Un­til Dawn

Teens that go bump in the night


Much has changed since we pre­vi­ously saw Su­per­mas­sive Games’ schlocky teen-slasher, way back in Au­gust 2012. Where once it was a firstper­son Move-based showcase for Sony’s mo­tion con­troller, now it’s be­come a third­per­son, DualShock 4-based out­ing ex­clu­sively on PS4. The shift has been about a lot more than re­skin­ning the game for dif­fer­ent hard­ware, how­ever. Ev­ery­thing, apart from the core in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it, was thrown out and built again anew – new as­sets, new sys­tems, even a new cast was brought in to redo the mo­tion cap­ture and di­a­logue.

The game we saw two years ago no longer ex­ists, in other words, but its spirit lingers on in its predilec­tion for torch­light, its use of DualShock 4’s mo­tion sens­ing, and its fa­mil­iar genre shiv­ers. Like its ’80s and ’90s hor­ror flick in­spi­ra­tions, Un­til Dawn fo­cuses on a group of stereo­typ­i­cally beau­ti­ful teenagers, eight in to­tal, who find them­selves trapped in a lodge as a killer in a clown mask at­tempts to hunt them down. You take loose con­trol over th­ese ado­les­cents one after another, ex­plor­ing the cabin to solve puz­zles and en­coun­ter­ing tough choices in your bid for sur­vival. But when­ever a character does meet a grue­some end, that’s it. The nar­ra­tive will con­tinue and that character’s death will play a per­sis­tent part in the rest of the story as it un­folds. Su­per­mas­sive calls this the But­ter­fly Ef­fect, and mo­men­tous out­comes, such as sur­viv­ing an at­tack, are in­di­cated on­screen with a flash­ing but­ter­fly icon. Much of what makes choices im­pact­ful can only be ap­par­ent over the course of the game, how­ever. For ex­am­ple, should one character sur­vive, will that be at the ex­pense

of two other char­ac­ters later? Such sce­nar­ios are what keep Un­til Dawn in­trigu­ing, even if the me­chan­i­cal act of play­ing it is less so.

We pick up our pad for a scene that be­gins with Sam, one of the game’s main char­ac­ters, played by Hay­den Panet­tiere (He­roes), tak­ing a bath. She hears a noise, dons a towel, and re­alises her clothes have been stolen. From there, we guide her around the lodge as she at­tempts to dis­cern where her friends have dis­ap­peared to. This quickly es­ca­lates into a chase scene, which plays out via QTEs, dur­ing which we have to make quick­fire de­ci­sions by tilt­ing the con­troller to­wards one of a few op­tions. As the killer draws near, should we hide un­der the bed or leap over it to con­tinue run­ning? Should we barge into a locked door to at­tempt to win our free­dom, or fran­ti­cally search for the miss­ing door­knob on top of a nearby wine rack?

Th­ese cru­cial de­ci­sions can feel much too ar­bi­trary in the mo­ment that they’re made. When the killer catches up with Sam and gasses her un­con­scious after one snap mis­judg­ment, it’s easy to feel like you never had a chance. This sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment may be the point, of course, but with­out the wider con­text it can feel jar­ring.

How­ever, ac­tion scenes such as this are not the foun­da­tions upon which Un­til Dawn is re­ally based. We’re promised that much grander, more morally am­bigu­ous de­ci­sions lie in wait. One ex­am­ple sees you and a fel­low teen tied down as a buz­z­saw ap­proaches. You’re told you can shoot the other per­son and be al­lowed to live, but to not do so will ap­par­ently en­sure you both die. Which­ever di­rec­tion you take in this scene, there’s the sense that you can own the act of mak­ing that choice and the reper­cus­sions that follow.

The lodge and its in­hab­i­tants have been crafted in the same en­gine that pow­ers

Kil­l­zone: Shadow Fall, and while screens so far are too dark to show it, a raft of minute de­tails have been grafted in. Fa­cial an­i­ma­tion is su­perb, with Panet­tiere’s Sam no­tice­ably re­act­ing to the at­mos­phere around her, clench­ing her teeth with re­pressed fear as she ap­proaches a daunt­ing door­way, for ex­am­ple. The con­trol sys­tem en­ables some of the more in­no­va­tive use of the DualShock 4 hard­ware yet seen. While the stan­dard method of mak­ing a choice is to tilt your light­bar in the di­rec­tion of an op­tion and to press X, there’s the oc­ca­sional twist. One such sees Sam hid­ing in a lift shaft as the killer lurks omi­nously nearby, on­screen text telling you to keep still. Move your DualShock 4, even slightly, and the killer might hear you. It’s harder than it sounds to re­main per­fectly still, es­pe­cially as the clown-faced Saw 7 re­ject be­fore us bangs a span­ner on a gas tank, mum­bling, “I can smell your fear, Sam.”

But for all Un­til Dawn’s pretty looks and new takes on QTE con­ven­tion, they don’t di­min­ish the sense that your in­put into what is hap­pen­ing on­screen feels slight, at least in the con­text of the mo­ment-to-mo­ment ac­tion. It doesn’t mat­ter if you are un­aware of where the choices will lead you, but it is im­por­tant that you feel, as a player, that you have a pur­pose.

Per­haps that will oc­cur beyond the gran­u­lar level, and if Su­per­mas­sive’s But­ter­fly Ef­fect plays out as in­tended, then it could be that the Guild­ford-based stu­dio is about to nail a new step for­ward for in­ter­ac­tive hor­ror. Much like poor Sam, though, mess it up and it may as well be another luck­less teenager head­ing down to the base­ment alone.

We’re promised that grander, more morally am­bigu­ous de­ci­sions lie in wait

ABOVE The killer’s de­sign has a dash of No Coun­try For Old Men’s An­ton Chig­urh and a smat­ter­ing of Saw’s Jig­saw.

LEFT Be­fore our hands-on, the game asks what scares us more: nee­dles or be­ing suf­fo­cated? Our choice changes the method the killer uses on his vic­tim

When the cam­era isn’t zoom­ing right in to get a good look at those ex­cel­lent fa­cial an­i­ma­tions, it pulls back for almost voyeuris­tic,

Res­i­dent Evil- es­que an­gles.

While we could play through the demo mul­ti­ple times to de­ter­mine the ef­fect of choices, there will be no re­play­ing failed sec­tions in the fin­ished game

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