David Cage makes games that aren’t supposed to be funny, but sometimes wander into the realm of comedy anyway. The Parisian auteur, who’s perhaps best known for PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain, tends to discuss Quantic Dream’s ‘emotional’ output in a very self-serious manner – and yet, scenes such as ‘Jason, Jason’ often undo all of his hard work.
However, for all of his faults, the French luminary has single-handedly constructed a new narrative centric genre, which is now being replicated by the likes of Telltale Games among others. Until Dawn, the PlayStation 4 exclusive horror from British studio Supermassive Games, feels like a title that the Beyond: Two Souls maker would create – if he was intentionally trying to be funny.
The Guildford-based developer has said that since switching its Cabin in the Woods-esque escapade to the next-gen format, it’s adopted a darker approach than was originally intended for the PlayStation Move powered version that was announced a few years ago – but this is still so utterly ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh out loud.
There are clearly other hang-ups from the unreleased PlayStation 3 version, too, as the release uses all of the DualShock 4’s features and functionality. Tilting the controller allows you to observe objects, or point your torch towards branching narrative decisions; you can even move the character’s head on occasion, which is a mechanic not too dissimilar to LittleBigPlanet.
Until Dawn is so utterly ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh out loud
What about the premise, then? Well, the setup is as intentionally cliché as it gets: eight teenagers have taken to a remote mountain retreat for fun, games, and, well, you can guess the rest. Unfortunately, they don’t take into consideration the psychopathic member of the Insane Clown Posse that resides in these parts – and so things quickly go awry.
The gameplay is incredibly reminiscent of The Walking Dead or one of the aforementioned Quantic Dream titles: you walk around lavishly produced environments, searching for clues and triggering cut-scenes. Occasionally, you’ll need to make decisions which branch the story. These can be as simple as picking up a pair of scissors, or as drastic as whether your friend lives or dies.
In the demo that we played, we followed the agonisingly awkward Chris and Ashley through an abandoned hotel basement. As the taster progressed, it became clear that the teen twosome wanted to be, shall we say, romantically involved. However, neither is willing to commit to this until the very end of the sampler – where one of them must choose between murder and suicide.
And it’s these types of impossible decisions that the developer is really emphasising right now. It’s using a system dubbed the ‘Butterfly Effect’, which means that every choice that you make will have enormous consequences on the story that you see unfold. Apparently, there’ll be thousands of different endings, but it remains to be seen how unique they’ll actually be.
Assuming that they’re good, though, you’ll probably want to see them all, as the dialogue is just ridiculously silly. Supermassive Games has brought in Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek – and clearly told them to turn on the cheese. The whole experience stinks of stilton, as characters earnestly toss Twitter hashtags and memes into their ordinary speech.
And that means that you probably shouldn’t expect Silent Hills-esque psychological scares. Instead, the game tends to lean on jumps, which are cheap but placed well enough to at least deliver an adrenaline surge. There’s one section, for example, where a ghostly face will flash onto the screen; it’s never explained or expanded upon, it’s just there to get your pulse racing.
The developer perhaps needs to be careful in that regard, because scares for the sake of it could get a little bit irritating after a while. Similarly tedious are the controls, which felt like they needed tuning during our hands-on. The game adopts an old-school Resident Evil approach with fixed camera angles, and we found ourselves bumping into objects more often than we’d like.
The biggest problem that the developer has, though, is just how poor the animations look. The visuals are extraordinary – with faces being a particular highlight – but unnatural body and facial motions break the illusion a little. With so many titles employing performance capture these days, the game’s limited budget in this regard seems destined to stick out like a sore thumb.
And that’s a shame, because the B-movie aspects outside of the above work perfectly. The title manages to fuse teenage angst with a real grim atmosphere, and despite the silly dialogue, we still found ourselves longing to know more about each encountered character. This is a game that seems to understand exactly what it is: dark, divisive, and really, really dumb.
Are you shaking with anticipation for the silliness of Until Dawn, or does the very idea of a story-driven scare-‘em-up make you want to yawn? Join us in the Jacuzzi in the comments section below.