
Whenever I first saw the cast of characters, I have to admit that I groaned! I thought I would have to play this entire game with a group of twat faced douche canoes that are all horrible people doing horrible things. But no… In fact each of these characters have solid story behind them and all feel like real people mixed up in a horrible experience. They all have sympathy, they all have empathy, and you can truly understand why they are all friend with one another.
THIS IS BASIC STORY TELLING AND THE GAME GETS IT RIGHT! It is something that modern horror movies just do not get. They think what we want to watch is a bunch of horrible people dying and since they are horrible we don’t have to connect to them. This is not only wrong, it is kind of disturbing that someone would want to watch a movie just to see horrible people dying. Seriously, if you watch horror movies for this reason, please seek help.
But this game takes the characters that you see in horror movies, the jocky survivalist, the vapid shallow bitch, the unbearable comic relief, and makes them real people with real emotions and you truly do sympathize with them and become sad when they die. You feel like you let that character down when they die because your actions caused the death. It is really well done and makes you truly feel for these characters.
Gameplay is Tight
I am going to preface this statement with the fact that this game is one of those games that finds itself firmly on the plot rails. Your decisions do dictate the game and you ultimately do hold the fate of 8 people in your hands, but if you are looking for exploration and skill beyond being able to quickly press a button after a series of quick time events, you are going to be disappointed. However, unlike Beyond Two Souls or Heavy Rain that can feel like you are watching an interactive movie, I will say that Until Dawn steps up where the David Cage games had their short comings.
This game is a series of quick time events and decision-making in the same style as The Walking Dead. But the amount of choice that you are given makes you feel like you are in control of the game. Plus your action or in some cases inaction can adversely affect the outcome. There are some QTEs that involve player death and others that can either help or hinder you. The game makes it clear that sometimes it is best that you do not act and instead let the QTE play out.
When it comes to a ‘choose your own adventure’ style game, Until Dawn truly does shine. If you are coming to the table irritated that it isn’t a sandbox adventure, that you have no options to truly explore, that there is no multiplayer, crafting, or level up, well you are playing the wrong damn game! Go play a game that you can get those features! This is not what Until Dawn is attempting to make and I can respect it and enjoy for that. It is one of the games that is willing to go against the norm and create a game that is fun and engaging instead of forcing various features that do not belong in it.
One of my major complaints that I had about The Walking Dead in its original form is that your actions didn’t really have any weight behind them. They slightly changed the overall story being told, but ultimately your choices would eventually be erased by the story later on down the road. One of the biggest complaints about from the first game was whether or not to save Carley or Doug and regardless of who you saved, they would end up being shot by Lilly in the third episode.
But when it comes to Until Dawn, this game makes it painstakingly obvious that every decision, every misstep, every twitch that you make will have an outcome on this game. Out of the 8 main characters, you truly do hold the fate in those characters hands. All eight of these characters can die at certain intervals in the game and their deaths do have an effect on proceedings. While there are some instances where you can tell that they minimized the characters involvement due to the fact that they could be dead at that moment, but other than that the story can take VERY different paths dependent upon what you do or what you fail to see.
This is exactly what I was looking for when it comes to a game like this! Real consequences for actions and inaction, real game changing moments! It truly is a pick your own adventure and at the end of the day, you can have all eight survive or nobody survive.
Traditional Horror Movie Plot Holes (Spoilers)
Here is a tip for anyone who is writing a story. If you have a character do an action and the only GOOD response that you can give for that character making an action is because ‘Well if they didn’t, then the story would be over’ you SERIOUSLY need to rewrite your story or think things through because you are failing at basic story telling. There are several moments in this game of mind numbing sillyness that just become infuriating for anyone who knows how to make a basic story.
The third act of this game gets very sloppy and rushed as the characters are merely acting as a means of getting characters involved in the plot. After the true killers are revealed, evil spirits known as wendigo, the majority of the survivors lock themselves in a safe room. It is told that these creatures do not hunt during the day and the time is currently 5 AM. A helicopter is coming to get them thanks to a radio on the part of Emily and Matt. All they have to do is barricade themselves in, fend off any wendigo that pop up for two hours, who HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEY ARE! And the game is over. But instead, our traditional stupid character Mike does not want to wait around to be killed and decides that he is going to go find Josh, who was taken by the wendigo, get the cable car key, and leave. Let’s not even get into the fact that it could take Mike HOURS to search the mines to find Josh, get the cable car key, escape, and get to the cable car, let’s talk about how his actions lead to a level of stupidity that almost (and could) get everyone killed.
It is later known that the stranger captured half of the wendigo before the events on the mountain. So six of the thirteen are locked up, easy as can be. Mike decided to go through the Sanatorium where they are locked up and throughout the events, blows the fucking building up, RELEASING ALL OF THE CAGED WENDIGO! You had MAYBE one or two wendigo on your ass at that cabin MAYBE! But thanks to Mike’s actions, he stirs up the hornet’s nest and gets all thirteen of these fuckers barring down on the survivors and the only reason that this occurs is because if Mike didn’t do this HUGE amount of stupid, the movie would be over.
We can add smaller moments like Sam telling the group that they need to leave the safe house to chase after Mike for… Reasons that depend upon your actions, but both of which are equally silly. The fact that Sam is willing to scale a cliff for no other reason than we need Mike and Sam to be alone at this moment and other little stupid moments like that, you have some text-book horror movie character stupidity that has no place in a game that has, up until that point, maintained the 80’s slasher movie feel without resulting to the clichés that make them so frustrating. Speaking of clichés…
Let’s talk about the red herring exposition fairy that shows up to complete his purpose then immediately gets bumped off. This character is the guy who lives on the mountain and is supposed to be the red herring for the players who think that he is the killer, when in fact he is just some crazed dude who is willing to help the players. Due to the fact that he looks like the Pyro from Team Fortress 2 has also made me dub him as such. Either way, throughout the game you are supposed to think that this guy is the killer since he has a beef with the Washington Family building a hotel and ski lodge on the mountain. It turns out that he is actually just protecting everyone from the evil wendigo. These wendigo are basically people who chose to engage in cannibalism on the mountain. As such a wendigo spirit inhabits them and takes over their body, mutating them into an evil creature. Where shit becomes irritating is that the Pyro has been fighting these fuckers for decades! He is supposed to be an expert on these fucking things. BUT after he comes in, exposits on the true killers, and tells everyone the stakes, he is instantly killed by one of the wendigos to leave the characters to fight for themselves! Really?! You have this fucker throughout the whole game as this mysterious character, have him show up saying that he is the ultimate badass, and within five minutes he is killed by a wendigo without even fighting them?! You couldn’t come up with a better way to go out then just a quick ‘decapitation’ and move on?! His character is only there to be a red herring, exposit the plot, and then die because there is a distinct possibility that nobody dies in this game if you are able to save everyone!
Finally, let’s discuss the actions of the wendigo which make little to no sense when you stop to think about it. After they are revealed to be the killers, there is a quick exposition dump to let us know who they are, what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Which is cool, you need that in a story. I liked it. But a lot of the times they just do not follow up with it. For instance, these wendigos seem to kill the characters… Whenever the plot tells them to with little rhyme or reason. The plot does state that they want to kill you slowly so they will capture you to slowly eat you. Which explains Josh. But all the others can all die from wendigo just straight up insta killing them instead of letting them die slowly! This doesn’t make sense, you have to pick a modus operandi! Then we can go into the fact that these wendigo are portrayed as animals and nothing more. Though there are several moments in which these guys are seen making organized attack movements and then at the end, it turns into every wendigo for themselves as they will attack anything that moves. Once again, the only reason for this is because the plot needs to find some way to get these wendigo off the characters back so let them kill each other. It is just so sloppy and could be handled so much better than what it was.
The bottom line, this game leading up to act 3 was so tight, but then they just rushed it and gave in to traditional horror movie problems that is just inexcusable and really hurt was is by all accounts a great game.
Until Dawn has its flaws, but it is still a very satisfying experience. I encourage everyone to pick up this game and give it a play, it is easily worth the $59.99 list price which is a rarity in today’s gaming market. The characters are solid, the graphics are amazing, the story is flawed but still works, and it is a scary satisfying game to play.
Final Score 4/5
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