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Games We Love: Until Dawn

"Boom. Butterfly Effect."

Few adventure games nail it in terms of making the tough decisions when time is not on your side. But what if you combine that with teen-based survival horror? Supermassive Games tackled that with last year’s Until Dawn. The decision making in this game can actually lead to serious consequences for the teens. I also enjoy how campy the teens are and how topical they can be in certain moments. Until Dawn remains as one of the Playstation 4’s sleeper hits and thanks to all the holiday sales, I finally got to see for myself how awesome it is.

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The game takes place at a Canadian mountain retreat where a prank goes terribly wrong for two sisters leading to their deaths. One year later after the incident, the same group of teens return to the retreat for another vacation. Of course with teens, this ain’t your ordinary vacation with tons of emotional drama and horrors. However, it’s more than just the teens as they uncover clues on what previously happened at the mountain. Until Dawn has it’s twists when a psycho killer is also at large. There were moments in the story where it reminds me of recent horror movies, but more importantly the game sticks to it’s identity exceptionally well.

Decision making in Until Dawn revolves around the Butterfly Effect mechanic. These range from running or hiding from the psycho or whether to attack an animal or not. More critical choices later on the story decide the fate of certain characters and the struggle to think on the spot for these teens feel real. It takes a bit for the game to get going, but even making the wrong decision early on can lead to disaster. When it picks up however, it becomes one of the best adventure games I played yet.

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Along with the Butterfly Effect choices, the QTE segments also have a sense of urgency to them. One mistake can lead to a teen’s death adding along to the stakes. However, my favorite gameplay mechanic in Until Dawn are moments when you have to not move your controller. These are also the most intense parts of the game and it’s rare to see the Dual Shock 4 used that way. I choked in some of these sequences especially when a character’s fate is on the line and it sucks. I hope to see more games implement that controller’s light bar in innovative ways like what Until Dawn did.

Another element I loved in Until Dawn is how big a role collectibles are. The totems provide a helpful tease of what to do and not. Plus the clues uncovering the mystery of the mountain, the killer and the sisters make the world surprisingly more interesting. I do wished characters’ stats make more of a difference to add to the game’s depth. Some relationship stats do affect certain moments in the game, but they were fairly minor ones. Fortunately, chapters can be replayed if you missed collectables and try to keep everyone alive if someone didn’t make it to the end.

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As always with these adventure games, it’s about the characters and I really like the cast. Hayden Panettiere kills it as Sam and it’s crazy to see Brett Dalton, Mike in this game and Ward from early seasons of Agents of SHIELD, play someone else than the role we remember him most. Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek also gives a superb performance as Josh. The other teens are also on point with their roles and personalities. You can easily get attached to these teens if you share similar character traits to them. You do your best to stay them alive and kill the ones you really despise. There’s also Peter Stromare as Dr. Hill in between chapters hosting counseling sessions and he’s awesome in that role when you’re answering questions. If Sony wants to bring Until Dawn to the silver screen, this cast reprising their roles would be awesome.

Until Dawn shows that a big budget adventure game can work. It sticks to the campy teen-based horror identity and the twists are cool to experience. Out of the games in the genre I played, Until Dawn’s emphasis on stakes with the decision making was quite refreshing. If the next best thing for survival horror is combining it with Telltale-style choices, then I’m cool with that. With this and Resident Evil 7, I’m surprisingly excited to play horror games and yet I hate watching horror movies. That’s weird right? If Until Dawn is on sale again, don’t miss out on one of the Playstation 4’s best sleeper hits.

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