Until Dawn Review: The Best Choice in Horror (PS5)

A terrifying slasher movie made interactive, Until Dawn is a masterpiece of horror that every fan should experience at least once. However, it is not without some key flaws that could hamper your overnight stay on Blackwood Mountain.

Until Dawn Review: The Best Choice in Horror

Until Dawn is a 2015 horror game unlike any other. You follow eight teenagers during their winter getaway to Blackwood Mountain, and help them survive until, well, you know. Until Dawn is a horror movie come to life, a brilliant love letter to slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th. While following games in The Dark Pictures Anthology are plagued with issues, few of those can be found in their inaugural outing.

That’s not to say the game is without faults. For people who prioritize gameplay, they will probably walk away disappointed. While not the worst example, the game also has plenty of vague choices with unpredictable impacts, making it seem unfair at times. Until Dawn also utilizes motion controls in a rather annoying way, which has cost many people their perfect run. As for completionists, there are 107 missable collectibles and 19 trophies. The latter may not sound like a lot, but many can not be obtained in the same playthrough.

At the time of writing, Until Dawn is only available for digital download on the PlayStation Store for $19.99 – free with a PS+ subscription – or physically on Amazon for $20-$30, and is compatible with both PS4 and PS5.

This review contains minor spoilers for Until Dawn

Until Dawn - Launch Trailer | PS4

Story – Horrific Horror Homage

After an intense and tragic opening, Until Dawn flashes forward one year as the cast reunites at Blackwood Mountain. You are slowly introduced to the main characters – Sam, Chris, Jessica, Matt, Emily, Michael, Ashley, & Josh – and their relationships to one another. Shortly after, things start to go awry.

Mike & Jess become the target of a monster in the woods; Chris, Ashley, & Josh the targets of a psychopath; Matt & Emily explore forgotten mountain depths; and Sam just wants to take a bath. As the story unfolds, the player and the character begin to piece together how they’re all connected, and how to put an end to the madness of Blackwood Mountain. Along the way, they also learn new things about themselves and their friends, permanently impacting their relationships.

Sam just trying to enjoy her bath

Sam just trying to enjoy her bath

What starts off as a bog standard horror movie introduction quickly evolves into more, and the slow escalation of stakes and terror is done to perfection. Horror is truly in the unknown, and Until Dawn knows that very well. You don’t get all the answers until the very end, and every answer before that precedes at least two new questions.

The story of Until Dawn clocks in at around eight hours spread through 10 chapters, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The characters start as simple stereotypes – Mike is the popular guy, Chris is the nerd, Ashley is the shy girl, etc. – but transform through the narrative to become more fleshed out. That is, if their flesh isn’t turned inside out.     

Gameplay – Don’t Movie

Until Dawn is less of a game and more of an interactive movie, explaining the lacking gameplay. Gameplay mainly consists of moving the characters through areas and interacting with objects to progress. This is also where the collectibles reside.

There are 77 clues scattered throughout Blackwood Mountain; split across three different stories, with different dialogue in key moments depending on clues found. The other 30 collectibles are totems, which give you vague glimpses into the future. The totems are divided into five categories: Death, Guidance, Loss, Danger, Fortune. They show potential outcomes depending on your choices, the other main gameplay mechanic.

Ashley and Josh just hanging out

Ashley and Josh just hanging out

Quick Time Events

The Butterfly Effect is a huge theme throughout Until Dawn, so it stands to reason that player choice will largely shape the story’s events.

You make many choices for both dialogue and action that impact character relationships, save their lives, and in some instances kill them. Sometimes one decision won’t have an observable impact until chapters later. Furthermore, Until Dawn utilizes Quick Time Events frequently, using both the buttons and the analog stick. Failure to complete the QTEs can result in death.

If that wasn’t stressful enough, Until Dawn also has “Don’t Move” segments, failed if you move the controller at all. I recommend playing with a desk nearby. Oh, also, the game autosaves almost constantly, so going back to undo a failed QTE is nigh impossible without restarting the game.

Matt, the easiest to kill

Matt, the easiest to kill

The gameplay is nothing special, and character movement is slow, but it’s hardly an issue here. Until Dawn is clearly a game that prioritizes story over gameplay, so lacking or annoying gameplay mechanics aren’t as much of an issue as they are in something like The Callisto Protocol.

Some choices can feel vague or unfair, yes, but it adds to the unpredictability of the night’s events. If you were actually living through that situation, you wouldn’t know the direct impact of every choice you made. My only real complaint is the Don’t Move sections, since they occur very frequently by the end. The Dark Pictures Anthology readjusts it into a much easier minigame, and The Quarry replaces entirely with the arguably more stressful Don’t Breathe sections.  

Graphics & Sound – Mountains of Creeps

Visually, Until Dawn is stunning. The game could come out today and no one would be complaining about the graphics. There’s realistic and detailed captures of the actors’ faces masked onto amazing motion capture work, done by the actors themselves.

On top of that, Until Dawn makes excellent use of lighting, knowing just how much to reveal in each scene. Like how BioShock used murky water to counter FOV, Until Dawn uses lighting to counter detail. Though the game still has plenty of detail. Each environment is crafted expertly, constantly feeling claustrophobic even when outside.

That being said, there are times when the game shows its age. For example, every lantern a character used seemed to be inhabited by the spirit of the Tasmanian Devil. Aside from that, I hardly encountered any graphical glitches or textures that wouldn’t load. In terms of immersion, they practically nailed it on the graphical front.

The lighting in this shot is fantastic

The lighting in this shot is fantastic

Sound – From The Mouth of Madness

Sound is incredibly important in horror, and Until Dawn knows that very well. From the simple sound of snow crunching beneath your feet, to the terrifying screeches through the night, everything sounds amazing. Along with that, the cast all deliver stellar performances that flawlessly capture what they’re feeling in the moment. For me, the standouts are Rami Malek as Josh, Noah Fleiss as Chris, and Galadriel Stineman as Ashley. 

Soundtracks often go underappreciated in the American video game market; or any video game market that isn’t Japan. Jason Graves composed a fifteen hour long soundtrack for Until Dawn. The music is reactionary to player experience, and has a heavy use of synths to pay homage to John Carpenter. The music often goes unnoticed, as there are many other things in Until Dawn that require your attention, but it never fails to fill you with that sense of dread. Amy Van Roekel gets a shoutout for her exceptional cover of “O Death” that plays during the intro.

The legendary Peter Stormare, amazing as always

The legendary Peter Stormare, amazing as always

Until Dawn is a revolutionary game that came out at just the right time. In an era where AAA horror was all but dead in the water, Supermassive Games came out of nowhere to prove that the genre wasn’t dead yet. Memorable characters, exciting plot lines, and stellar direction come together to create a genre-defining game that has still yet to replicated as well, even if the gameplay is far from revolutionary.

Until Dawn was reviewed on PS5.

Until Dawn is one of the best horror games in recent memory. It appeared out of nowhere to outshine classic horror game franchises with a glowing love letter to slashers of the '70s and '80s, showcasing the best horror has to offer, with a memorable cast of lovable characters trying to survive the night. An overreliance on unpopular gameplay mechanics like Quick Time Events can't derail what has to be considered a must-play for horror fans.
  • Characters
  • Story
  • Scares
  • Immersion
  • Attention to Detail
  • Quick Time Events
  • Motion Controls

1 Comment

  1. Just bought a PS4, I remember (mostly) watching my son play this game! I believe it is now MY TURN!! Thanks for the review!!


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