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Until Dawn is Now Scarier Than it is Stupid, and That’s a Good Thing.

Tawdry teen horror is being redefined under Sony’s watchful eye

Until Dawn (2)

Back at Gamescom in 2012 we were shown a glimpse of Supermassive Games’ latest project. It was a horror game, one that focused on the use of the PlayStation move controller, and seemingly ditched the dark and gritty for the more comedic aspects of schlocky teen horror movies like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or The Haunting. A year of silence ensued, and then it resurged in August of this year, promising to come to PlayStation 4, and boasting a bold new direction in the process, one that’s far darker, moodier, and violent to boot. It’s still got moments of comedy, but in this version it seems far less likely you’ll hear dialogue like “these old mines give me the willies… and not the good kind.”

Now things seem a little bit more restrained, but having had a chance to go hands on at Eurogamer Expo in a somewhat lengthy demo, it definitely has more promise than I initially expected. The chapter section I got the chance to play took place somewhere part way through the game, one of the group – Sam – had gone missing after she went walkabouts after hearing a noise while taking a bath. This information was conveyed through those tiresome episodic ‘previously in’ montages at the start of the chapter, but it was edited rather superbly, so genuinely worked as a tension builder for what was to come.

Starting out in a basement with another friend, it’s clear that things are going to get tense. The lack of background music or any real noise besides character conversation manages to create a genuinely spooky atmosphere, despite the move from first-person to third-person. It also doesn’t help that to investigate areas better you have to move your torch – using the DualShock 4 motion sensors – into dark spaces and over objects. It almost feels like something is begging to jump out at you, although that did only happen once in our playthrough. The game is also littered with eerie moments and rather simple puzzles to solve. We catch a glimpse of a ghostly woman figure down in the basement with us twice, yet it’s never really explained what this is about – especially as the main story revolves around a murderer playing games with the teens a-la the Saw series.

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It’s clear that Until Dawn riffs rather heavily upon the movie genre. But that’s just fine in this instance because it takes some of the best scare tactics films employ, and puts them into a game – combining them with some elements from the scariest games too. The PlayStation 4 visuals, especially how it handles lighting and particle effects, really makes everything feel far creepier than you’d otherwise expect. Whenever there’s a turn in the corridor I found myself becoming nervous about what was around it, hoping the fixed camera angles would somehow change to let me see around it before I walked that way. But, despite this sense of peril, the demo was far more sedate until the end.

Another interesting part of Until Dawn is how every decision you make has an impact on how things play out. It’s not quite like Heavy Rain in how it handles; but you’ll make choices, find clues, and ultimately dictate how the storyline progresses. You can shape character relationships through conversations, some situations will require you to make a decision within a certain time, and failing to do so just unravels a new route to take. Perhaps you’ll have to go off an investigate a noise alone, or decide who’s fate should be saved from encroaching circular saw blades from above. It doesn’t seem like there’s a right or wrong way to go about playing it, but you’ll certainly have to make some big choices along the way.

The biggest test that Until Dawn will come up against is how well those controls hold up over time. While I started getting used to it after a while, it was certainly trickier than I would have hoped – perhaps there’ll be an option to map it to the right stick as occasionally it felt that it lost calibration. But that aside, it’s an incredible turnaround from the goofy game that was planned to hit PlayStation 3 last year, now things are scary, and this could well be Sony’s ace in the horror genre.

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