Republished on Wednesday, 28th June 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of July 2017's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Until Dawn is much better than you may be expecting. The teen horror title – which was originally intended as a PlayStation Move exclusive – has not exactly enjoyed the smoothest path to market, but Sony clearly saw enough potential in the project to keep it alive for this long, and Supermassive Games has delivered. This schlocky spook-fest may not appeal to everyone, but fans of The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain will feel right at home here – and may even find themselves shocked by how successfully it achieves its aims.
You play as a band of boorish adolescents, gathering at a hilltop lodge in chilly British Columbia. The get together marks the anniversary of a tragedy that occurred 12 months prior – and needless to say, there are more catastrophes around the corner. The story's been written by Hollywood hotshots Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick, and it really does show; the plot remains silly from start to finish, but it never takes its tongue out of the side of its cheek, and while it draws from movie tropes quite liberally, it subverts them just enough to eschew pure parody.
Not that this is immediately obvious, as the escapade opens like any other slasher. The ensemble of pert posteriors and inflated egos that comprise the cast are intentionally obnoxious, and you'll be calling for their comeuppance right from the word go. But while we wouldn't go as far as to say that the characters become likeable, there's a decent amount of development that goes on here – an advantage of the developer's decision to work with established writers rather than keep the scripting in-house.
In fact the writing is surprisingly good – in a cringe-worthy kind of way. The title throws red herrings out at every opportunity, and these help to keep proceedings interesting over the course of the campaign's eight or so hour running time. More importantly, the twists are multilayered, and, unlike a Quantic Dream game, aren't subject to the same enormous leaps of logic. It's still ridiculous at points, but there's method in its madness, and it offers a much more complex tale than you may be anticipating. Considering the branching paths, this is something of an achievement.
Of course, cause and effect is at the very core of the game, and is one of its major selling points. With the gameplay very much built from Telltale's blueprints, it also happens to be its most interesting aspect. But while you won't be adapting the story in its entirety, this is smartly implemented. A seemingly minor decision resulting in a cut on a protagonist's head can come back to haunt you hours later, while the mortality of the main characters is a very real concern; our initial playthrough ended with a single survivor, and after two complete runs we're still not entirely sure how to keep everyone alive.
Titles like Beyond: Two Souls cheated in this department, but Supermassive Games has clearly worked hard to make sure that you feel some impact from your actions – and these aren't always obvious right away. Our second playthrough unearthed entire cut-scenes, dialogue decisions, and even complete gameplay sequences that we weren't even aware existed on our first attempt, and while you can see the seams if you really search for them, there's definitely more consequence here than in most comparable games. It's on a par with Heavy Rain at least.
Unfortunately, while it shares positives with the legendary PlayStation 3 adventure, it also possesses some of its more negative attributes. The acting – provided by household names like Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek – is good, but the developer's opted to shoot the performances individually, while the body capture has been implemented after the fact. Consequentially, the facial animations don't always pair properly, leading to some L.A. Noire-esque uncanny valley. Moreover, you never quite get that camaraderie between the stars that was so impressive in The Last of Us.
It's still a handsome looking game, though – and we're not just talking about the cheerleader physiques and bulging biceps. Built using Guerrilla Games' underutilised Killzone: Shadow Fall technology, the title has atmosphere in spades, as you traverse sub-zero vistas and grungy underground caves. The performance isn't perfect – framerate judders are prevalent throughout – but given the generally glacial gameplay style, these aren't a great problem. The same can be said for the character movement, which can be woolly and imprecise in places.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is just how much mileage the developer gets out of its fixed camera angles. There are some really great depth of field effects which bring objects in both the foreground and background into focus, and the developer is able to lead your eye without taking away control. This is important, particularly when it comes to the plentiful jump scares, as you'll frequently find yourself walking into these unwittingly. The game will even capture short clips of these moments – Cheap Shots – using the PlayStation Camera if you want it to.
Of course, it is worth stressing that this is not a Silent Hills-esque psychological experience – although the inclusion of a shrink played by Peter Stormare does adapt the experience ever so subtly depending on your fears. But while it doesn't ever get under your skin, the string-driven score and moody lighting helps to create an unsettling atmosphere, which will have you on edge enough to ensure that the aforementioned jump scares do their job. Many of these are cheaper than those old YouTube shock videos, so brace yourself because they come thick and fast.
Naturally, these aren't as successful second time around, but the game does have decent replay value. In addition to wanting to see all of the ways that the story splits, there are a surprising number of clues and items that you'll collect along the way – each of which is fully modelled, and has a purpose in the overarching plot. In fact, Totems even give you a glimpse into the future, so that you can be on your guard, and collecting all of these unlocks an additional cut-scene which gives a little more insight into the narrative. The handful of 'Making Of' videos are merely the icing on the cake.
When you're investigating the abovementioned collectibles, you can choose to use motion controls or the analogue stick. In fact, the DualShock 4 is used to its fullest potential here, with the touchpad employed to turn pages, and the gyroscope offered as an optional torch control. We actually preferred the gestures over the more traditional alternative, but neither solution is foolproof, and it maybe feels like the studio should have picked one or the other and polished it up a bit more, rather than attempting to accommodate both styles at once.
Until Dawn is a pleasant surprise, and something that fans of interactive stories will really appreciate. As a schlocky horror it's a success, but its fiction actually goes beyond simple slasher – even if it remains intentionally silly throughout. The sometimes sloppy controls will irritate, while the performance capture could have been better, but neither of these issues are nightmarish enough to pull you out of the popcorn flick plot, which is buoyed by the impressive, if not gigantically impactful, butterfly effect. A ridiculous romp is what was promised, then, and this one will keep occupied all night long.
Hello all! Any questions, please copy me in and I'll do my best to respond to you all.
couldn't resist it hey?
asked this before, but it worries me that this is just an interactive game, following on screen prompts. can I walk about exploring or just reply to the on screen prompts. I want to get this but I hated the walking dead games.
a purchase rests on your reply lol.
@FullbringIchigo Of course not!
@deathvalleydemon No, the game is not all QTEs at all. There are a few sequences like that (maybe ten minutes of the entire game), but the majority of your time is spent walking around, hunting for clues and interacting with characters.
Excellent review, Sammy. I've been really interested in this game since it's PS4 announcement, and had a feeling it would be a solid exclusive. Glad to see the game panned out really well! I may have to rush out tomorrow morning and pick it up.
I'm interested but will probably wait a bit. How is the Trophy list?
Seems like it's turned out as expected, in previews it seemed like the framerate chugged a lot Sammy, has this been improved? (Despite as you say there are some dropped frames).
Wasn't sure at first but this sounds right up my street after all! The Witcher 3 and MGS V will keep me busy for ages, but given the frosty setting I'm thinking this might be one to add to the Christmas list!
@Splat The Platinum seems do-able, and is incentive to test all of the story permutations out.
@Glacier928 Thanks, I think you'll really enjoy it. I was always looking forward to it, but it turned out better than even I expected.
@adf86 I wouldn't say it chugs. It definitely drops frames, but it's not a massive deal because the game doesn't require pin-point precision like a shooter. Could have been smoother, though, for sure.
@SteveButler2210 Yeah, it's a great palate cleanser if you're looking for something a little different in between those big open world games.
Awesone review Sammy! This sounds like it's going to turn out exactly the way I had hoped it would! I've been pretty excited for this for some time, so I'm pretty happy it's not a let-down!
@get2sammyb How repayable do you feel the game is after a second run through and hour long was your first play through?
@Jazzer94 First attempt took eight hours, as I did a lot of exploring and soaked up the scenery much more. Second run was faster as I did less searching, probably about five hours.
I want to play it again because I've just read about the survival of a particular character on NeoGAF that I have no idea how to keep alive.
Seems that Until Dawn DID manage to accomplish its promises, unlike The Order 1886.
@SoulsBourne128 Looks like you removed your question, but I'll answer it anyway: it's very similar to Heavy Rain and Telltale titles for sure. There's probably a bit more exploration than those, though.
@get2sammyb I heard that you chose on whether any of the characters live or die. Is this true? And...if it is true, can you also place on what fatality they could endure? Also, as a big fan of low-budget 80's horror flicks from the past, is this a better game than what The Evil Within was, because I was actually disappointed in that game. I love the Silent Hill games and I loved Eternal Darkness and Dead Island. If it is close or like them, this is definitely a title that I will be picking up (probably picking up anyways since I love the horror genre)
@SoulsBourne128 i was promised a story-focused, action shooter set in an alternate reality victorian London that lasts 8 hours and i got that, dunno what you (supposedly) played.
@JLPick You do decide who lives and who dies, but it's not as black and white as that. I don't want to delve into spoiler territory, but the decisions that you make will determine who lives or dies — and it may not always be obvious what's going to happen.
@TheMightyPunram Would buy that DLC in a heart beat.
@Comrade44 If you like games like Heavy Rain and enjoy cheesy horror movies, then you'll love this.
@viciousarcanum This is much more successful than The Order: 1886, though. The story's much more consistent, the writing is (bizarrely) better, and I actually enjoy 'playing' this much more than I did The Order. They're different games, though, so the comparison doesn't really work.
looks like has real promise and i like fact clearly has replay value
Sounds like a modern and Western version of Capcom's Sweet Home and Human Entertainment's Clock Tower. I've been interested in this since back when it was a Move game for PS3. It's just a shame that it's coming out so close to MGSV, both from my personal point of view and from a business point of view.
Pirate Warriors 3, MGSV and Danganronpa Another Episode all come out within a short period of time either side of it so I'll have to put it off till later, but by then Fallout 4, Tales of Zestiria and who knows what else will be out.
>"The acting – provided by household names like Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek"
Really? I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or if they actually are famous in America and that's who you're aiming that comment at.
I'm glad it's not a broken mess, I had high hopes and they weren't dashed.
@Comrade44 Feel free to ask as many questions as you like. The game looks gorgeous. The lighting is really impressive. It's using the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine.
@Matroska I've always been a big fan of Hayden Panettiere for her... Acting. Obviously. There aren't any 'big names' in the cast I guess, but they're all TV or movie actors.
@sonicmeerkat Yeah, no crashing issues or anything like that here. Works as advertised, which is a pleasant change.
I'm actually glad this turned out to be fine.
Ofc i'll never play it, as scary things scare me.
I am actually very excited about this, the whole premise intrigues me and as a fan of the late 90's early 00's teen horror films I'm all over this. I'm forcing the girlfriend to watch as I play, I feel it'll make it a better game!
Surprised this ended on a score of eight; the review read like a justifiable 9. Oh well, subjectivity of boiling a complex experience into a petty number and all that. Sounds like a fun romp either way!
Lookin to offl load my witcher so this could be it for a trade in
@Fath I don't know. I think 9/10 is a bit too strong; the performance capture could be better, the controls are fiddly, and this sort of game isn't exactly original anymore. It's very good, but it's not a 9/10 for me.
@TheMightyPunram I think it may be more appropriate to be hunted by members of Lizard Squad.
Amazon will deliver this any day now
I was committed to buying this no matter what, but so far the reviews have been better than I expected. Definitely looking forward to playing
this when it unlocks tonight!
Sounds great! Looking forward to running through this multiple times to see all it has to offer.
glad it has turned out good! keep the horror games coming sony!!!
I may actually have to give this a try at some point. Wasn't sure about it but reviews have it hovering around an 80 which is much better than I expected.
Thanks, Sammy. Like I said before I'm definitely getting it as long as it wasn't broken or something. I love scary movies like this so I was pretty confident I would love it as long as it ran correctly. Preordered 1 day in advance!
Wish I could afford it. Gonna have to wait a few months for a price cut. Looks absolutely brilliant to me.
@Matroska No idea about "Rami Malek", but Hayden Panettiere was pretty well known for a while as she was one of the main cast in Heroes. Big sci-fi show, "Save the cheerleader, save the world"? She was the cheerleader.
@get2sammyb Yeah, not a 9, 7 seems about right and despite what some seem to think, is not a bad score at all.
Then again, I'm not a great fan of review scores. They serve a purpose, but one man's 7 is another man's 9. The actual body of the review is more useful and interesting and it's sad that many skip it just to see what the score is, as if that tells them anything.
It's off topic, but there was a time, especially in the mid-90s at the height of popularity for mags like GamePro and EGM, where a 7/10 was considered good and worth a buy. Don't know why that changed. I've played plenty of 7/10 games that I enjoy much, much more than games that routinely pull in 9s and 10s, Elder Scrolls being an example.
Honestly though, when I first saw this game surface on PS4 I wasn't even expecting 5/10, at best, it seemed pretty bad. So far after 54 reviews last time I checked it was at a 79, so they got something right with this. Impressive when you consider its beginnings for the very ill-advised PS Move.
@SteveButler2210 Rami is the star of the USA show Mr. Robot & if you watch agents of shield the actor who plays Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is in at as well. Personally I know Hayden is the biggest name but I think Peter Stormare is the most known for the endless movie & TV roles he has played.
@Gamer83 Yeah and the ghost of Move has not been fully exorcised from this title. There are countless moments where you use the analog stick, triggers or touch pad to simulate movements like opening latches, turning handles, pulling switches or turning pages in a book. It's all a bit silly, but possibly they left it in to add a bit more (meaningless) interactivity to what is essentially an interactive horror movie, albeit a very good one.
I'm just happy to learn that it's a good game. Haven't been convinced to spend $60 but when it drops a little bit I'll be sure to purchase it. I do like horror stories and it sounds like the interactivity in this isn't as annoying as what was in Heavy Rain so that's a plus.
Excellent review, Sammy! I honestly thought most of this game would be a host of QTEs from the gameplay footage and trailers I'd seen, but it seems to be way better than that. Going to give it a test run tonight since I was able to rent it from Redbox!
@get2sammyb Hey - I'm wondering what the gore level is. I love a good frightfest, but horror that turns to excessive gore for its thrills turns me off. I heard it sometimes goes towards Saw type violence. Is this the case?
@chiptoon Hmm. It can be quite gory in places, but never out of context. It's not 'torture porn' or anything like that, but there are definitely some gross out bits.
Really enjoying the game so far. I love interactive stories and scary movies so I'm just having a blast.
@SanderEvers Didn't encounter that myself, but that sucks. Still, while I know it's not ideal, you're still so early in that I'd just try starting over. Sorry to hear that, though.
Just tried it yesterday. About 3 hours in with my wife and brother in law and we really enjoyed it. I like the direction they took it in. It's definitely not a purchase for me at $60 as I don't think I'd play it to often. I'll probably try to get it down the road (we started it on redbox and we'll probably use that thoroughout).
I really really want that game - but I will have to wait to play it, just have no time for it - gotta finish a few other games first, but if im lucky the price has dropped by then ^^
Update: got it and played it all over the weekend - the game is absolutely brilliant, one of the best and most tense horror experiences since idk when - the graphics are breathtakingly gorgeous, the atmosphere is tense and full of suspense, the characters/the whole setting/story are very well done and something I can relate to - which helps to draw into the game of course - and although its more "movie" than "game" its extremely well crafted and enjoyable, even for others around that just watch the player
I hope the whole genre will evolve around this - Until Dawn/Alien Isolation/Outlast (+ "PT//SilentHillsDemo") - THOSE are examples of how a horror game should be today - I really enjoyed ResidentEvilRevelations2 for example too, especially in coop, but compared to the tension and overall atmosphere it just doesnt stand ANY chance compared to the games I mentioned
I was really lookin forward to UntilDawn since it was announced for PS3 (and Move) and it turned out to be much more awesome than I wished for or expected it to be
One of the best games of 2015 and one of the best overall PS4 Games so far
The tempation became too stronk so I got this game at the weekend. I completed it by Sunday night, it took me about 10 hrs. Ofcourse I was exploring every nook and cranny and taking my time.
A visually stunning, compelling story which keeps you intrigued & guessing. The butterfly effect really makes you think about your decision.
My ending turned sour - Only 2 survived.... Oh well, I have enough heart to do a re-run in a couple of weeks; in the meantime MGS V needs a good seeing to. ^_^
Is there a new game plus mode? Thought you lose all your progress like warning screen comes up?
Have to try this out now for sure
Loving it so far. The framerate is pretty terrible most of the time which can damage the sense of reality the graphics give, but it's a fantastic game overall.
@smythelove Probably too late now, but for anyone else coming here with the same question: after you complete it, doing Chapter Select is effectively NG+. Clicking New Game will actually wipe all your carry-over stuff. What carries over are the clues and totems.
@Matroska Thank you! 😀
Ok, so I'm a little late to the party, but Until Dawn was one of the free games that came with the PS5. I doubt I would have bought it as I usually go for the big AAA open world games, but what a great "game". Still on my first play through and totally hooked on the story and how things will unfold.
Finished my first play through here in the fall of 2022 and was amazed at how much fun this game turned out to be in the end (it started slow). The holding-still feature should be emphasized, and I let someone down in the end because I shook a little - and I felt bad enough to replay and set some things right using the chapters feature after the first completion.
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