I only jumped once.
Honestly, just once while I played through a demo of Until Dawn, the first major title from developer Supermassive Games. Until Dawn is less psychological thriller and more schlocky horror, but there isn’t nearly enough of that on the home consoles. Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within, Daylight — there are plenty of survival horror games that take themselves seriously, some more effectively than others. It’s about time we had a wacky offshoot.
The short demo that I played during a recent PlayStation event in New York left me intrigued. Until Dawn is a PS4 exclusive third-person adventure game, putting the player in control of one of the unfortunate teens that ended up in a rundown, haunted hotel. As with every teen horror movie you’ve ever seen, the group ends up getting separated and fighting for their lives as terrible things begin to reveal themselves.
I say adventure rather than action-adventure because there wasn’t much in the way of action during my playthrough. The demo began with a short cutscene, showing off some incredibly impressive visuals and giving the actors a chance to demonstrate their chops. One of the game’s selling points is its cast, highlighted by Heroes and Nashville star Hayden Panettiere.
Unfortunately, most of the characters were missing during the demo. Instead, I was thrown into a room with Ashley and Josh, two hapless, but painfully obvious, lovebirds. After the scene played out, I was put in control of Ashley. I walked around the quiet room, moving the DualShock 4 controller to shine the flashlight on relevant spots in the environment and examining things that stood out.
Although the game takes place in a fully-rendered 3D environment, all I was really doing was finding contextually sensitive objects and pressing X. As I progressed, I began to see that many of the interactive elements in the environment were optional, but provided a sense of world-building.
It was too thin of a slice to judge the entire game by, but the gameplay didn’t lend itself particularly well to a frantic, tense horror story. That’s where the occasional jump scare came in, replacing what might have been an interesting chase sequence. But it was only twenty minutes of a much larger experience — one that won’t be available until sometime next year.
The one thing that Supermassive had to nail was the tone. From what I played, the developers and the writers have captured it perfectly. All the “witty” dialogue, the questionable decisions, the doors suddenly closing at the end of the hall and even the ominous music cues; it’s all present in Until Dawn. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you’re going to find a lot to like about Supermassive’s game.
There’s also going to be plenty of gruesome violence. At the end of the demo, after both Ashley and Josh had been knocked out and dragged away by some mysterious villain, they woke up strapped to chairs across a table from each other. In true Saw fashion, two saw blades began to descend from above them. Josh’s hands were free. A voice came over the intercom telling him to either kill himself or kill Ashley. Otherwise, they’d both die.
After fruitlessly attempting to shoot the saw blade, the game put me in control of Josh. I pointed the gun in my direction. Ashley pleaded with me to stop, to shoot her instead. I pulled the trigger.
If Until Dawn can tell a cohesive story and can twist the hackneyed horror tropes to its advantage, it could be one of the most unique titles of the generation. If it fails to innovate and simply follows the well-trod path of every bad teen horror story before it, only a very specific audience will get much out of it. I’m anxious to see where it ends up.