Game Review | Until Dawn
Game Summary: When eight friends return to the isolated mountain lodge where two of their group disappeared exactly one year ago, things quickly turn sinister.
As a horror game, Until Dawn is pretty damn great, bar a few moments here and there. When it turns from horror into more of an action experience, it’s 'just' pretty good, again bar a few moments. Unfortunately, gameplay is the opposite, being mediocre to poor pretty much the entire time.
The thing is, what Until Dawn does well, it does really, really well. Yeah, there may be a few too many jump scares that you grow to expect them and they cease to be shocking or surprising. It also leans a little too heavily into horror film tropes that mean what appear to be intended as surprises fall flat.
But those are the only real criticisms from a non-technical or gameplay point of view. The characters are a varied bunch, with their own distinct personalities and voices, with some undergoing some pretty fantastic character arcs. Unfortunately, some don’t – looking at you, Emily.
Then again, someone like Emily might have undergone a different arc for you, or been killed off at various points. Until Dawn still has an illusion of choice like the Telltale games, but it’s much better at hiding it and making it feel like the player has had a heavy influence on who survives the story.
Read around and you’ll see that it’s possible for everyone to live (although one of them might wish they didn’t) or for everyone to die. With a cast of eight characters, that will allow for some scenes to play out quite differently.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story, but it’s a pretty basic horror movie-style premise, along with all the usual twists you’d expect, including a fairly predictable turn into more action-heavy territory when it’s revealed that what’s going on isn’t everything it appears to be.
Until Dawn is a genuinely fun experience, with some amazing atmosphere and characters that I think most people will really enjoy their time with. As noted earlier though, there are some issues that may put some more ‘hardcore’ gamers off.
To start, the controls are pretty limited, with ‘tank-like’ controls for the characters making movement a bit of a chore, and an item-detection system that doesn’t work, requiring a guide to get all the clues in the game’s world unless you’ve got a lot of free time and even more patience.
Also, while the action scenes are entertaining to watch, they are little more than quick-time events and some basic aiming sections. While this may be groan-inducing for some, Until Dawn actually freshens up the formula by making inaction a valid – and often superior – choice to simply doing what it looks like the game is telling you to do.
Also, the sound design is pretty limited with no memorable music at all, instead relying on voice and effects work to generate the atmosphere. It’s not exactly bad, but the right music choices could have really ramped up the tension at certain points.
There are also some frame-rate issues which are annoying, especially for a game that is mainly scripted events. Maybe there wasn’t enough time to optimise every single variation of every scene, but it can be jarring at times. It’s a shame because the character models and their animation in the non-gameplay sections are so good that the deserve better.
Despite these problems, I still enjoyed Until Dawn a lot and look forward to playing through it again at some point. The characters really do grow on you and there is some really nice world-building and myth-making done in a short space of time.
Until Dawn is genuinely scary and unsettling at times, which is what you’d hope for from a horror game. I can’t see how you’d make a sequel – at least, not with the same characters – but Until Dawn was good enough to make me want more, which is the true sign of its underlying quality.