Saturday, September 26, 2015

Final Thoughts On Until Dawn  


So, Until Dawn.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this one lately, and two of my fellow writers at @Gamecritics liked it a lot, so I was excited to check into it. Apart from the positive word-of-mouth, I'm generally into the "choose your own adventure" game genre, and adding a horror twist was intriguing.

It was suggested to me that Until Dawn was best played with other people in the room (agreed!) so I recruited the wife to sit with me and the two of us went through the entire game in about three sessions. Now that we’ve wrapped it up, I can say that I liked it, but not nearly as much as everyone else on Twitter. As credits rolled, I was left fairly unsatisfied.

If you don't know what Until Dawn is, it's basically a Telltale-style title where the player has a group of eight college kids (Or were they teens? Hard to tell.) in a cabin deep in the woods, things start to get crazy and people start dying, and… Well, I'm sure you can guess how it goes from there.

What I liked best about it is that it really nails the teen-slasher film genre and translates it into a more interactive experience. The material suits the style of play well, and all the usual tropes are here, from the character archetypes to certain camera angles, and the way the music kicks in at certain times. It is rich in B-movieness, and as a fan of B-movies, that was great.

As for the rest of Until Dawn, it only delivers middling results.

Several sources have stated that it originally began as a PS3 title meant to use Move motion controllers, and that makes absolute sense. The bulk of the game is watching characters walk down hallways (actual hallways, mine shafts, narrow paths in woods and so on) and the camera always has a fixed angle. The developers are clearly pushing the player in a certain direction, which makes sense as someone holding a Move controller might not have the same level of functionality that a standard controller has.

Beyond that, there are a million little instances of the player grabbing an object and rotating it, grabbing an object and pulling it, grabbing an object and lifting it, grabbing an object and opening it, and so on. It’s clear that those motions were meant for someone with a Move controller to be acting them out. It would've been really gimmicky in that context, and it's not any better here.

As for the story, it feels confused and there's a little too much going on with it, but not in a good way. It's not terrible by any means, but it doesn't feel as tightly focused as a horror film would be, and some of that is probably due to the developers trying to extend the length of playtime. I think our run clocked in at about six or seven hours, and that felt way too long for what it is. Considering that most of the game is walking down a hallway and having a QTE once in a while, it could've been half the length would've been better for it.

Until Dawn also leans incredibly heavily on cheap jump scares, to the point that you can predict exactly when they’ll pop up. Not only is it the lamest way to make a game "scary", they get repeated so much that they lose all effectiveness. Sometimes they didn't even make sense in the context of what was going on!

As for the choices, I can't say that they were great. Apparently there's a lot going on in the game depending on each character’s interaction with each other, and that very well may be true, but during this initial playthrough it felt like most of the life-or-death choices were pure luck… Sometimes I felt like I was doing the right thing, and had a bad ending. Other times, decisions didn't seem to matter. I never felt like poor consequences were because I made a bad choice, but more that I made a random choice that just happened to be wrong. This lack of buy-in had me throwing my hands up in the air about halfway through, and I gave up on trying to make my choices matter – I might as well have been flipping a coin at each juncture.

As for seeing different outcomes, I have no desire to replay any of the chapters to try different things. I might if the game was shorter, but there's a lot of filler that I don't want to sit through again, and to be frank, now that I know what the story’s about, the desire to find out what’s going on has evaporated. With no mystery left in the plot, my drive to continue is gone.

Oh, and by the way, for those who are wondering, I finished with three survivors -- Emily, Josh, and Sam. Two of the deaths I incurred felt like total bullshit, and the other three… well, who knows.

Overall it’s fair to say that I generally liked Until Dawn for what it was, but I don't think I ever want to play through it again, and it's definitely not one of the best games of the year for me. An interesting experiment, but one that I hope leads to stronger works in the future.


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