Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Dead Space are some of the biggest names in gaming thanks to their solid horror gameplay and atmospheres. While they are great in their own rights, there is a certain 2015 PS4 exclusive that remains one of the most engaging and compelling horror experiences ever. Until Dawn comes from Supermassive Games, who, prior to the game, had worked on DLC and AR video games for much more kid-friendly audiences. Their shift in video game genres was rather abrupt and shocking, but the result was probably one of the best “play this with your friends on the couch late at night” type of experiences.
Until Dawn, years later, still looks relatively great, despite some odd lighting here and there. Each area is detailed and adds to the suspense, from dusty old lodges to creepy abandoned mines. Everything felt designed to perfectly match the game’s intended tone of replicating classic horror movies. With lodges reminiscent of Friday the 13th and gross horror slightly similar to that seen in Society, Until Dawn is a game that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.
Many games are so cinematic that they’ve been adapted to movies, like Resident Evil despite the middling to downright repugnant critical reception of the adaptations, or Silent Hill’s interesting film adaptation. Until Dawn takes one step further and manages to combine both aspects. Supermassive’s title merged the interactive nature of games with the major star power of Hollywood actors and actresses, such as Hayden Panettiere, the final girl type who starred in Heroes and previous games as Kairi in Kingdom Hearts, Peter Stormare as the odd therapist, Nichole Sakura, the “snarky” girl to put it in family-friendly ways, best known for Superstore and Rami Malek, the “weirdo” and a major star amongst many other talented castmates.
Every single performance given adds to the truly joyous slasher vibe to the proceedings, but where the game truly shines is in one of gaming’s finest uses of Quick Time Events since “Press F to pay respects.” Taking full advantage of the Dualshock controller, it creates lots of tension with rapid QTEs that can result in a character living or dying. They come very often,
and as such, players must always be on alert. Even then, one of the even bigger aspects that decides who lives and dies is how each character has a relationship to another. Some dialogue options and small choices can result in another dying much later on. These relationships change with every choice you make in meaningful ways.
What separates Until Dawn from other games like it such as Detroit: Become Human and Telltale titles is its perfect usage of motion controls. The best part of the game is lying in the “Don’t Move” sections, which require the player to hold the controller still for five seconds at first. It doesn’t last too long at first, but they can result in your character biting the dust if you accidentally move. But it really makes its mark in the final chapter where you’re forced to stand still for slowly increasing amounts of time. This is perhaps just as terrifying as Mr. X random encounters in the Resident Evil 2 Remake, as you know of the threat, but moving a single muscle would result in your character’s demise. I spent an entire playthrough carefully following instructions and some guides (no shame) to keep every dumb teenager-20something alive, but there was no preparing for the Don’t Move section that lasted a full 20 seconds. A single movement in the very short first of many sections like these unfortunately sealed the fate of a character I had loved and kept alive for so long. Immediately after finishing the game, I went into chapter select and played through every single increasingly long “Don’t Move” game, and for the final one, I had to genuinely hold my breath and stay hyper-focused.
While horror has seen a variety of games, Until Dawn stands out with the usage of motion controls in an innovative and downright terrifying way while paying homage to the films that inspired it. I’m a big fan of what the horror genre can do, and Until Dawn remains a shining example of this. Not every moment lands, but some moments are so downright terrifying even without the requirement of jumpscares. With The Quarry releasing, Supermassive is making their mark with interesting games that blend a love of slashers with a love for games as an interactive medium.