While gushing about my PS5 in my last post, I have been jumping around and just absolutely smashing games in my newly discovered backlog of PS4 titles. One of those, and possibly my favorite thus far, is Until Dawn.
I’ve never been into the “games that basically look like movies” type of games (the Uncharted series comes to mind here), but as the only currency I would have to trade to play it was my own free time (as it was included with PS+), I had to give it a shot. Historically, I get really into horror games around Halloween, but let’s just say that having a newborn during a pandemic and being trapped in a house in lockdown was about as much horror as I could stomach back in October, so I’m making up for lost time.
Until Dawn is, in essence, a “choose your own adventure” game, not unlike the books of the same style. If you read Goosebumps growing up, you probably have fond memories of reading this type of book, and Until Dawn is a perfect crossover into gaming media. Your choices impact the direction the storyline takes, and ultimately dictates the survival of everyone in the cast. It’s an interesting concept placed into a video game, and while certainly not the first, it’s got a production value unlike anything I’ve seen for the year it released.
The story revolves around a reunion at a mountain get-away with a group of teenagers, a year after some friends disappear. Everything seems normal (or as normal as it can be, despite the lingering feeling that something is going to go horribly wrong at any point), until a series of events unfold that shows they are not alone up on that mountain after all. There’s a quick prologue to set up the story and a few characters, but the main chapter starts afterwards and you begin the real decision making.
The system of branching paths and the choices that determine them are referred to as “The Butterfly Effect,” where even a seemingly innocuous decision can have drastic consequences. Where Until Dawn makes this interesting is that it keeps track of exactly the choices you make on a status screen, and you are notified whenever character relationships or decisions are impacted.
There are also plenty of clues to find regarding the mysteries that will unfold throughout your playthrough, and they are tracked automatically and kept up to date. If you find something (like an empty axe holder), and then later find the axe, it will update the clue “The axe was found […]”. Whenever a decision has an impact, you get a little “Status Updated” notification, and you can open the menu and find the updates. It’s a very cool way to show the player that their choices have meaning.
Did you slip and fall while chasing after someone? Well, you got to them too late and they were killed. Break your weapon trying to free yourself from a trap? Now you have no means of self defense later on in the game. Did you pick up a baseball bat and didn’t put it a back? Now you won’t find it later in the game when you need it.
It’s a realistic system too – eventually it has you questioning absolutely everything in your playthrough, because you never quite know which tiny decision will cause a chain reaction of terrible events. Even simply the act of discovering a certain clue can impact the knowledge someone has on a certain subject, which then affects their conversation options.
Between each chapter, you have a visit with “The Analyst”, in which you answer a series of questions about the game you’re playing. Unfortunately this is all I can mention here – I will say, this is a very twist-filled game, and these sections will eventually have deeper meaning to them.
Ultimately, Until Dawn requires multiple playthroughs to see the side affects. While the goal focuses around getting everyone to the next morning (clinically) alive, the conversations, actions, and behaviors of all the characters towards each other change subtly in such beautiful ways as you crash through your playthrough. This also opens the possibilities for subsequent playthroughs,
I tried a second playthrough where my goal was to destroy the relationships of everybody. A couple things I noticed were that it’s not as easy as you think. You’ll get an even richer understanding of each character in ways you never realized. For example, a snide remark from a boyfriend to his girlfriend (names removed to avoid any sort of spoilers!) ended up improving the relationship – this happened several times, and it became clear that she wanted a slightly more “macho” type of man. Of course, I adjusted my conversational trajectory, and now they hate each other more than ever! Mission accomplished.
The other type of playthrough I plan on trying is the “get everyone killed” run. From what I understand, it’s not as easy as you would think. Even after playing the game through twice, there are some decisions that seem like the most obvious to cause the most harm, but they end up backfiring completely.
I’ve gushed enough here – Until Dawn is an incredible lesson in story-telling in video games, even if it has it’s cheesy moments and is campy to the extreme – but it’s clear those moments are mere homage-payments to the clichéd horror movies of yester-year. If this is your style, you were probably sold on it by the third paragraph, but if you want a good scare, this is your game.