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PAX 2014: Until Dawn Is a Silly, Campy Throwback

Sony built a small wooden shack in the middle of the PAX show floor this year for their demo of Until Dawn. If you’ve been paying much attention to Until Dawn, you’ll know that it was originally a PlayStation 3 horror-title that heavily relied upon the PS Move. Many people -myself included – wondered if perhaps this would be the must-have game that would finally turn buyers on to Sony’s doomed motion controller. Then everything went dark about Until Dawn and most of us completely forgot about it.

That is, until last month when Sony re-revealed a new-and-improved PlayStation 4 version that largely did away with the motion controls of yesteryear (though not completely, but we’ll get to that later). It promised a darker tone than the original product and starred TV’s Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville). Everything immediately looked better and soon enough, PlayStation 4 owners would have a beautiful, exclusive horror game to sink their teeth into.

The PAX demo, which is the same that was shown at Gamescom, begins by having players complete a short survey with very basic questions like “Are you a male or female?”, “Do you play with the lights on or off?”, and ” do you prefer horror games or movies?” It isn’t immediately clear what each answer results in as I only had one shot at the 20-minute demo (I chose male, lights off, and horror games), but what it does do quite effectively is introduce gamers to the way in which the flashlight is controlled. It’s clearly a remnant of the previous Move-centric game – point the controller left and the light goes left – but once the demo ramps up, it rarely feels important to the actual game. The rooms in the demo aren’t poorly lit enough to really require the use of a flashlight.

The demo provided you with at least one difficult decision.
The demo provided you with at least one difficult decision.

Until Dawn, in many ways, is a throwback to horror games of the late 90’s, as much as it is teen-slasher movies from the 80’s. Games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are looked back on fondly by gamers as a remnant of a time when developers were just more willing to worry about the scares than the big action movie thrills. A huge component of this was the way in which everything was presented – through fixed cameras that were generally immobile and near impossible to control. For many people, myself included, the decision for horror games to embrace a new go-to camera system was welcomed graciously, but for others, the archaic design choice added to difficulty and the horror and worked in favor of creating a scarier game. Until Dawn seems to feel similarly.

The camera was immediately an issue and one that absolutely took me out of the whole experience. It doesn’t always work to create more tension or greater scares. It works to frustrate and complicate matters. Suddenly the aiming of the flashlight using the Dual Shock 4 was even less effective. I found myself walking into walls and doors and tons of other snags that complicated matters that have no business being complicated anymore. Sure, it set up one or two creepy scenes of watching something walk by in the background, but overall it worked against Until Dawn to make it feel like less of an ode to old horror and more of a relic.

Even when Until Dawn gets dark, it's still pretty light-hearted and silly.
Even when Until Dawn gets dark, it’s still pretty light-hearted and silly.

Until Dawn also leans heavily upon corny dialogue and bad acting. In most scenarios, this would be an absolutely terrible decision; one I wouldn’t be able to get behind. But in Until Dawn’s case, it was endearing, much like when movies from the 70’s or 80’s have aged-SFX that some young kids will laugh at and say “this movie sucks!” while the rest of us sit back and reminisce of a time when horror didn’t exactly need to be brooding to be scary. Until Dawn‘s short demo did everything in it’s power to be that type of experience. At first, the dialogue and acting was very off-putting. I thought I was laughing at the bad writing, but it became clearer as time went on that the developers knew exactly what they were doing. Sure, silly dialogue definitely makes the scares less scary, but that doesn’t matter when the horror aspects become more fun.

Until Dawn seems like a strange combination of Resident EvilFriday the 13th, and Heavy Rain. It’s a game that’s destined to become a cult classic; something along the lines of Deadly Premonition. Yes, the acting is bad. Yes, the dialogue is bad. Yes, the camera is bad. But the end goal of a game like Until Dawn isnt necessarily to be the best at all of those things, or even goodUntil Dawn’s short demo was a relatively enjoyable experience that has made me more curious to see what Supermassive Games is capable of.

Until Dawn is expected to be released sometime in 2015 for the PlayStation 4.

Tyler Nope

Tyler lives in the Portland, OR area with his wife and cat. He loves pizza, comic books, and video games.


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