A combination of the biggest cliches in horror films with the biggest cliches in gaming, Until Dawn is somehow far better (and scarier) than it perhaps should be.
As far as comebacks go, the return of the interactive movie genre of gaming is one most unexpected you could imagine. Out of fashion for years, we’ve recently had the The Walking Dead, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture all offer innovative takes on playable storytelling.
But Until Dawn isn’t even what you could call fresh. Its familiar schlock horror story and characters frequently combine with a game design element that's already been done to death: the quick time event. Because we all love tapping a button to watch a 30 second video clip of onscreen tedium.
It’s almost as if Supermassive Games specifically decided to construct Until Dawn with the most maligned components imaginable. And yet, it's frighteningly good fun. Freddy Kreuger himself would approve.
Smarter than your usual teen horror romp
The decision to populate the cast with almost universally irritating horny teens initially seems a misjudged lean towards horror movie conventions. Mercifully, they’re well developed enough that as each character’s end nears you find yourself putting every effort into keeping them alive.
But they won’t all live. They’re stuck in an otherwise apparently unoccupied mountain resort, with no way down and no hope of rescue until daybreak (hence the name), and something is hunting them. Is it a hoax? A psychopath out for revenge? Ghosts? In the sections that are fully playable you wander around, exploring areas and collecting clues, but you’re kept guessing until very close to the end.
Play god (or the devil)
Regardless, the fate of almost every character is in your hands, both through the aforementioned quick time events, basic shooting sections, simple left-or-right path choices, and bigger, weightier decisions.
The last of these is the most interesting. How will you treat the other characters? Will you go back for a fallen friend or flee and save yourself? Will you chop off your own fingers or attempt to prise open the bear trap they’re currently stuck in?! Every choice has a consequence, even if it’s not immediately clear.
And it’s scary. Occasionally bloomer-blemishingly scary. There are jump-scares, creepy-scares and gore-galore. The chase scenes are terrifying and some sections, particularly those that involve remaining completely motionless (as tracked by the DualShock), are tense beyond belief.
Until Dawn verdict
There are occasional annoyances and certain elements become repetitive (quick time climbing again?) but Until Dawn is a thrill in the best horror movie tradition. Unlike a horror movie, though, this is a nine hour experience, and your first impulse once you reach the end credits is to start all over again to see how differently things can turn out.