Platforms PS4
Developer Supermassive Games
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment

Until Dawn is a survival horror game that puts players in the shoes of eight teenagers in a remote mountain getaway gone horribly wrong. Ten friends are at Blackwood Pines lodge on Mount Washington for their annual getaway, when twin sisters Hannah and Beth go missing after a prank goes horribly wrong. The remaining eight friends return to the mountain on the one year anniversary of the tragedy in an attempt to find some closure and move on from the terrible events of that night, but things quickly take a sinister turn as it turns out they’re being hunted.


I’ve written and spoken many words about Until Dawn in the lead up to its release, and most of them have been about the games approach to player choice. Called the butterfly effect, a butterfly flapping its wings can result in a tornado halfway around the world, Until Dawn’s choice and consequence mechanics are the systems that everything else in the game hangs off. When you make a narrative altering decision a butterfly will appear on screen, letting you know that you’ve made a choice that will impact the story.

These choices are tracked in the aptly named butterfly effect menu, meaning you can track the choices you’ve made and how they’re impacting your narrative. Innocuous decisions such as who gets a flare gun or whether you throw a snowball at a bird can have massive consequences as the story unfolds. Most of these choices build off one another, and sometimes have far reaching consequences that you will see play out for the rest of the game. You can doom a character hours before their final fate is revealed with your choices.


It’s not just the story that can be affected by the decisions you make, it’s the characters as well. The eight teenagers who form the main cast of Until Dawn, and all eight of them are playable at various points, are pretty much your standard horror story characters; bitch, nerd, sensible one, etc. Each one has a relationship meter to track how well they’re getting along with, or not, the others, and they also have stats like bravery, romantic, curious, and the like. Your choices throughout the game will change these stats, for better or worse, and even altering these meters can have drastic consequences on the story.

Player choice, and the consequences that follow, is tremendously well implemented in Until Dawn. In fact the choice mechanics here might be the best they’ve ever been used in a video game. Decision making has a real, tangible effect on the entire experience in a way that’s never been done in a video game before, at least not this well in any case. Rather than the illusion of choice you find in games such as Tellale’s narrative adventures, or the minor impact your choices ultimately have in a series like Mass Effect, decisions you make in Until Dawn matter. They have huge impacts all over the game, in a variety of different ways.


This choice system allows Until Dawn to achieve what most horror games never manage; it keeps the player at a baseline of low anxiety throughout the entire experience, never truly letting you get comfortable and never truly letting you believe that you are safe. The game makes it perfectly clear that anyone can die, and this makes every chase sequence, every QTE, every decision. a nerve shredding experience. You really feel the weight of the decisions you’re making, oftentimes in a hurry, when one wrong move could see one of your characters make a fatal mistake.

And you’ll have to live with these consequences, as Until Dawn features an extremely aggressive autosave that means that once a choice is made, you can never go back and alter it. The game forces you to rely on your instincts and stand by your decisions. Only after you’ve completed the game will you be able to revisit past episodes, or restart entirely, and change the course of events. Truth be told, even if the game didn’t have this feature loading an earlier save would be fruitless, thanks to the way the game is designed. The bad thing that happened in episode 8 was a result of decisions you made in episode 3, not the immediate outcome of a choice you just made.


Like most games that lean on QTE’s and choice based storytelling, there are red herrings in Until Dawn’s choices and QTE sections. There are plenty of times when you can flub every QTE or make any decision you like and characters will make it to the other side relatively intact. These moments, however, are mixed in with decisions and QTE’s that are literally life or death. All of this combines to form an ingenious narrative structure that promises consequences and actually delivers them, making the player feel the full weight of their decisions.

All of that being said, is Until Dawn actually a good horror game? Yes, it is a fantastic horror game. Until Dawn is essentially a teen slasher movie from the 90’s, made interactive for your adrenaline pumping pleasure. It doesn’t so much use the tropes from those movies, and the genre in general, so much as it runs head first straight through as many of them as it can. By the time you’ve finished your first eight hour playthrough you’ll have seen most of the tropes that make up a horror movie. In fact Until Dawn actually uses this to its advantage, giving you choices such as breaking off from the main group to investigate a noise you just heard.


If you know anything about the genre and you still peel off and investigate, what happens next is your own damn fault. Dumbass. The game takes a lot of its cues from movies like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Friday the 13th and the like, and it does so in such an unashamed way that you don’t really care. It’s a cliched horror game for sure, but Supermassive have created it with a confidence that practically oozes out of every scene, and it’s this confidence that lets you just roll with it.

It’s also an actually scary horror game. As I mentioned above, with the fate of these characters in your hands at all times, you’re never really able to get comfortable in the game, and Supermassive takes full advantage of this to scare you as much as it can get away with. The exceptional sound design plays a massive part in this, through the awesome score by Jason Graves (who has scored such games as Tomb Raider and Dead Space 2), the general background noises that make just about everything sound damn creepy, to the oppressive atmospheric sounds that the game uses when it really wants you to start sweating.

I couldn't write this review without using my favourite screenshot of the game
I couldn’t write this review without using my favourite screenshot of the game

The scares themselves are pretty much perfect. There are jumpscares, of course, it’s a horror game after all, and one based off 90’s teen slasher movies. There are a lot of people who despise jumpscares on principle, and I can kind of see where they’re coming from. But the thing about jumpscares is they only work if a game has built up the correct atmosphere. Until Dawn’s jumpscares are damn effective because the game works hard to unsettle and creep the player out, and then make them need a change of pants.

There’s a lot of depth to Until Dawn’s story. Aside from the main narrative, and the branching ones, you’ll also find yourself visiting a psychiatrist between each episode. These visits are some of the most interesting parts of the game, and as such I won’t dwell too much on them, but they’re fascinating vignettes. While controlling an unknown character, the psychiatrist will ask you to make choices, figuring out who your favourite characters are, or what you’re most afraid of, occasionally tailoring your experience in the main game to suit.


Until Dawn also features some of the best kind of collectibles you can find in a video game: useful ones. Scattered throughout all of the games environments are various clues that are organised in the games menu, allowing you (and the characters) to piece together the backstory of the twins, the mountain and the nearby sanatorium (of course there’s a nearby sanatorium). Aside from shedding light on what’s actually going on, these collectibles are actually useful for the main characters, as they can use this information to their advantage at certain parts of the story. Heck, if you miss a certain clue a character will actually die.

There are also totems to be found around the mountain, which are simultaneously the most useful and coolest collectibles you can find. When you find a totem you’ll be given the briefest of glimpses into a possible future, what you’re shown depends on the totem you pick up as they’re separated into different types (death, guidance, loss, etc.). You’ll constantly be referring back to their short snippets of valuable information, and if you pay attention to them they are extremely powerful aids in your journey. One guidance totem, for example, showed a character petting a dog, so when I was confronted with the option to attack a dog that had just scared the crap out of me I heeded the totems advice, and was better off for it.


There’s only one minor gripe to be had with Until Dawn, and that’s with the games controls, which are very hit and miss. Most of the controls in the game work extraordinarily well; QTE sections are pinpoint in their precision, and the game has a fantastic hide mechanic tied to the gyroscopic controls built into the DualShock 4. When you’re hiding from a maniac, a monster, or whatever else you’re required to not move the controller. At all. Basically when the character you’re controlling is required to stay perfectly still and hold their breath in terror, you’re pretty much doing the same thing.

The only issue is with moving through the environment. Moving in Until Dawn is very reminiscent of moving through an older Resident Evil, namely the characters control like tanks and it can be considered an art from to actually get them to point, or move, in the right direction. Coupled with an overly sensitive right analogue stick that makes it difficult to shine a torch where you want it to go, and it can be mildly frustrating to move and look in Until Dawn. Luckily this is a minor concern; it doesn’t greatly take away from the game and you won’t get anyone killed because of it.


Until Dawn looks incredible, with probably the best graphics of a Playstation 4 game to date. While the facial capture does still fall into uncanny valley territory from time to time, usually with some characters more than others, the facial animations are outstanding. The characters do also look exactly like digital copies of the actors who play them, with a little bit of de-ageing involved to make them look like the teenagers they’re supposed to be. In a game that focuses a lot on its characters and they’re reactions and emotional states, Until Dawn’s facial capture does a terrific job of allowing their actors performances to be captured in their entirely.

And it’s worth mentioning that the impressive cast of Until Dawn does a great job. Featuring actors such as Hayden Panettiere, Brett Dalton and Rami Malek, the performances in the game are solid. Better still, there’s not a weak link in the whole cast. While certain characters will win you over, and there’ll be others who you may secretly be wishing death upon, the actors themselves do a great job across the board. As an example, towards the start of the game one of my least favourite characters was Jess, but as the game went on I started to like her more and more, and a lot of that is down to the great performance of her actress, Meaghan Martin (I never liked Emily though).


It’s not just the people in Until Dawn that look fantastic, the whole game is very pretty. The outdoor vistas can be breathtaking, and it’s a shame that the game wasn’t a bit more open in allowing you to explore around some more. Built with the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine that’s making such awesome use of the Playstation 4, Until Dawn makes brilliant use of lighting and fixed camera angles to create a beautiful looking game, and one that is dripping with atmosphere right from the get go.


Until Dawn is an excellent game. Much of its pre-release build-up was focused on the choice and consequence systems it would implement, the butterfly effect, and Supermassive Games have absolutely nailed it, creating probably the best choice-based gameplay we’ve gotten so far. Decisions have far reaching consequences, ones that make meaningful impacts on the narrative, and the game features a branching narrative that actually branches. On top of this Until Dawn is also a damn fine horror game, packed with excellent scares and an creepy undertone that never lets up. Minor control issues aside, the game pretty much nails everything from the music, sound design, graphics, animations, and cast performances, and if you own a Playstation 4 then you owe it to yourself to experience Until Dawn.