Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
The best thing that can be said a game is that it sticks with you long after your done playing it. I thought of that today when trying to figure out a way to approach writing something up about Until Dawn. I enjoyed it but the subject matter has me wondering if it's just horror-type pulp that's sticking in my brain or is it an actual good game. In search of answers I looked back at some of my old reviews and found one that I wasn't sold on having a lasting impact, but did - Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway.
I also unearthed my old and convoluted rating system. I'm happy I did and have fine tuned it a bit for Until Dawn. I'm big on grading things in regards to performance in sports over in my other life - but usually shy away from it with games as sometimes a score and unfairly define a game as good or bad. I'm going to use it here today, though for no other reason then I need a blueprint to follow to get me started (and spare anyone reading this from a wordy piece about gender roles and race and everything that usually follows the release of a movie or game in the horror genre).
To keep it simple, I've got 10 categories that I will score on a ten point scale. I'll only use 0, 3, 5, 7, and a perfect 10 for each category so that I don't needlessly get caught up deciding what the difference is between a 2 and a 3.
10 : STORY
It's fairly normal, self-aware and modern in its approach to horror storytelling - but that's an admirable thing and shouldn't be taken as negative (as many write it as such). What Supermassive Games achieved with Until Dawn is nothing short of a miracle in regards to turning the responsibility of the characters well being to the player. Not allowing players to replay certain calamities also adds to the overall intensity of the game. Adding to the story is the excellent work done by the actors. Ramin Malek highlights but all are good here.
10 : OBJECTIVES
Think of this as the game "to-do" list. Many (many) games can be tedious and overbearing, others can take you completely away from the overall story arch. Until Dawn is razor focused in its approach. Objectives are clear and rarely dull and what you decide to do and not do have real consequence.
10 : IN-GAME ART AND DESIGN
Supermassive controls the camera angle and distance with great results. It's also a very pretty game to look at. Amazing sense of place and time. Not going un-noticed is facial expressions and words matching mouth movements! So, so many games come off poorly here in that it like watching robots. Nice, well rounded humans in this game. As far as design - excellent. Text elements are never cooked and fit with feel. Even the pause menu never lets you out of the game tension.
10 : AUDIO, SOUND
Again hitting the mark. As far as the music, experienced composer Jason Graves works magic with crescendos and quiet moments and warrants full points. Is well done as well.
7 : GAMEPLAY
I've never had issues with the use of quicktime events in story driven games like this. It removes some of the pretentious actions some games force you to learn. It varied enough in it's approach as well. Targeting, decision making and consequence add to it.
10 : EMOTIONAL IMPACT
This one smacks you over the head. There are real moments of emotion in this game outside of fear. While the characters made some bizarre decisions in the game out of the player's control, they are few and far between. I didn't think I would care much if I lost one or two during the game but after I actually lost one I didn't want to die things changed. I finished this game in just a few sittings and found it linger with me.
7 : LONGEVITY
I'm not sure I'll pick it back up again outside of showing someone the game but not out of the question. It's made to pick back up and try again.
7 : SIGNIFICANCE
Time will tell on this. Every so often I'll go back and check out score I gave on games seven years ago and find they actually did change some of the way things were done in the industry.
10 : X-FACTOR
This a fun damn game.
5 : PACKAGE ART & DESIGN
Only thing saving it from dropping below average is that they used actual artwork on the cover. There are good elements to it, but horror lends itself to iconic imagery.+
86 is a good score in my little gaming world. It's hard not to make comparisons to Heavy Rain and more recent Telltale games, but Supermassive has made a great game, in its own right, here. It's tight, pretty, doesn't stray, easy to follow and keeps you emotionally engaged throughout. What more is needed?