Capsule Review: Until Dawn

An interactive horror movie starring a group of teens who think it’s a great idea to return to a remote mountain cabin on the anniversary of the night an ill-advised prank led to two of their friends disappearing and presumably dying in the nearby woods. What could go wrong?

The player controls each teen in turn through conversation, exploration, and action sequences. Similar to Quantic Dream games, there are dialog options, choices made by performing actions in the world, and contextual controls meant to resemble the character’s actions - but the controls stick to a handful of defined idioms (the most clever and nerve-wracking of which is holding the controller completely still when the character is trying to hide) which makes the prompts easier to parse but leaves them feeling a bit more like traditional QTEs.

The game makes abundant use of standard horror movie tropes and it’s possible to think of yourself as the director who bends the story, steers character relationships, and decides who lives and who dies - especially because some of the characters are genuinely (and deliberately) unlikable. But in action sequences it’s not enough to tell the character to choose a particular path; you also have to pass the QTE-like challenges along the way, with failure sometimes resulting in death. It’s frustrating to have your choice negated because you don’t have the controller memorized, especially as this game is likely to draw in players more interested in shaping the story than passing action challenges. On the flip side, you may be trying to get a character killed but in the moment find yourself unwilling to deliberately fail the challenges and thus keep them alive.

The story itself is a bit more on rails than it may first appear, with some characters completely unable to die until they participate in late-game plot beats while others have no real effect on the story whether they live or die. There’s also a significant plot twist partway through the story that changes the focus and tone and negates a lot of the investigation you may have been doing along the way.

The game is gorgeous and very effectively plays up the horror movie atmosphere. It’s shot like a horror movie and knows how to pace itself to maximize tension at the right times, resulting in highly engaging moment-to-moment gameplay. If you’re a fan of horror films and like the idea of playing one, there’s absolutely something for you here in spite of the flaws.

I Stopped Playing When: I’m not into horror, so I never would have played this myself, but I did enjoy watching a full playthrough. We agreed the plot wasn’t strong enough to merit any replaying to see alternate story branches.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.