Tuesday 6 December 2016

Until Dawn review: Corny but creepy slasher saga

Until Dawn (PS4); rating: 8.5/10; age: 18+

Published 08/09/2015 | 12:45

Until Dawn: Hayden Panettiere puts in a convincing performance as one of the teens
Until Dawn: Hayden Panettiere puts in a convincing performance as one of the teens

SLASHER flick meets interactive fiction – it can end only in tears, right? Yet after a protracted, troubled gestation, Until Dawn emerges a far more interesting proposition than its elevator pitch would dare suggest.

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Originally conceived as motion-controlled first-person adventure for PS3, developer Supermassive Games pivoted to target this third-person PS4 outing – with most of the motion control stripped out.

Eight teens gather at a lonely cabin in the mountains, exactly a year after the same get-together ended in tragedy with the mysterious loss of two of their friends. Outside in the snowy darkness lurk a hooded madman … and something else.

Until Dawn mines all of the clichéd tropes of teen horror cinema: oblivious lovers, bitchy girls, macho jerks, cheap jump scares, practical jokes and fake threats. But it weaves them together in an assured pastiche of genre classics such as Scream and Evil Dead, helped by the scripting of some indie horror veterans.

Until Dawn: Inevitably, a ouija board makes an appearance at one stage
Until Dawn: Inevitably, a ouija board makes an appearance at one stage

Effective motion-captured performances from Hollywood luminaries including Hayden Panettiere and Peter Stormare lend a convincing sheen to the typically daft plot twists.

Far from being a passive observer, the player is obliged to make difficult choices at regular intervals (via quick-time events or conciliatory/hostile dialogue, for instance) – ones with potentially catastrophic ramifications later.

Until Dawn: Lusty lovers always ignore the danger signs
Until Dawn: Lusty lovers always ignore the danger signs

Until Dawn makes much capital of this ‘Butterfly Effect’, often avoiding obvious binary choices. An argument between two of the friends could mean one will be unwilling to help the other later in the game, for example. At other times, the influence of your actions will be less clear-cut but significant nonetheless.

Not every character will necessarily survive the night due to your decisions and the game encourages replay of its nine-hour storyline to experience all its endings.

The original concepts of using the PlayStation Move controller to, for instance, point the torch are regretfully absent. But there remain some deliciously tense moments using the sensors of the DualShock, such as when you must keep the controller perfectly still to avoid detection by a roaming bogeyman.

On a technical level, the gloomy mountain lodge and other locations such as a sanatorium look suitably eerie. But the preponderance of awkward camera angles makes pathfinding an unnecessary chore that harks to Resident Evil.

Until Dawn runs out of steam as the night dashes to a close with an increasingly bizarre set of twists. But it proves interactive fiction can work – and that there’s nothing like a good scare.

 

 

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