Tea: Cocoa Tea
Until Dawn was praised last year as a bold new step in the horror genre with its pandering towards an “old school horror crowd” – a category as vapid and empty as most of the teens in this game. Now that I finally played it, the severe problems are all the more apparent. Being the pretentious-art-degree-holding-hipster that I am, I immediately hate what most people love and will now justify said hate.
Until Dawn mixes about every major horror genre into one big grey pulp and switches the player’s control between several different characters. The game focuses on choices and the consequences (it should be somewhat clear at this point, why I despise it). The “Butterfly effect” updates anytime a major choice is made, so anytime the top left does not explode with butterfly .pngs you know that choice was for nought. Most of the problems I would usually address are easily deflected by the fact that the game mirrors old horror movie clichés, be it the characters, plot convenience, the writing in general etc. But I am not willing to let that slide. None of the characters are compelling, which is fine in a movie where you just wait for everyone to be slaughtered. But here you must at least empathise on some level with the cast to have incentive to get them through the night as the first real death option takes far too long to get to, so you might as well try. Not only is it apparent who the masked psycho is from very early on, every twist is very obvious if you have a working brain and pay some attention. And since the first quarter of the game is basically settling you in with the game mechanics, as nothing with consequence happens in them, the game slows to a crawl. Worst offender are long drawn out walking sections through the woods which supposedly should contribute to the atmosphere, but that is not how this works at all. The game can only scare you with jumpscares and there are a lot of them, but you get used to them really fast if they get you at all. Afterwards the game seems to shrug its shoulders and say “well, you might as well look at the pretty environment”. And the game is right, the environment is indeed pretty. Pity the faces all look horrible. Every single character originates from the uncanny valley and has a habit of looking horribly distorted once he has to grin or switch to any facial animation besides the idle one. The only one that is a pleasure to look at, simply because the radical switches work in his favour, is the psychiatrist Dr Hill which incidentally is also the best part of the entire game.
– Not only are these the most interesting parts of the game (although criminally underused), Dr Hill is the only character that revel in his prickish behaviour. A pure joy. –
Characters are beyond flat. You get a brief freeze frame introduction to each one with a lot of words that don’t mean a lot as they usually don’t act that way or maybe you are supposed to make them act this way, I don’t know. There are even stats such as ‘romance’, ‘honesty’ etc. I didn’t understand what those were for. They change after certain decision, but I never felt like they had an impact at all. There is one redeeming storyline among the other burning wastebasket and that is Josh’s even though it is very brief in comparison, but it at least shows potential along with the Dr Hill sequences. But all of them are handled in a very crude manner without even the slightest hint of subtlety. A good example is the game shoving pictures of Hannah with her tattoo on her arm into your face almost every chapter. I get that she was proud of it, but on every picture with an exposed upper arm turned towards the camera, seriously? The narrative is as crude as the horror: jumpscare level. And surprise, surprise, the gameplay is handled in an equal manner. Choices are binary with you having the character look either left or right and a lot of quicktime events thrown in between, you know the absolute height of immersive gameplay.
– Oh boy that sure is spooky… Especially since the ghost lady is never brought up again. –
What I am trying to get at, is the fact that Until Dawn is a nice proof of concept. There is a salvageable idea here to work with in the future. But it needs a lot of work, like the head-turning for finding interactable spots which is really hard when it is not clear where a character is looking because they are not holding a light source and then you miss a crucial item or totem (which is never acknowledged at all. Everyone seems used to finding old totems that foretell the death of them or their friends. They just put it back down like they don’t care at all.). Before I ramble too much, let me boil it down to this: The game is probably a lot of fun to play with another persona or a group, or maybe as streaming material, as a game that has to stand firmly on the single player experience legs, it falls flat as it handles all aspects in a very ham-fisted manner. If the game could do away with the blatant choice system and mould it into something more organic, write a decent plot with sympathetic characters, create a feeling of genuine terror that does not rely on haunted mansion ride aesthetics, and – Oh wait, I am just describing Silent Hill 2 now, aren’t I? Well there you go, Until Dawn would be better if it were Silent Hill 2.
Image sources in order of appearance:
• http://www.nat-games.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/until-dawn-nat-games-test-review-wallpaper-ingame-3.png (Last date of access: 12.07.2017)
• https://i.ytimg.com/vi/QvihzV3Aoo8/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 12.07.2017)