“Choose your own adventure” games are increasing in popularity, and that warms my heart to no end. Those games–done well–have always been my favourite genre in gaming: they feature amazing story development, they deliver believable characters that are shaped throughout the gameplay, and they make you feel responsible at the end of the day for how the story ends.
Telltale Games has done a great job of releasing these games in recent years, with The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, and The Walking Dead filtering through most major gaming consoles and PC platforms. Dontnod’s Life Is Strange took 2015 by storm with its amazing tale of high school student Max and her special gifts. But before the year was out, Supermassive Games decided to release a piece of cinematic glory, putting you into the heart of your own horror film, and truly making your impact count.
Enter Until Dawn, a choose your own adventure game that blends in a heavy dose of horror. The game starts rather cliched: ten teenagers are staying in a cabin in the woods overnight during a snowstorm. Some of them decide to play a prank as a form of revenge, and this sets a deadly chain of events into motion. One year later, the friends all return to the cabin, and a weekend of fun quickly turns into a weekend of horror.
The stereotypes are all thrown out the window, alliances are broken, and hastily-made decisions can either make or break your game. And even though I could fangirl over this game for the next several hours, no game is without its flaws. It’s time to delve into The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Until Dawn.
As mentioned before, there are ten teenaged pawns in Until Dawn, and you get the opportunity to play as nine of them…unless you manage to kill off one of them beforehand (hey, these things happen!). More on that later. Instead of having to pick one character at the start and just ride with them for the full game, your characters will change automatically at different points of the story, since our heroes failed to watch a substantial amount of Scooby-Doo as children and haven’t learned not to split up when creepy things are going down.
Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses built in: characters like Sam and Mike are more athletic, quick on their feet, and able to make split-second strategic decisions. Characters like Ashley and Josh are more of your wild-cards, where they aren’t the strongest or bravest, but have more charisma to pull sympathy towards themselves. This prevents players from intentionally choosing stronger characters to make for easier gameplay.
You also get the opportunity to attend routine therapy sessions with the mysterious Dr. Alan Hill. These occur automatically between each of the ten chapters, and the choices you make during these sessions alters the course of your game (and how creepy the gameplay becomes). Choose wisely, and pay attention to his words of wisdom to gain clues to help solve the overall mystery. On the topic of clues, thorough investigations are heavily encouraged and often required to ensure the safety of various characters. Trying to speed-play Until Dawn will quickly result in multiple fatalities, even upon the second playthrough since your characters themselves will not know critical pieces of information to influence their actions.
The story itself is highly flexible. You can end the game with all of the characters alive, or you can end the game prematurely by killing off all of them. During the first playthrough, usually one or two will meet their makers while trying to navigate the twists and turns of Until Dawn. Even something as simple as choosing what inanimate object to shoot or whether or not to risk a shortcut can change the entire course of the game.
And that is exactly what makes Until Dawn wonderful.
But despite all of these wonderful things, every game–no matter how good–has its downsides, and Until Dawn is no different. Quite possibly the most notible issue right off the bad with Until Dawn is some of the voice acting. Now, most of the cast is fantastic, with the likes of Hayden Panetierre, Rami Malek, and Galadriel Steinman gracing the voice acting and motion capture stages. But whenever you add in newcomers, there is always going to be a weak link.
When it comes to the lines delivered, Emily’s dialogue is often cringeworthy. I know her voice actress, Nichole Bloom, has gotten live-actions roles since then and seems to have improved, so I’ll be nice and chalk her performance as Emily up to nerves. Up against the quality of some of the other deliveries, Emily swings from sounding robotic to sounding like she’s acting in one of those don’t-do-drugs PSAs we were all forced to watch in junior high.
Ella Lentini’s performance as twins Hannah and Beth rings in better than Bloom’s, but still sounds untrained and forced. Oddly enough, all of her lines as Hannah come across fairly well, but many of Beth’s lines are just as cringey as Emily’s. I wonder if it was a conscious effort to put more of the vocal theatrics into Hannah’s voice over Beth’s, but…alas!
Okay, okay, I have to go here… Until Dawn is a PlayStation 4 exclusive! I don’t think Supermassive Games realizes how much of a potential audience they lost simply because not everyone has a PlayStation 4! Most games coming out encompass Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and PC. Some decide to showcase Next-Gen exclusiveness and only have Xbox One and PS4 ports. But to have it on just one system… You screwed up, Supermassive Games.
I know so many people who’ve been limited to just watching YouTubers play this game because they didn’t have the one console it was packaged for. And you can see literally thousands of people in the comments begging for Xbox and Steam ports. I’m not sure what sort of deal they struck with Sony, but with the news of a possible sequel, I really hope they rethink this for future projects.
And speaking of ugly, the worst part of the gameplay is how the game tries to coax you to forget about the events of the prologue. Without giving too much away, many of the characters decide to play a prank on one of their friends. This isn’t your typical prank. It isn’t even a funny prank. This was a cruel and malicious prank that completely sabotages the sanity and well-being of one of the characters and leads to a deadly string of repercussions.
No matter how likeable some of the characters turn out to be in the game, certain events exist to remind the player that, well, these aren’t the nicest people. Even worse, the pranksters still don’t seem to realize that the prank would have been just as terrible had all kinds of axe murderers and supernatural gobbledy-gook churned up as a result. One of my favourite characters in the game is Ashley, as despite normally being sweet and caring, she also has dialogue such as “It was just a prank!” and “It was supposed to be funny!” that make me want to shake her, to remind her that she’s technically an adult, and to remind her that Mean Girls was only a movie for a reason.
But if you can find a PlayStation 4 lying around and remind yourself that teenagers–even upon reaching their late teens–don’t always look before they leap, you can still brush all of this ugliness aside and enjoy Until Dawn for the masterpiece that it is.
Overall Rating: 9.5
This is the highest rating I have given to date in this series of articles, and Until Dawn deserves it. It really does. The few lines of poorly-delivered dialogue can be forgiven when you realize this is a game full of seven hours worth of dialogue, and most of it being good dialogue! The prank–although cruel–had to be mind-damaging to set the plot into motion. And even watching YouTubers enjoy the game is still an amazing experience. I kid you not. Search for “[favourite YouTuber] Until Dawn”, press play, and enjoy a Netflix-like experience of a good game. I highly recommend Jerejoe and GTLive’s playthroughs; Markiplier, JackSepticEye, and CoryxKenshin also do a good job, despite enduring less-satisfying endings (oops!).
One of the things that makes Until Dawn great is its replay value. With so many choices, so many endings, and a Trophy system that encourages you to replay the game numerous times to collect all of said trophies, you’re bound to want to replay the game almost instantly. And you get to have fun doing it!
Bottom Line: Until Dawn brings you tales of love, of betrayal, and of friends just being friends and enjoying each other’s company. All of the characters have moments where you wish they could be locked in a closet for a bit, and later they all have moments where they redeem themselves. And really, isn’t that what makes us all human? Bravo, Until Dawn, for giving us a little bit of that humanity wrapped in one spooky package!