Day Eight – Until Dawn
Until Dawn is one of the more recent releases included in this list, and although I’m usually a pedantic mess around media of this caliber, I couldn’t help but mention it here. Until Dawn is the popcorn escapade of several 20-something high schoolers and their run-in with a spooky mountain available only on PS4. If that doesn’t turn you off then welcome to the party!
Until Dawn runs in the same vein as L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain mashed together. It supports an all-star cast including Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, and even Peter Stormare’s absolutely terrifying jowls, which comes at great relief in terms of characterization and creating a cinematic atmosphere. And, in the spirit of cinema, a technological showboat takes the stage in the form of mo-capped models. It does lend credence to the infinite chasm of uncanniness that only shows itself every once in awhile which is probably the true terror in all of this. The eerie combination of Stormare’s dead eyes and his propensity to cycle facial expressions faster than a cracked out Robin Williams left me more entertained than the vanilla script tumbling from those pursed lips. With good reason too!
Any slasher film worth a damn respects the sanctity of its trope-filled, cliche-ridden cage, and try as hard as we might, the dead age of horror is ironically still kicking through the lifeblood of some crazy bat in a seat of power. The major draw for Until Dawn is arguably the player’s perception of each character and their relationships to each other. In terms of horror cliche, I think this is best it’s ever been. Video games gave me the opportunity to grow with the characters over a longer period of time and I found something incredibly endearing within Until Dawn‘s absolutely awful layering.
First off, the story is a complete mess. It’s not convoluted by conventional standards, but instead looks like a loaf of bread that had a cake baked into it halfway through. It’s kind of embarrassing, in a way, that Until Dawn tries to bludgeon the pieces together until they fit, and I think it’s even worse that they fit together so incredibly well. You don’t realize the cake portion until you bite into it and suddenly everything changes. For better or for worse is up to you to decide.
Second, the characters were textbook in every way. You have a couple headcases, a couple ego freaks, a butch, a not-so-butch, glasses, etc. Until Dawn puts you in their shoes and then tries its damndest to make you hate them in every way possible. Then, when you’re reasonably pissed off, it hands you control over their actions and lets you dictate their path to the inevitable. You can save them all, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, but it actually comes as a selling point for the game which I think is hilarious.
The gameplay is nothing special, and if you guessed QTEs, then congratulations, you’re with the times. Not only do they have button-prompt QTEs, they have third-person shooting QTEs. Of course if you don’t want to, you can play through the game without doing any QTE whatsoever. The freedom to choose between the two is incredibly rewarding by itself but still falls into the rut of every other multi-ending story game. Don’t try to read too far into the branching options when you could be reading an in-flight pamphlet or a collection of fortune cookies instead.
Of course I don’t take many risks when playing through these kinds of games, but that’s exactly what they expect you to do. There’s a variety of moments where you can choose A or B to ultimately determine fate, and it genuinely feels like it impacts the story – for the moment. Of course, no one wants to work 120 hours a week to bring us a cohort of cutscenes and reactions for every single consequence, so we’re left with a user-friendly baseline of unassuming characters and trivial actuations.
If you need a solid, good-natured, and thematic laugh this Halloween go for it. There’s nothing you can’t get from a let’s play, but the experience is wholehearted and definitely entertainment for more than one person. It’s just one brick in the foundation of its like-minded posterity and I can’t help but respect the effort.
It’s popcorn at its finest and still not as expensive as the cinema’s concessions.