Poor Ashley…or Chris. In Until Dawn, difficult choices are given to the player, ones that will determine the shape of the story moving forward. Sound familiar? It’s a philosophy that started – at least to this extent – with Indigo Prophecy and continued with Heavy Rain, both developed by Quantic Dream. But while the latter had you playing four lead characters, Until Dawn gives you eight, and yes, any of them can die thanks to your choices, and the story will continue to unfold accordingly.
That’s a clear and specific inspiration for the team at Supermassive Games, but hear the premise of eight school friends arriving at a remote mountain resort for a reunion and another, more plot-oriented influence comes to mind: Friday the 13th, specifically the 2009 reboot. The setting here is eerily reminiscent of the (massive!) cabin from that film. And finally, as I discovered at the end of this demo, a little Saw is sprinkled in to up the sense of danger and bolster the immediacy of importance of what are literally life-or-death decisions. But, let’s start from the beginning. The build we played at the EB Games Expo 2014 is the same shown at Gamescom back in August. It puts players in control of Ashley until the very end, where they take command of Chris (for the seconds that it lasts). The two are searching for their kidnapped friend Sam, performance captured by Heroes star Hayden Panettiere, who isn’t the only well-known actor starring in the game, with Rami Malek (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Need for Speed) and Brett Dalton (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) joining the cast. Unfortunately for them, they’ve found themselves in a delightfully cheesy, interactive slasher film.
Don’t be put off by the afore-mentioned”cheese” by the way; it, along with the numerous jump scares, are done in the best way possible, as pure homages to the prior mentioned schlocky horror influences that we love to watch (admit it!). Before gameplay actually begins, the player is asked a few quick questions as part of a survey. I noticed that I was presented with fewer questions than I’ve seen from previous builds. This time is was only asking your gender, whether you like to play in the dark or with the lights on, or if you are more likely to investigate a noise rather than run away from it. I have no idea what importance this survey has, but I’m assuming it’s just for general feedback/data collection purposes. Being originally designed as a PlayStation Move release, remnants of the old Until Dawn still remain; utilising the gyroscope in the Dualshock 4 moves Ashley’s flashlight, while the right thumbstick moves the somewhat rigid camera. It takes some getting used to, but considering the camera can barely be budged, I don’t see why the movement of the flashlight isn’t assigned to the right thumbstick and wherever you aim it informs the slight movement of the camera. I guess Supermassive (or Sony) insisted on the game making use of all of the PS4’s capabilities.
As you examine objects, turning them over and inspecting using the gyroscope, Ashley and Chris butt heads over the supposed apparition in the basement. Progressing further, there are two points where the player an engage Chris in conversation, choosing between two responses that are emotionally fuelled, i.e, opting for a “Sympathetic” response on the topic of Sam being taken. This is another way in which Until Dawn is similar of Heavy Rain, which Supermassive is referring to as “Butterfly-Effect Interface.” I also collected 2 out of 2 clues strewn throughout the underground area, which apparently influenced what ws said between the duo, although the exhibition was fairly noisy and I couldn’t make out what was expressed. At least we have an idea of the depth in branching dialogue and storylines. That being said, while the game is non-linear in that respect, after I opted to investigate a noise, dividing the two and leading Ashley to hide in the shadows from the peering eyes of the clown-like killer, she ended up slowly and quietly backing up through a door to return to exactly the same outcome if you were to follow Chris and avoid the source of the noise. At least the scissors I picked up earlier came into play and she stabbed the murderer…
Yet, he was unphased, and proceeded to knock Ashley out cold. Captured, Chris and Ashley awaken to find themselves strapped to chairs, sitting at a table with a gun laying upon it and a spinning saw descending above their heads. Here is where the player inhabits Chris, spurred on by intercom (see Saw) to make a decision: Chris’s life or Ashley’s. I shot myself without hesitation…because Chris was more scared than his female counterpart! What a chicken…he deserved it. Okay, Ashley cried way too much, but at least she showed some guts, so there’s my justification. And this is where the demo ended. Before signing off, I must point out how stunning Until Dawn looks, exploiting the reworked Killzone: Shadow Fall engine Umbra3. The emotion in the eyes and expressions of the characters have been extremely well preserved as well. All in all, Until Dawn has great potential to be that sleeper exclusive hit for Sony, much in the same vein that Heavy Rain was. The comparisons are obvious, but Until Dawn may be even more successful in their approach and execution. If you’ve ever wanted to play out an 80’s slasher film, here’s your chance.