|Dev: Supermassive Games|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Benjamin Maltbie
Until Dawn is shaping up to be a unique horror game that takes the agency of video games and the higher caliber writing of Hollywood movies and blends it into an experience that promises to be unrivaled within the medium.
The demo that was presented to journalists at this year's PSX conference began with an interactive survey that tries to decipher the best way to horrify an individual player. Even without knowing how the choices will affect the gameplay, the fact that the game isn't on rails and seems to be programmed to scare you, the individual, in a personal and customizable way is enough to put you on edge. It lacks the safe, comforting feel that one gets from having been a long time gamer that can generally predict what lurks around the next dark and foreboding bend. Immediately, you feel like you're in uncharted territory. The feeling is slightly reminiscent of Eternal Darkness for the GameCube, which endeavored to reach out and scare the player by staring at them through the fourth wall.
Another way Until Dawn seems to depart from the typical video game formula for horror and adopt a more Hollywood approach is through cinematography. Often times, unsettling details or jump scares will be there just to give the player knowledge that the characters themselves do not possess. This anxiety ridden tool is quintessential horror movie rhetoric and lends itself to the "do not go in there," or the "he's right behind you!" experience that is often absent from video games.
The game is fully acted by well-known celebrities. Actors like Hayden Panettiere or Rami Malek were strapped into motion capture technology so they could lend more than just vocal talents to Until Dawn. In the current generation of consoles, this method is almost essential in order to utilize the full capabilities of the PS4. The resulting lifelike depictions of characters inspire a feeling of concern and responsibility.
The antagonist in Until Dawn is clearly inspired by sadistic villains like Saw's Jigsaw who enjoy playing with their prey and watching them suffer on a psychological level. It's an apt fit since the villain's methods allow Until Dawn players to jump between senseless torture porn segments and careful exploration without feeling like the narrative has been "gamified." Instead, game playing fits comfortably within the killer's MO.
The story itself contains multiple endings and stars eight different controllable characters. It's not hard to draw comparisons to past filmic games like Quantic Dream's, Heavy Rain, when you see Until Dawn in action. The narrative changes as players make rapid fire choices and deal with the subsequent consequences. Structuring a game like this is a perfect fit for the genre since, again, players are given more responsibility and are stripped of the comfort they get from being a veteran gamer. The goal isn't just to survive through check points and saves. The goal is to save important characters and avoid seeing their gruesome demise. It's a lot of pressure to put on a player, and it makes each choice they make all the more nerve-wracking.
It is tough to discern, however, whether or not Until Dawn's control scheme will hinder enjoyment of the game. It does appear to be slightly clunky and that's always been a hit or miss style of gameplay when it comes to this genre. On one hand, you don't want players to have the action game ability to thwart all opposition with ease, but you also don't want them to die time and time again due to unforgiving control schemes the way they did in classic Resident Evil games. From limited exposure, Until Dawn certainly seems to have struck a balance between the two extremes, but I guess we'll have to wait and see how the whole package comes together.
Date: December 19, 2014