Until Dawn Review - The Cabin in the Woods

Until Dawn

Before we can discuss Until Dawn for the PS4, we need to first take a look at something called "The Butterfly Effect." No, I'm not talking about that movie with Ashton Kutcher, I'm talking about an observation in regards to chaos theory (not the Splinter Cell game) made by Edward Lorenz. Without spending the next thousand words or so trying to explain the science behind it, the concept of this effect is best described using the following scenario:

A butterfly can flap its wings, and as a result a hurricane strikes halfway across the world several weeks later.

You're probably thinking that what I just said is ridiculous. Turns out, it's not so far-fetched. This effect was discovered when Lorenz would observe runs of his weather models and discover that small, almost insignificant changes would create drastically different results.

With that in mind, Until Dawn takes a classic horror story and puts the power in your hands. With a system in place named The Butterfly Effect, Until Dawn promises to show you that even the smallest decisions can have major consequences later on, much like the flapping of a butterfly's wings.

Does that mean that this cinematic horror adventure has finally nailed the feeling of a game that truly changes based on your choices? It's time to find out!

Story, Choice, and Consequence: Until Dawn's Butterfly Effect System

If you're trying to understand the nature and flow of Until Dawn, it's best compared (at least in structure) to games like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, Life is Strange, or any of Telltale's recent games. It is a choose your own adventure in the highest regard. That being said, it takes what many of these games have done and adds a new level of detail and replayability in the form of the Butterfly Effect System.

While many games these days offer "choices" these decisions are usually immediate and black or white in their results. That being said, we've seen games start to evolve, showing us real and lasting consequences for our choices. Until Dawn is the next step in that evolution. Not every decision you make has a massive effect, but all of them do something.

For example, if you're nice to one character but mean to another, you'll lose favor with them. The pause screen provides a wealth of information on all of your characters stats and how they are perceived by the others. In addition, you'll find a chronicle of the major Butterfly Effect choices you've made. You'll know when an action or dialogue has made one of these major impacts when butterflies explode and fly across the screen.

Later on, when an event is triggered by a choice you made, a small note will appear in the upper corner, reminding you that this was a result of something you did or said.The fact that you can review this choices and the paths they took at any point is just one aspect of how innovative this system is.

Your first playthrough of Until Dawn will not allow you to load a previous save if you mess up. The game autosaves after every decision you make. Sometimes what looks like a bad decision can end up being a good one several hours later. It truly showcases how something seemingly insignificant can ultimately result in a character dying or surviving.

Now for the setup. Until Dawn features eight characters who are returning to a mountaintop cabin/mansion (it's huge) one year after a tragedy that struck there during their last trip. They come back to hopefully find some closure, and reconnect after all that had happened. With the cabin being isolated at the top of a snow covered mountain, we have the perfect horror film premise in place.

Until Dawn makes no apologies for what it is. It is an homage to the most classic of horror genres with all of the jump scares and cheesy lines that comes with them intact. Unlike the horror parody film "Cabin in the Woods" though, Until Dawn comes across as more of an homage to these classic horror films, while also injecting its own twists into the mix.

Despite some of them being incredibly annoying (I'm looking at you Emily) Until Dawn's cast are characters that you'll grow to care about, at least in some form. The game also raises the stakes to the highest possible point by allowing any and all of these people to be killed by the time you reach the end.

I personally lost two people on my first playthrough. One of them was my fault, I knew what I did wrong, but the other remains a mystery to me. It's interesting though because other gamers have said that they only survived with one or two people by the game's end. Truly the experience has been different for everyone thus far.

Yet another mechanic that I particularly enjoyed were the sequences with the psychologist between chapters. In these moments the doctor, played by Peter Stormare, asks you question about what you're afraid of, or what makes you uneasy. These question alter the game as well in interesting, if not profound, ways. It's a mechanic that really pulls you in, but it isn't used to the fullest extent. In fact, it doesn't stick around very long, changing drastically in the game's latter half.

Collectibles come in the form of clues and totems. Clues are simply items you find that reveal more of the game's backstory and lore. They are very unique and offer a lot of interesting story information that ties directly back into the game. Certain clues can also empower characters with new information that will alter their fates.

Totems are found scattered throughout the world, each of them offering a vision of what may, or may not come to pass. Some offer clips that can help you prevent a character's death, while others show you an action that will benefit you later on. In some cases, the visions never came to pass for me since I was on a different path, but other times they served to warn me or provide advice that I used to great effect.

I've heard people complain about aspects of Until Dawn's story, but I felt that it had something for every horror fan out there. Whether it's a slasher that you enjoy, or something with a little more mystery, this game has you covered. I won't say anymore because the less you know, the better.

While my first playthrough lasted about ten hours, I am absolutely going to play more of Until Dawn. With several collectibles still left for me to find in the form of totems and clues, I have incentive to go back and try other decisions to either save all of them, or eliminate the entire cast by game's end.

More Choices and Quick-Time Events Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Some people like their games as straight shooters or multiplayer. I like my games with a lot of choices and a great story. For fans of this genre, Until Dawn will provide you with a lot of familiar gameplay elements like decision making and quick-time events. It will also hand over control to you though to explore the detailed environments and hunt for collectibles.

Motion controls are provided as an option for the game. They work fine, but can be finicky, so for that first playthrough, you may want to stick to the regular control option. Regardless of which you choose, there will still be more than several times in the game where you must hold the controller perfectly still.

The screen reads "DON'T MOVE" on the bottom and shows the light bar on screen. You must hold the DualShock 4 perfectly, and I mean, perfectly still to not fail these sequences when can last for what feels like an eternity at times. While I didn't have too much trouble with these, my girlfriend failed a few, claiming she hadn't moved the controller.

These moments are usually life or death, which on the one hand means that the tension is sky high. On the other hand though, this incredibly sensitive aspect of the game could frustrate players who were honestly sitting as still as humanly possible. I think a little more warning on these sequences would have been smart, so that people will shaky hands could put their controller on a flat surface or something.

For the most part, we survived these sequences unscathed, but it is a divisive mechanic in my opinion. The quick-time button presses are also very fast, sometimes only offering a second or two for you to react. It all works in the service of tension, but a single fail can spell doom for one of your characters.

The Power of PS4 Shines Yet Again

I was pretty convinced that The Order: 1886 was the best looking game on PS4, and would be for some time, but Until Dawn may have it beat. The characters themselves are perfect representations of the actors and actresses that play them. The motion capture animation creates incredibly emotive and lifelike facial animation as well. There are occasional moments of the uncanny valley feeling, but otherwise these are some of the most realistic characters I've ever seen.

The same detail goes to each of the games haunting environments. Great detail is placed into the fixed camera angles as you explore each area both new and old. The music provides top-notch tension and scares. It never lets you think you're safe, and it adds a lot to the experience as a result.

You Just Have to Make it...Until Dawn

If you hate other games like this, then no, Until Dawn is not going to change your mind. That being said, if you are a fan of story-driven titles that really change based on your decisions, and you have a soft spot for all the best classic horror tropes, you're going to love this game. Don't expect it to be predictable though, it's got a few really awesome tricks up its sleeve.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start the game over. I can save all of them, I know it! What about you? Were you able to save everyone or did you let your least favorite characters "happen to die?" Tell us about your experiences (warn people about spoilers though) in the comments below!

Final Score: 9.0/10

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 8/28/15

Related Games:

  • The Order: 1886
  • Life is Strange
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