Until Dawn Review

If Until Dawn were the movie it was trying to be, it's Rotten Tomatoes score would be single digits.

The snow-ridden chill of The Thing - all three of them – backs this bit of interactive genre voyeurism. Everything else is just horror platitudes. The isolated wood cabin; the broken phones; the masked man with a machete; Until Dawn knows what it is and wants to be, but its lumbering cinematic aspirations are complacent within the genre. They're doing nothing of consequence once separated from technology.

What an oddity the motion capture effect is too, spending millions to render stars Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere in polygons even though they both stand on live sets. Warner Bros. motion captures Andy Serkis and gets the fantasy of Gollum. Supermassive Games motion captures Hayden Panettiere and outputs… Hayden Panettiere.

It's a nine hour version of films which rarely break 90-minutes.

Hollywood would produce this for under $10 million, and they often do. It's all those R-rated gore-laden audience pleasers can cost and still turn a profit. Video games demand full price bloat, and bloat is what Until Dawn has. It's a nine-hour version of films that rarely break 90-minutes for pacing reasons. Friday the 13th - the entire original series combined – is barely any longer. Intelligent editing creates brevity, trimming all fat. Until Dawn makes the fat third-person gameplay. Knock The Order: 1886, but its simulation of blockbuster cinema understood the necessity of the form's techniques in totality.

Biding Time

With those nine or so hours of space, Until Dawn does nothing valuable. The writing feels terrified to leave characters unresolved and resorts to interruptive first act on-screen text to lay out personalities beforehand. Characters form, if only because of the routine, complacent patterns the horror genre demands of them. Tired hormonally powered sexcapades and trite, over-privileged bitchiness are embarrassing. To think there are eight of these kids to deal with…

Complacency is never a source of fear but Until Dawn must make do. Climbing walls, running away; they become routine in their execution. How interesting it could be for a horror game to scold the nature of interactivity, to take it away unexpectedly or at inopportune times. Remove the comfort of a button's safe space, create helplessness; make the delivery of fear unique to the medium. Instead this is only mimicry of a more mature format, not a homage. Until Dawn's reliance on stock movie jump scares and arbitrary decision making to shift a narrative is not memorable either.

Killing Grounds

Some of the kids will die. Until Dawn believes it allows choice in who survives. Instead, a lack of reflexes in an action scene or inability to still the controller during QTEs dooms them. If Jessica and Emily dislike one another through dialog decisions, that won't bring about their slaughter. A missed press of the square button? They're deceased with a splash of brain tissue.

... a twist equivalent to an implausible Scooby-Doo episode.

At worst, Until Dawn does not know what it wants. There's the main killer, the flamethrower madman, ghostly activities, pasty clawed creatures, and a twist equivalent to an implausible Scooby-Doo episode. To bunch the sub-genres as a catch-all, Until Dawn will push an uncalled for, once dormant mental health trope. Chapters rummage through the remains of a crumbling 50's era psychiatric hospital, turning a character into a rambling, googly-eyed nut tripping on supposed after-effects of PTSD. It would be out of place as a straight-jacketed caricature in the 1940s let alone 2015.

What an opportunity Until Dawn had to spread a plausible allegory of mental disease. Instead, it's easier to use it as an excuse to hack away at teens. Interactivity is but a gimmick. Even then a German horror film tried it. So did a YouTube video series in 2009. Until Dawn is no better. It's worse actually, except Until Dawn looks prettier and lasts longer. Neither of those are delightful qualities.

Our Rating
If Until Dawn were the movie it was trying to be, it's Rotten Tomatoes score would be single digits.
Reviewed On: Playstation 4
Published Aug. 28th 2015
View Comments
  • Samantha Wright
    I have to agree with your score, but for different reasons. The gameplay is very simplistic since it is nothing more than a couple of quick time events and some interactions here and there. Most of the scares are very underwhelming. The story line too is also very faulty in my opinion. The game is very predictable. I knew Josh was evil from episode two because he clearly fit the bill and he was the only character you didn't play as. Not to mention, the majority of the characters' actions are driven by their need to have sex with one another (teenage trope much?).
    The characters are also very... boring? That's not quite the word I was looking for, but it will suffice. Many don't have any redeemable qualities and Emily and Jessica really do just need to go die in my opinion. They were beyond annoying (especially since I found Emily's voice to also be very repulsive). I'm finding it very hard to keep all of the characters alive just out of my sheer hatred for them.

    Sometimes the game tried to add a lot more suspense than it should have as well. For instance, with Jessica. In my playthrough, she fell down the elevator shaft. I thought she was dead. Then she pops back up in episode ten completely fine. That was just plain annoying. Likewise with a character like Matt. After the radio tower incident, he was just pushed off to the side. It felt more like the writers didn't know what to do with him and just pushed him off to the side (more bad character design I guess).

    Agreeing with you, I found the game to be rather short as well. There are ten chapters and quite a few collectibles, but the game doesn't break nine hours. I can't find the motivation to go back and play it to see another ending either. I don't think it was worth the money.

    I have to disagree about the variety of enemies however. There are multiple threats present throughout the game, but only one of them is real. The rest of them just sort of... happen. In my opinion, that's more of the game's bad writing rather than the game not knowing what it wants. They tried too hard to put supernatural, psychotic, and random flamethrower guy into one storyline. They knew they wanted it there, but couldn't get it to work out.

    You didn't mention this in your review, but I found the controls to be very wonky sometimes. I was trying to move Sam at one point and though my analog stick was clearly on the right side, she was just going around in circles instead of in the direction I was telling her to. I had a similar problem with the "don't move the controller" feature of staying alive. I put my controller down on the desk so it wouldn't move during the sequence, but the game said I failed the sequence anyways. A bit of a pain in my opinion.

    I'm happy I found someone who disliked this game as much as I did though. People seem to be praising it non-stop, and I could barely bring myself to finish it. Considering how short it was, I wouldn't consider that a good thing.
  • Marshall Jenkins
    Featured Contributor
    When you say the game does not know what it wants, you are mistaken. If Until Dawn was a film on Rotten Tomatoes as you said, it would be called The Cabin in the Woods. The game completely depends on the cliches of horror films to the point of it being satire. I mean... one of the main characters basically becomes Ash Williams from The Evil Dead. What is interesting about the game is that even when exposing these cliches, the game still attains the scare from the player. It does this by charting through popular horror film culture through the progression of the story.

    The start of the game is pure Hitchcock. The Psycho comparison is obvious, but Strangers on a Train is the more interesting example in terms of the level of psychosis the characters are dealing with in the presumed antagonist. The atmosphere of the dilapidated cabin in a deserted mountaintop. The clues of a wanted madman that are present throughout. The feeling is uneasiness rather than horror, save for the occasional jump scare to make sure you are awake (I hate cheap misdirection jump scares. They are lazy). All of these things set up an atmosphere of impending dread that our playthings get to (now with player control) interact with. I mean come on! You don't put a blonde girl in a bath and not think of a certain scene.

    It doesn't end there. The game leaves atmospheric horror behind and delves into the 90's and 2000's serial killer/gore horror. The search for the madman includes scenes of intense gore that could even be put those films (Saw, Hostel, I Saw The Devil). Then the game goes for the Hail Mary. Going completely in a 90 degree angle into From Dusk Till Dawn/The Descent which I found to be both hilarious and horrifying, which is what they were going for.

    I could talk about this for hours, but I just wanted to write down some of my thoughts. The film aspect of it piqued my interest and when you said that The Order "understood the necessity of the form's techniques in totality" in a comparative tone, I was a little disgruntled.
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Associate Editor
    Interesting perspective, many other outlets are loving it.

    But everything you said lines up with all the marketing I have seen about it, having said that I may play this one day and disagree with everything you say.

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