I first got Until Dawn when I got my PS4 because as a horror fan it was an exclusive that greatly appealed to me, but my experience… left something to be desired. I didn’t hate the game, far from it. However, I didn’t really understand why people were so hype. I recently replayed it on stream, and while I still don’t love it as much as other people, I do have a better understanding of why it’s such a popular game.
Until Dawn starts off with a group of teenagers partying in a lodge on a mountain. The group decides to prank Hannah, who has a crush on Emily’s boyfriend. They convince Hannah that her affections are returned and film the event in secret. She is heartbroken and embarrassed, understandably, and runs off in the snow. Her twin sister chases after her, and they both meet a terrible fate. Flash forward a year later and Josh, the twins’ brother, wants to have a get together to help him heal.
From there you take over the various characters and make gameplay and story development choices as they spend the night on the mountain. The gameplay is a bit like the late Telltale’s games. I don’t want to say it’s exactly the same, but there are similarities. You are often given choices of how to respond to story moments and pick the response. The actual gameplay is QTEs and quick choices. It is a bit more in-depth than the Telltale games, but if you have experience with those, then you will understand the basics.
Unlike the Telltale games you are playing all of the characters at various points and developing their relationships from multiple sides, and the choices seem to resonate a lot more strongly. A missed item in chapter 4 could mean the death of an entirely different character all the way in chapter 6.
What grabs people about Until Dawn is the story. As a self-proclaimed “genre nut” I was excited about this game, and I have to say… the story is good, could be better, but is far from bad. It suffers a bit from too much at times. There are times where I feel like the game is trying to hit every trope possible in a short matter of time. The nice thing about this is the game encourages you to really dig and find collectibles to understand the lore of the game. The bad thing is that even doing that they don’t all feel wholly fleshed out, and I can’t help but think that a bit of focus with the game would have served it well. We have cryptids, a mental hospital, a mine, strangers on the mountain, people protesting the buying of the mountain, it just feels like a bit too much without the crucial stories really being given a chance to shine.
This is especially disappointing as there are some very compelling stories. The ideas of the cryptids is great and seeing another plot point removed to see that more fully developed would have been awesome. Sure all the stories tie together, to a point, but the game still suffers from a lack of understanding that sometimes less can be more.
Does this make the story bad? No, far from it. I just think it could have been better.
Another key feature of the game is the characters. I have a harder time with this game than others, and it’s mainly due to the characters. I love strong character development, in fact, one of my favorite games I feel suffers in story, but the characters are so great it makes up for (ME2). This game does not have good characters. Josh, the twins’ brother, is a compelling character. The rest… it sort of depends on how you play, but for the most part, they leave a lot to be desired. Most of them are unforgivably mean or far too uninteresting. A lot of what this game depends on is an emotional connection to the characters and a desire to see them through “until dawn,” but that isn’t the case. Emily is unforgivably mean, Sam is cool but has little personality other than being “the girl,” Matt is forgettable, etc. etc. The choices you make can develop them further but it won’t always, and further development isn’t necessarily a good thing. I mean the game literally starts with almost the entire group setting out to humiliate one of their friends.
Until Dawn is hardly the only entry into the genre that features characters that you don’t care about, but games are different than movies. Movies ask you to passively watch for an average of two hours. Until Dawn asks you to put yourself in the shoes of these characters for 8-10 hours.
In spite of this, the game is actually genuinely entertaining. It has a good blend of suspense and jump scares. While the characters aren’t the best, there are a few that have interesting enough development. There is also the fact that there are basically two different plot lines unfolding as you play, and both of them aren’t bad.
It is a good game, but to me, it feels on the cusp of being so much more. A bit more development in certain plot lines, a bit better with the characters, and it would go from a game I greatly enjoy to a game I just couldn’t stop playing. I get why people love it so much, and I am close to feeling the same way. But the issues I have, hold me back from that just a bit. Still, I am looking forward to playing this game several times and uncover things I missed each time.
If you have a PS4 and like horror get this game. For many, it’s one of their top, but I can’t see it being a disliked game for almost anyone. It’s fun, spooky, and entertaining. It’s worth not just one playthrough but several to fully unwrap everything there is in this game.