Until Dawn and the Agony of Choice

I just recently picked up a PS4. Why? For some of the exclusives like Bloodborne (which is basically Dark Souls as created by a deranged hentai artist) and Until Dawn, which is trope laden horror at its very best. Complete with characters using a spirit board to contact a dead relative, the cabin (because you always need a cabin, see Evil Dead for that one) and all the traditional character archetypes that are traditionally seen in horror.

On the surface, it’s schlocky, tropey, mediocre and just not a lot of fun, but, truthfully, it is a lot of fun, despite having slightly awkward motion controls (although you can turn those off) and playing like any game you’d expect to see directed by David Cage, albeit without all the emotions and polygons. Now, I’ve not completed my first playthrough of Until Dawn at the time of writing, but I’ve seen enough to know most of the mechanics and the way the universe works. I’ve got to say, it’s excellent and primarily because of one mechanic: the butterfly effect. No, not the 90’s movie (or the Australian alternative metal band), but the idea that small causes can have large effects, like the flapping of the wings of a butterfly could cause a tornado somewhere else at a later date. Many games have claimed to do this over the last few years, with Bioshock, Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins being the most noteworthy examples. However, it was clear cut and explained to the player that you were making a good or bad decision that would later affect the game and it was obvious what your decision would mean for the later game state, or in the case of Bioshock, it was felt by various gamers that your choice didn’t matter at all.

Until Dawn doesn’t do that. What it does is give the player a short time to make a choice, but you can sometimes do nothing, which is often or not the better choice. For example, you are giving a choice to shoot a squirrel, which you can opt not to do, but doing so will change the relationship status with another character and may be brought up later on and could potentially lead to someone’s death because of somebody else not trusting that character.

I’m trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible, as it’s a much better experience when you don’t know who people are, their relationship statuses and the context as to what’s going on, however the next part will include some minor spoilers which are all dependent on people’s playthroughs.

In Until Dawn, you are bounced around between eight characters, all of which are your traditional horror archetype. Among them are Chris, the glasses wearing nerd who thinks he’s funny, but isn’t, Sam, the sensible one (who is played by Hayden Panettiere of Heroes fame), Matt, the token black character whose heart is in the right place and Mike, the jock who, depending on player choices, gets a lot of character development over the course of the game.

There are a lot of choices that can be made in the game, from simple things like feeding a squirrel (and not moving your controller) to deciding which path to take for an attempted rescue, and they all have the potential to change the course of the game and cause potential deaths, some of which are foretold through totems, which will give you a glimpse of a potential future in your playthrough. Combine this with finding various clues to uncover some of the various mysteries and mystique to Until Dawn’s relatively well crafted universe (from photographs with writing on the back to a map of a mine that was deemed as being dangerous) and it is one of the few games that can genuinely say that every choice is important and will decide who lives and who dies in the game. This, combined with the fact that the impact of choices isn’t made clear to you at the time you make them, makes the game highly replayable and the huge number of endings available as a result is enough to put even trilogies like Mass Effect to shame.

Overall, Until Dawn is different and it shows: despite playing more like an interactive movie, the game has some interesting mechanics, failure states and various other little tricks to keep the player invested. It also provides the PS4 with an exclusive game that truly justifies the purchase of the console, which is quite an impressive feat for a game as different from the norm as this! It’s not going to be a game for everyone, but, if you like horror in general, then this is worth giving a shot!