“UNTIL DAWN” (Video Game Review)Books/Art/Culture,Game and Toy Reviews,News Ken W. Hanley No Comment
Before I get into this review, I should at least be forward about one thing: I’ve been out of the gaming loop for a long time. Not out of a lack of interest; video games have long been a part of my life and the myriad commercials for new releases piques my interest as much as the next gamer. However, this writer’s workload has been way too busy for way too long to really be able to focus and appreciate a video game that takes hours upon hours to finish. Yet when I caught wind of UNTIL DAWN, a Supermassive Games Production from the minds of Glass Eye Pix cohorts Graham Reznick, this writer broke his dry spell as this game would be worthy of my undivided attention.
It’s surprising that no one has ever produced a video game like UNTIL DAWN before, an interactive horror movie that uses the mechanics of HEAVY RAIN to decide who lives, who dies and how the nightmarish tale unfolds. Quick-time actions, character choices and even controller stillness fuel UNTIL DAWN’s horror game set-up while also separating it from the SILENT HILLs and RESIDENT EVILs of the world; by knowing the butterfly effect which will influence the outcome of the game, the decisions become much more sensational and integral to the process. And to that effect, UNTIL DAWN can be just as valuable as a party game as it is a single-minded experience, which is even more true considering just how cinematic the game is as a whole.
From the incredible game engine to the familiar faces to the caliber of writing in UNTIL DAWN, the game definitely feels like an interactive movie rather than a standard video game, especially once the game goes down more imaginative, Fessenden-friendly avenues in its second half. But that’s not to say the game is slow, either; the scares hit hard, whether they’re standard (and self-aware) jumpscares, moments of gore or legitimate atmospheric fright, and UNTIL DAWN keeps the audience engaged in its mythology and character dynamics exceptionally. And when you come face to face with the evil of UNTIL DAWN, the action of the game really takes advantage of the built-upon suspense, offering a more first-person friendly version of those quick-time events as well as knowledge that one wrong move could kill your character.
But even though UNTIL DAWN is scary and palpably thrilling, the game is also undeniably fun, playing to and subverting the tropes of the genre in equal measure. Do we have the desperate comic relief? Check. How about the mysterious, vaguely creepy stranger? Ditto. And the cold-blooded bitch? You better believe it. But UNTIL DAWN also brings the mentality of an independent horror movie to the scale that a video game can provide yet a studio film would balk at; in doing so, UNTIL DAWN not only feels fresh, clever and different but also absolutely epic and monumental.
Speaking of fresh and clever, UNTIL DAWN also carries a fair share of reflexive horror moments that fright fans will be sure to relish. When the game enters SAW-esque territory, a character in the game is the first to drop the term “torture porn” and comment on how tiring the concept has become. Likewise, the same character almost exclusively talks directly to the player most of the game, adding a psychologically compelling implication to our situation as the creator (and destroyer) of this fictional realm. And the dynamic of heroics as pertaining to our characters is exceptionally well-handled: one too many selfish decisions can lead to your own friends turning on you in the face of mortal danger, bringing this gamer flashbacks of Xbox’s amazing THE THING video game in the best way possible.
But overall, as someone who has not immersed themselves in a video game this intensely in months, perhaps years, UNTIL DAWN was an engrossing, enlightening experience proving that a video game can be a viable and fruitful experience for fright fans outside of the normal zombie shoot-’em-up. Reznick, Fessenden, the cast and the myriad artists at Supermassive have created a game that works on so many levels, whether you’re passing off the controller as the POV changes, playing it with a friend serving as your devil’s advocate or saving it for a dark and stormy night for yourself. And above all else, UNTIL DAWN is one of the few fright games that truly values its characters, including the player, and knows that, alive or dead, these characters are the reason you’ll be coming back to the game time and time again.