This is the second of two Gamestyle reviews of the same game. You can read the first Until Dawn review and finish reading this review below for a second opinion.
Shallow American “teens” visit remote log cabin in the woods and experience predictable terror. The setting, plot and characters on offer are so overtly clichéd that there now exists parodies of the parodies in the parallel cinematic sub-genre – and not good ones (see: Scary Movie 5). This starkly familiar terrain, complete with perpetually over-egged innuendo barrage, is so obvious that one might suspect intentional irony, but as the game progresses the punchline does not.
If you haven’t played or read about Until Dawn, then it might seem odd to discuss it in the context of films, but truly that is what the experience is closer to: an interactive movie, which on paper shouldn’t be a bad thing. What little gameplay there is in on offer, largely arbitrary choices presented in the tired quick-time event format, requires a strong narrative to support it, which Until Dawn sadly does not have.
Alas, the one-dimensional main characters provoke little sympathy for their plight and even less interest in their survival. The acting isn’t all terrible, but the script must have been written by somebody who has never seen a real teenager, and whose only point of reference on their behaviour has been derived entirely from 90s teen flicks. Other functional characters appear from nowhere to explain away the really quite simple plot, deflating any notions of mystery as they depart. In the place of a slow-building arc of tension, each chapter seems required to hit a certain quota of basic shocks. I’m concerned that this blatant ‘Pewdiepie fodder’ might have been an element deliberately factored into the game’s creation. All of the above is underscored by the wafer thin introductory premise that a group of kids could be convinced to return to the isolated site of a very recent and considerable trauma.
BUT! But it isn’t all bad. The game’s few redeeming features are sufficient to save it from abysmalivion. It IS entertaining to sit around feeling the fear with your mates. I can’t say that we didn’t collectively jump out of our skin more than once because we definitely did. Jump scares are far from revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. It’s for this reason that I have a greater tolerance for average, or even poor, horror films than I do for any other genre. Cheaply wrought adrenaline is still adrenaline, and any film or game that makes you feel a genuine emotion can never be considered a total loss.
The characters might look like a band of crudely animated escapees from Madame Tussauds, but the world itself is beautifully realised, its rolling foggy vistas and foreboding cavernous interiors make for some stunning visuals that we often paused to appreciate.
Lastly the Butterfly Effect, so heavily paraded prior to release and throughout the game, does in fact grant it significant replay value. The inherently railtracked gameplay means that you’ll easily breeze through in five or six hours, so even after a couple of replays you’re not getting a great deal for the premium price-tag.
However, the core principal of multiple possible storylines based on individual player actions is strong and for once runs deeper than the typical two or three endings we’ve come to expect from largely exaggerated back-of-the-box claims: “Control Your Destiny!” and “Change The Course Of History!” and so on. In addition, Until Dawn’s lack of a save feature is an underrated and inspired inclusion, removing the deep-set feeling of invincibility and giving the player the risk of something to lose, thereby cultivating a far more tangible sense of adventure – an element I hope to see explored and improved upon in the future.