One game that caught our eye at Gamescom two years ago was Until Dawn a teen horror game set to rival the very few games like it. After the PlayStation Move orientated game fell off the radar we were sure it had been canned, however we were delighted to see it resurface at Gamescom 2014, bumped up to PlayStation 4 with improved graphics, waving goodbye to the even-less-popular-than-Kinetic-motion-tracking hardware from Sony and utilising the Move incorporated functionality of the Dualshock 4.
If any of you remember the obscurity of the game’s previous announcement, Until Dawn is basically a teen slasher game in the style of films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, that tells the tale of a group of classmates who visit a remote mountain location of Blackwood Pines for their annual getaway that ended in a friend disappearing the year previous, little do they know their mountain lodge fun will go horribly awry, and turn into a tense fight for their lives.
Until Dawn is not your typical survival horror, as you may guess from the title of this preview it’s more of an interactive experience much like Heavy Rain, except rather than the narrative focus on one character’s drama, the game will track each of the eight sprightly young teens as they attempt to escape death. In the section of the game that we played we took on the role of Ashley as she and friend Chris search for someone who went missing earlier on in the game -we were treated to a point that must have been a couple or so hours in.
Upon first glancing at the demo it had to be said that the game is visually stunning; using an improved version of the Killzone Shadow Fall engine it looks remarkable, the facial animations are extremely convincing and it is clear that a lot of animation work has gone into it, in fact I must have spent a minute or so waiting for what I thought was a in-game cutscene to end when I realised I actually had control of Ashley.
Possibly the most impressive survival horror aspect of the game is Until Dawn’s flashlight system that utilises the Dualshock 4’s light to directly control where your character aims it in game, as long as you remember to keep your controller held in line with the PlayStation Eye it works fairly receptively and is certainly a nice touch, though at times aiming the light at certain points in the environment would get somewhat frustrating. Until Dawn also utilises Motion control regularly to make decisions in the game and manipulate objects, in the demo this was the only real interaction we had with the environment and was an odd cross between Heavy Rain and LA Noire, but made the darkly lit environments a bit more interesting.
Whilst independent use of the flashlight works brilliantly as an aid whilst you explore the dark, dilapidated and somewhat gory aspects of Blackwood Pines, actual points of exploration seemed somewhat sparse, there generally always seemed to be one thing you needed to look at in an area before you could progress, which was somewhat disappointing with the games original selling point as an exploration game. It could be said that the reason behind this is that now Until Dawn seems far more focused on the interaction between characters and drama, drama, drama. After all, these teens are on the run from a crazed slasher stereotype, and you can’t help but get caught up in it all with all the over exaggerated emotions spilling from these young Americans.
In fact, for the focus on dramatics it’s unfair to draw comparisons to 3rd person survival horror games, because Until Dawn is just not one of them, it’s more of a horror game that is attempting to simulate the abject horror of a classic 90s slasher, just don’t be surprised if a little Saw gets added into the mix, after all the game is all about life-or-death decisions.
Until Dawn is exactly the teen slasher video game that a niche group of people have been yearning for, it may not appeal to all, but its promise of branching stories and different endings will please the Heavy Rain fan in most of us, just be prepared for jump scares, gore and some funky flashlight mechanics. Ultimately the games appeal will come down to it’s linearity, for now it’s looking and sounding very promising, and we are more than tempted to pick it up when we get a hold of a PS4.
Until Dawn does not have a confirmed release date, but is scheduled for a release in 2015 exclusively on PlayStation 4, here’s hoping it doesn’t slip another two years!