Until Dawn Swings a Mean Machete and Goes Right for the Jugular

Until Dawn

When I made the mental leap and decided to finally spring for a PlayStation 4 last Thanksgiving, Until Dawn was the first game I bought (aside from the packed-in Uncharted Collection). In fact, I ordered the game before even finalizing the PS4 purchase, so technically I owned Until Dawn before even having a console to play it on.

I don’t remember what made me choose it – I’d not heard of it before, didn’t really know what it was about, had done no research on the perfect first game purchase. Honestly, I think it was the cover image more than anything else, that and the fact that Amazon offered it at a great price the day I was online shopping. And then, as these things so often go, once everything had arrived at my house, it would still be some time before I even played the thing.

Until Dawn is now the second game in a growing trend of my girlfriend and I playing games together. We started with Beyond: Two Souls last year, and it ended up being a very enjoyable experience. By “playing together”, I really mean I play while she watches, we discuss what’s happening and she offers as much input on what to do as I do. Well, with Beyond completed, we needed a new game to fill the void and do some co-op gaming, and Until Dawn answered the call.

Before reading on, know that no matter how general I try to keep this post, some details about the plot of Until Dawn will slip through, and if you’re the kind of player who enjoys discovering all on your own (as this game was made to be played), then you shouldn’t read any further. But for those in a spoiling mood, and those who’ve already survived the night, read on.

I originally meant to write about Until Dawn while I was still neck-deep in it, but life got in the way, and we finished the game before I had a chance to “capture the moment”. Odd, since we still took our sweet time with it – I’ve had it since Thanksgiving, after all. Anyway, I felt inspired early on in the game to write because I absolutely LOVED that first half of the game!

Until Dawn is pretty much everything you know and love about modern horror movies, different facets from across the genre, all rolled into one. And for the first four or five chapters, it is basically a teen slasher movie through and through. That statement could sound like it was meant to have negative connotations, and I will admit that Until Dawn hit every eye-roll-inducing note of the genre: over-sexed teens meeting for an isolated getaway at the rich kid’s mountaintop family lodge, bad choices galore, and someone constantly feeling the need to go off on their own. Yup, seen it all before. And it hit the mark so brilliantly that you can’t help but fall in love with it! It’s just honest fun, and in a game no less, which I’ve never seen done before.

Until Dawn

The brilliant first half of the game scared me out of my seat more times than I care to admit.

So for the first half of Until Dawn, I was hooked. I couldn’t play more than maybe 45 minutes a night – every jump scare made me scream, every second I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation over what was about to happen. I really can’t say enough good things about my experience with the game. Eventually, there is a metamorphosis, and the slasher theme makes way for a ghost story, a haunted house thriller, a creature feature, a supernatural mystery. Throw in a few scenes of torture porn (which was maybe the only thing that seemed oddly out-of-place to me), and you’ve got a game that pretty much covered all its horror bases.

The constant shift from one tone to the other for the second half of the game was the one point I’ll conceded against Until Dawn; it felt jarring, and I so dearly would have loved for the slasher “movie” to continue ’til the end. But that’s still not enough to make me feel let down by the game. For one, the graphics are amazing, easily the best character models I’ve ever seen – these teens looked so goddamn real! And then, of course, there’s the branching storyline, where player choice affects who, if anyone, actually survives until the sun comes up.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I’d read that it’s possible to manage to have every one of the eight teens stay alive through the game. And as the game neared its conclusion, I was feeling better and better about my odds of getting that “perfect ending”. At the same time, the closer I got to the end, the more nervous I became about every little choice. I know how horror movies work when you get near the end.

Then it all went to shit.

Until Dawn

I liked the subtle scares that don’t rely on gore. The torture scenes were a sudden departure to a different tone.

Within what felt like only minutes from each other, I went from a full roster of eight to only three survivors – I killed off over half my cast, two of them within the last few second of gameplay! Hot damn. I refuse to take full credit for everything that went down, though in at least one case death was the direct result of my being too damn inquisitive. Serves me right – I shoulda known better. And, yes, I don’t know what possessed me at the very end to make the choices I did, as they clearly telegraphed – and I was even warned via totems I’d found – that disaster could be the only possible outcome for what I was about to do. Then I did it anyway, and two of my compatriots paid the price.

There were many moments during the final, frantic dash to the finish line, when I would look over at my girlfriend, only to find her rolling her eyes and sadly shaking her head at me for getting yet another character killed. Well, it’s not how I wanted things to go, either. But I like to think, for better or for worse, rather than go back and replay the ending for a more favorable outcome, that this is how the story goes, it was how my story was meant to end. I won’t make the same mistake I made at the end of Mass Effect 3, when I played all three endings in succession, effectively eliminating the impact of player choice on how the story ended. Even if I do one day replay the game and make different choices, my first experience with the game has to stand as my “official” experience.

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