What you won’t like
Sometimes there aren’t enough choices
It’s exceedingly hard to save three of the characters. It basically takes multiple playthroughs because they die so randomly. On my first run through, I was able to save only three of the characters, and I felt pretty good about that. I did, however, feel like I had been cheated by the storytellers who stole two characters away from me. On my second try, I was only able to save five of the eight characters, and I didn’t really see a clear path to saving them. Each choice you make is supposed to be informed, but there are some random ones in there to throw the player off, Reznick said.
The worst feeling you can have is to play eight hours of the game and then suddenly lose a character that you care about because you chose to go left instead of right. Usually, the game designers aren’t cruel puppeteers. But that’s when it feels like they are. It raises that question about how easy or hard a game should be. When the consequences can be so disastrous in terms of the player’s time — they may be forced to start over if they really want to keep someone alive — then this is a pretty harsh design.
The totems do give you information that can help you make informed decisions. But after two playthroughs, I haven’t had the exact outcome I wanted.
You won’t be surprised on second playthrough
Until Dawn encourages replaying, so that you can meet the challenge of saving all eight of the friends. As you might expect, there are a lot fewer surprises the second time around. But Reznick pointed out to me that it’s a great game to play with friends. You can sit through a session with them and watch them make their choices.
I did this with my oldest kid and her friends. I got a kick out of seeing their choices and watching their reactions. But the joy for me, of course, wasn’t as great as it was the second time around. I almost wish they would spin around the plot so that it really is a different story the next time around. That might have ballooned the narrative to 100,000 words. But maybe that’s the kind of game we could create ten years from now.
The awkward 3D navigation
Walking around in Until Dawn is a slow process. You can’t really run on your own. And the characters tend to bump into a lot of obstacles as you try to navigate through the weird, third-person perspective in a semi-3D space. It’s like a Resident Evil game in that respect, and it’s really annoying. It draws attention to the fact that the movement of the characters isn’t perfect, and it wastes a lot of your time.
Still, because there are clues hidden in the environment, you feel obligated to visit each spot in a scene, just so you don’t miss any critical clues.
Cheesy horror elements
Like other horror movies aimed at young adults, Until Dawn has its cheesy moments. There’s a bit too much sexual innuendo, a lot of swearing, and a lot of gore. That means you won’t want to show it to kids, even if you think the other aspects of the game are cool. There are also a lot of “jump scares” that are simply there to put you on edge. Your tolerance for these scenes depends on how much you like the horror genre. What saves the game is a good sense of humor and self-awareness when it comes to the cheesy stuff.
The title is rated mature, and it has some of the typical tropes of Hollywood slasher films, like excessive gore, horrifying scenes, foul language, and suggestive sexual innuendo and scenes. But if you can get past that stereotype and your usual reaction to Hollywood horror, you’ll find that Until Dawn is one of the most original and polished games in the interactive horror genre.
The game really lives up to its promise and vision, and that’s a rarity in an age of hype.
I played the game twice, just so I could see how many characters I could save. I also played individual episodes to figure out just how I could play that episode in a new way and save a character that I had lost. I found that it held my attention through more than 25 hours of game play so far, and I’d like to play it some more, Until Dawn.
Until Dawn is available on August 25 in North America on the PlayStation 4. The company provided GamesBeat with a copy of the game for this review.