Until Dawn was recommended to me by our very own Stuart as 'the best horror movie you've ever played.' Given the recent drought of decent horror movies I didn't need too much more prodding to take a look, albeit from behind the sofa. Spooky times ahoy, but was it Scooby spooks or properly terrifying?
Before I begin, I want to save you some time. If you are not a fan of those ever-so-divisive devices known as QTEs, it's probably for the best if you stop reading now. Until Dawn is all QTE. It's Tell Tale does Friday 13th. That being said, I liked it a lot, and if the idea of dying because you weren't fast enough is cool with you, then let's continue!
Until Dawn starts out as horror trope city. Yeah, we've got a cabin in the woods, we've got snow, we've got no mobile reception and we sure as hell have a cast of wonderfully killable young people, reunited one year to the day after two of their friends disappeared. The scene thus set, let there be blood!
The story gets under way, introducing the characters (victims?) and the Butterfly Effect mechanic, which thankfully doesn't make Ashton Kutcher turn up every five minutes, but rather acts as a 50/50 permachoice mechanic, that alters personal relationships, events and even death. Scattered around in nooks and crannies are little totem pole pieces (oh yes trope fans, we even have sacred native grounds here!) that give the barest hints of what can, but won't necessarily, happen, while unlocking the back story of Spooky Mountain.
So it's up to you how the story unfurls, and some events will have severe consequences far down the line. This is pretty cool, but on occasion it doesn't feel like certain choices have an impact, but I guess only multiple playthroughs will show if that is the case.
The really captivating thing for me about Until Dawn is its shifting nature. It starts out as a schlocky take on every horror movie you've ever seen, with a cast that's so unlikable that you don't have to be a skin-mask wearing psychopath to want to kill them. Before outstaying the jump-scare welcome, the game swerves into Shyamalan territory, building a layer of mystery into the scares. By the end (and no spoilers here) it has morphed again into a desperate fight for survival where I actually started to care about the previously horrid characters (except Emily. Seriously). By the time I got to 6am, dawn had never felt so far away...
The changing nature of the game kept it fresh for the 8 or so hours the story lasted me, but a game like this sinks or swims on the acting. It seems that no expense was spared in this department, with Mo-Cap and some quality voice talent works wonders. Despite being known to me as 'ah, it's them, from that thing...' Haydn Panatierre and Rami Malek stand out, and Peter Stormare deserves a videogame Oscar (a Nolan?) for his turn as an ever-more-deranged psychologist. Even when the tension is ramped right up, the actors seem believable and really carry the story along.
The tension doesn't stop either, and this is where the aforementioned QTEs come into their own. Running desperately through a hallway, chased at every turn by a madman in a mask just feels *right* when split second decisions can mean life or death, and there is no obviously correct choice. Do you take the quick but complicated route up a cliff face, or slow it down to have an easier QTE but risk someone who is in trouble? Similarly, the few hiding sections where the stillness of the controller is of paramount importance really made me sweat. I tremble normally anyway, and I can tell you that one fatality was caused by my cat jumping on the sofa at the wrong time!
In conclusion then, Stu was right. Quality acting, jump scares and nerve wracking tension and a decent spattering of gore makes Until Dawn the best horror movie I ever played. Six of my group got to see another sunrise, how many will you save?