Sunday, March 20, 2016

Game Review: Until Dawn

Just to give fair warning, it is very hard to talk about this game without major spoilers. I'll do my best though.

As video games progress, many of them strive to create a more cinematic feel. They want to immerse the player to the point that they feel like they're controlling a movie, with real people, more than just playing a game.

Until Dawn makes a significant leap toward the cinematic experience. You're not so much playing a game, as much as you're experiencing a "Choose your own adventure" movie.

If you're familiar with slasher flicks, much of Until Dawn will be familiar to you. A group of nubile teens, heading up to a remote mountain cabin for Christmas break, where just the year before a few of them disappeared. An abandoned asylum, a psycho with a flamethrower, much of the game will seem old hat; but that doesn't stop any of it from being effective on the player.

The other aspect of Until Dawn, and a theme they literally beat into the ground, is the Butterfly Effect. Which basically says that the smallest of actions can have the most dire consequences. This takes effect through the choices you make during the game, and results in who survives and who doesn't at the end.

The story is excellent, with twists you certainly won't see coming, even with the hints the game tosses your way through clues to be found scattered around. It builds up real tension, leading to actual scares, and never lets up. There are almost no moments of levity once the action starts. It really is a "buckle your seat belt" ride.

Even being a Horror afficionado and having prior knowledge of some of the games twists and turns, I was on the edge of my seat. I can only imagine how much more it would've gotten me if I'd gone in blind.

The characters are excellent as well, they're stereotypes, to be sure, but each one is an individual, with none of them actually falling into the pits of the dreaded cliche`. Some you will love, some you will hate, but there really isn't any one hero or villain of the group.

The artwork and backgrounds are just as well done, giving you scenes of exquisite natural beauty, and horrifying terror. Many times, the only difference between those two extremes is lighting and atmosphere. In one moment, the cabin looks cozy and inviting. Later on, it becomes foreboding, with God only knows what ready to leap out at you from around the corners.

It's not a perfect game though. Honestly, the game aspect is where it kind of falls apart. Your time is split between slowly wandering around looking for clues, making decisions, and fast-paced quick-time sequences where you literally have seconds to push the right button, or a character could die.

The exploration scenes are long, slow, and generally fairly boring. The controls are also definitely not optimized, with the direction you need to push your characters in changing with the camera angles, one of my biggest complaints about the early games in the Resident Evil franchise. In the quick-time scenes, you lose all control of your character, outside of making choices like "Hide" or "Run", and hitting the button that pops up on the screen.

Once you've played through and been exposed, you'll probably find the game also doesn't have a lot of replay value. While the plot twists are pretty surprising, they lose a lot of power once you've seen them, and the ability to go back and make different choices doesn't seem to impact the main story all that much, in spite of the game's insistence that the butterfly effect can create drastically different outcomes.

This is still a hell of a Horror game, and if that's what your appetite is for, Until Dawn is easily a game you'll want to play at least once. If you can't play it yourself on PS4, Xbox, or PC, you can go on Youtube and find someone who has. Multiple Youtubers have played through it, and given how cinematic the game is, you don't lose much by just watching someone else play. It might even help you get through the game where you otherwise might not if you were playing alone. It's really that good and scary.

Overall, I'm giving Until Dawn 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is worth playing, but it's much more of a movie than a game, and since it is a game, that's a pretty big hit.

~ Shaun

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