I always wondered why there weren’t more slasher-themed video games. What could make for a more intense gaming experience than if you were to play as the prey to a masked killer in a large darkened house? Surprisingly, this concept has seen very few renditions through gaming history. There have been a few attempts–some successful and others not so much. Atari attempted to adapt TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN while Nintendo tried its hands with both A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH.
We didn’t care that they were all huge misfires, we were just happy to see our favorite psychos in a game. Most suffered from the lack in technology at the time. Yet in the last 20 years, nobody tried again, til 2012, when it seemed that somebody up in video game heaven had heard our prayers with the announcement of UNTIL DAWN.
However, Dawn was intended as a game for the PlayStation Move, an accessory that was known for creating more frustration than fun, due to the Move’s heavily-flawed detection eye and as of 2013, the game seemed to be falling into developmental hell. It was a bitter moment for those of us following the process, excited at the prospect of a slasher game, only to have it taken away. Miraculously, the game resurfaced in 2014, now intended for the PS4, and its trailer revealed it had added Hayden Panettiere in a major character role. It still felt like it was too good to be true though, with a release date that was still nearly a year away. Now, 4 months early, SuperMassive Games has finally released Until Dawn into the world and it not only meets expectations, it slaughters them.
Following eight friends, who have reunited at a desolate remote ski lodge a year after after the disappearance of twin sisters from their clique, writers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick weave a storyline that manages to both honor the typical tropes and then cleverly turn them on their heads. If you took a dash of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, added some CABIN IN THE WOODS with a hint of SAW, a Fessenden film that I don’t want to name (because it will spoil the surprise) and you’re almost there. References aside, the game still manages to feel fresher than most horror films of the last ten years and with Reznick and Fessenden’s Rubik’s- Cube-of-turns, proves they were the perfect choice. The voice acting is handled quite well in the capable hands of the primarily up-and-coming cast, with the addition of Panettiere, Rami Malek, Peter Stormare and even Fessenden himself.
The choice to move Dawn to PS4 was a wise one because the game is immaculate looking and showcases what the next-gen system can really achieve. The realism here only adds to the “movie-feel” of Until Dawn with stunning cinematography (complete with angles reminiscent of the genre) and the stings of a pulsing score. Yes, playing through feels more like you’re a willing participant in a film than just shooting random baddies in a digital landscape. Strangely, it forces you into a meta state as you walk in the shoes of each character, making the choices of whether to explore a strange noise, hide under the bed or run in terror–you know, the kind of decisions that make you angrily shout at the screen when someone else is doing it in a horror film. Only this time, your friends will be shouting at you for making the stupid decisions as they get pulled into the experience as well. The very idea makes your brain hurt from meta-overload as you realize you are the star, director, victim and entertainment to someone else.
Add to all this the complex “Butterfly Effect” system integrated into the game that makes each play-through differ depending on the small choices you make. For example: your missteps during a sequence may decide whether you find your girlfriend dead or alive and your decision to fire without thinking may cause the unwanted death of another character that could be of help to you later. On top of that, SuperMassive has made the saving element less leniant than other quick-time-event games, causing you to live with your choices without allowing you to go back and immediately fix them via a save point. So the only way you’re going to correct that nagging in you that says you acted too hastily or not quick enough–is to play the game again. Gamers may see some similarities in gameplay to 2010’s HEAVY RAIN, a game that tended to cause debate between players on whether it was a “videogame” or “movie simulator”, though Until Dawn succeeds much more at blending the two worlds and creating an experience more than a simulation.
If you own a PS4, are thinking about buying one and you’re a big horror geek (why else would you be reading this), then you’ll appreciate the great lengths SuperMassive has gone to with creating this love letter to your favorite genre. Until Dawn is an important title not only for its merits but also because its the first of a few slasher-themed games coming soon (one being another attempt at a Friday The 13th game). How well it does will likely decide if the slasher is a gaming sub-genre worth putting money into. So get off your ass, get your friends together and pick this bad boy up as soon as you can before the story is ruined for you. Trust me when I say, it’s not just a good horror game, it’s a fucking killer one.