Until Dawn is one of those pleasant surprises you get when you aren’t expecting anything good to happen and Sony is already touting that it will be a sleeper hit for the PS4. Yes, the graphics are a bit off since the motion caption and game cynematics where supposed to be for the PS3 but the story makes up for it. The reviews I have read so far had me scratching my head because I did enjoy the game play and didn’t really mind the controls even when the characters didn’t move as I wanted. Fortunately for me, neither of these flaws interfered with my game experience. (Parents the game is rated 18 and up because there is a lot of cursing and sexual situations but I would have allowed a 15 year old to play it. It is more tame than a modern slasher movie.)
Picture this: A bunch of friends travel to a cabin in the woods and the unthinkable happens; two of them vanish after a prank goes wrong. As if this wasn’t enough the group decides to get together a year later to celebrate their lost loved ones, always a bad idea, and discover the truth behind the mysterious disappearances. The characters are traditional stereotypes of horror and teenage movies, personalities and all, an overt tip of the hat to the genres. If you pay attention you can spot British Columbia colloquialisms in the script which may sound a bit cheesy or foreign if you are not familiar with the area. (I live nearby so it actually made the game more interesting for me.)
Native American lore is central to the story line and is introduced through the use of totems as clues. These totems will give you snippets into the future that can be used to determine if a particular location or decision will have beneficial or nefarious consequences. Be warned, the game uses a lot of gore and suspense to spook you and during the first chapters you will be asked about things you like and dislike to avoid making the experience unbearable. Your preferences do not alter the ending but they do influence the last chapter of the story.
What makes this game special is that every decision you make determines the actions that the characters will execute throughout the game, and you will not be able to stop certain events from happening. Depending on your selections the crew will either harbor resentment or grow closer to each other. The animosity or love they feel will take over their behavior as the game progresses, limiting the choices you will have when commanding them and enabling a character to decide, without a corresponding QTE or input from you, to save or let die a particular friend or foe. Whatever you choose to do gets recorded in the Butterfly Effect menu; use this menu as starting point to determine which choices you need to change to develop the story in a totally different direction.
I was able to unlock the Platinum Trophy after two playthroughs or 20 hours of fun! Right now it holds a respectable Hard rating on PSN Trophy Leaders. I didn’t need to play the game from the beginning thanks to the chapter replay function and, even if you have all the clues and totems, you can still use the chapter replay to kill or save characters. However, you have to finish the story from that chapter on for the changes to take effect. Unless you grab the clue or trophy again as part of the new game, the memory won’t register the clues you have so your character will have no recollection of past game data. This means they won’t save someone or divulge information to other characters because they didn’t physically obtain it during the most recent run; they don’t know it even though you do and even though it is saved on the game clue menu.
I highly recommend that you set up a game night and have your friends come over and participate in the decision making. Borrow or rent the game for better bang for your buck since it is not very long and has little replay value if you happen to get most of it right from the first try. This is definitely a good title to play in the weeks leading up to Halloween, and a better alternative to playing Resident Evil for the umpteenth time.