Interactive horror movie games have sucked in the past because players felt the titles weren’t very interactive, and the cinematic parts of the games were worse than B movies.
Sony wants to change that with Until Dawn, a new interactive horror movie game for the PlayStation 4 in 2015.
But using the processing power of the PlayStation 4 and modern performance capture technology, Sony and its game developer Supermassive Games may very well deliver a great experience, based on a preview I saw Wednesday in San Mateo, Calif. In the demo, which Sony is also showing at the Gamescom game expo in Cologne, Germany, it’s clear that Until Dawn benefits from a complete development reboot. It’s an impressive showcase of beautiful graphics and storytelling drama. I hope that it will be truly interactive as well, but that remains to be seen.
Sony first showed off the title two years ago as a PlayStation Move motion-sensing game. But it shelved that idea and redesigned it for the DualShock 4 motion-sensing controller for the PS4. The redesigned game resembles Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, where you press a button to make a choice at a key moment in the drama. If you make the right choice, then you go down a certain path.
“We’ve reimagined it from the ground up,” said Victoria Miller, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America, in an interview. “Supermassive Games enlisted the help of known horror film creators Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick.”
In the game, eight friends gather for a getaway in a house on a mountain. Something goes wrong, somebody gets killed, and then you have to help them survive the night. It makes use of “the butterfly effect,” an idea from chaos theory that holds that even the smallest changes can have a global effect. If you make a decision, no matter how small, the outcome of the game can come out differently.
“When you make the decisions, that can drastically alter your path,” Miller said. “Anyone and everyone can die, depending on the choices you make.”
Anyone who watches horror films can relate. If you’re stupid, you won’t make it through the night.
“It puts you in the driver’s seat of a slasher flick,” Miller said. “You’re sitting, watching the TV saying, ‘Don’t go in there. Don’t go alone! You’re smarter than that.’ You get to make the decisions.”
I played the character Ashley, a cute girl who is covered in blood from something that happened earlier in the game, during a demo that takes place about midway through the story. You’ll be able o play as all eight of the friends during the course of the game. Certain chapters are built around specific characters. I immediately noticed that the characters are stunningly realistic. Those faces are so real that you’ll stare at them and wonder if they real or animated. Only when the characters move do you notice a slight artificiality that tells you you’re looking at an animation.
The faces and bodies are rendered through “performance capture,” where actors wear body suits, and cameras and microphones capture their movements and dialogue. They act out a scene, and then that scene is directly transferred into the game. The artists take the video of the actors and turn them into animated characters in the game. This technology has gotten so good and the processing power of next-generation consoles is so powerful that the captured movements can be turned into the most realistic computer graphics that you’ve ever seen.
The performance capture is only as good as the performances of the actors. In this case, the acting is good. The Hollywood cast includes Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) and Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D). The story is dynamic, adapting to your collective decisions.
And in the game, you have to make both small and big decisions. Do you save yourself, or do your save your friends?
The story is tense and emotional. Some of the dialogue is funny. Chris, the skeptical young man, tries to reassure Ashley that there is no such thing as a ghost. She sees an ethereal figure and screams at him to look. He misses it.
“What? Are you tweeting? Hashtag there’s a freaking ghost after us!” she yells at him.
You control where a character moves using the sticks. If you shift your controller to the right or left, the motion-sensing will kick in. You can use that effect to make a decision or move your flashlight around the room.
It has plenty of false alarm scares, like you see in horror movies. Ashley and Chris find themselves channeled deeper and deeper into a trap, but they have no choice. The drama will get your heartbeat pounding. And there are some truly spooky and bloody moments. It’s going to be rated mature, for sure.
The title uses the Killzone: Shadowfall game engine, which was built for the PS4. Supermassive previously made games like Walking With Dinosaurs for the Sony PlayStation Move, and they worked on previous Killzone games. I can recognize familiar dust spores flying in the air. Those particles show off the power of the PS4, but they’re starting to get too familiar, as I’ve seen them in Killzone: Shadowfall and The Last of Us.
Still, I’m impressed with the quality of the graphics. As for the interactivity, you don’t get to do all that much. As with Heavy Rain, you have to make a choice and do it in a split second. If you make the right one, you’ll go down the path of survival. If not, well, maybe another one of the teenagers will survive until dawn.