When Scream first burst out of Hollywood, simultaneously sticking to and making light of all the established horror conventions that went before it, it single handedly revitalised the horror film genre. Until Dawn almost certainly won’t have that same impact on the scene for horror gaming but does that really matter when it’ll just be a bundle of fun?
Throughout the game, you play as each of the eight teenagers who have headed off to Mt. Washington for a little break on the anniversary of their friend’s death. Of course, this does not go too well for them, as they’re picked off one by one and you try to both figure out the underlying mystery of these mountains and survive the night.
The gameplay I saw started off early in the game, just a few chapters in, with Michael and Jessica having been booted out by the rest of the gang for getting just a little bit too public with their displays of affection. So they’re trudging through the snowy woods to a separate cabin for a little privacy.
The build up here is really nice and slow. You know that something is going to happen sooner or later but you have no idea what, as you follow Jessica through the woods. There’s a few puzzles on the way but it’s mainly an extended walk, letting you take in the rather beautiful and atmospheric snowy forest with plenty of incidental innuendo-laden banter between the characters.
Thankfully, the game controls are simple to an extreme. You only need a single Move controller and nothing more, with movement determined by pointing the torch light and pulling the trigger to get analogue speed. Should you need to interact with something, like buttons on a generator or door handle, the camera angle will pull in and you now have direct control over a hand. You just need to point at what you want to use and press the Move button, or perform the logical motion.
Equally, aside from other characters, any exploration you do is done by yourself without much highlighting. It could be a tourist sign on the side of a path you want to have a quick look at, or spotting a set of claw marks in the side of a tree. At a crossroads, Jessica spots an abandoned mineshaft and encourages you to have a look inside. Of course, she doesn’t want to get her hands dirty and you have a little puzzle to solve to open up a secret area filled with a few clues.
These clues are scattered throughout the game but are generally optional. You don’t need to collect them to follow the plot through to the end but, if you’re a budding detective or a completionist, you can get a bit of a head start on figuring out what is going on in these mountains by hunting down all the clues and exploring off the beaten path.
True to the genre, as you progress there are a whole host of rather cheap scares and cunning misdirections. A bird flying right past your face, the torch going out for a moment, and after clambering over a fallen tree before you do, Jessica disappears. The classic horror film music kicks up a gear as you search frantically for a minute or too, before she jumps out from behind something to give you another surprise.
As Mike is telling her off for running away, the camera jumps to a third person view in the bushes. Heavy, rattling breathing, a distorted view, and unwitting victims? Yup, it ticks all the boxes once more and adds another layer to the tension. It’s now really obvious that these teens are being stalked – and are pretty clueless about it.[drop]It’s at this point that Jessica takes the flashlight off Michael and with it, your control and viewpoint passes over to her too. Supermassive think that this game should be enjoyed not just on your own but with other people too. So while the game isn’t true co-op, it’s easy to just hand the Move over to someone else to take over for a while, making it a more communal game.
It will also be great to have other people there watching because of the script and acting. In short, it’s hilarious. Supermassive are understandably cautious about giving too much away at this point, so the name of the Hollywood script writer and cast is being kept under wraps. Whoever they are, they’re capturing the spirit of the genre and really hamming it up, it’s just funny.
How can you not laugh out loud when Jessica finds an old photo of some miners and states, “I don’t know what it is about these miners, but they give me the willies… and not the good kind of willies.” Or complaining that the snow is making her feet moist? With cheesy lines like that and plenty more like it, this character clearly wouldn’t last very long in a teen horror film.
The self-aware humour in the script is just that little bit extra to keep things light hearted during the down time. Soon enough a big deer runs right across your path, for another little start, before mysterious sounds come from the woods. A little wary, you come across the same deer lying wounded on the floor but as you move in for a closer look, he’s suddenly jerked back and out into the bushes.
Time to hightail it the last few hundred meters to the cabin, with the soundtrack swelling to really increase the tempo and tension, and try to get inside as soon as possible. Once “safe” inside these dumb kids predictably dismiss everything as a bear attack, or something similar. Control passes back to Michael, and Jessica plays the sexy time card to get him to wander about, looking for a way to get the fire going and maybe some lights.
Exploring about the place is pretty worthwhile, as you can get access to a shotgun, having found a chisel to hack off the lock to the gun cabinet. There’s a few more scares and the tension is built, as you can tell that this is approaching the end of the chapter. Just as you get to start undressing Jessica, things start to go very wrong and before long she is ripped through a doorway, you’re chasing after her trail of blood, shotgun in hand, before finding her corpse in the mines. It’s very frantic, and an excellent change of pace from walking and exploring.
As Michael slumps by her body in grief, the viewpoint changes to our mystery antagonist and Michael too meets what must be a grizzly end… and not the bear kind.
It doesn’t necessarily have to end this way for either of these dumb kids, though, as the story will branch depending on how you play. You can explore a different path at the early crossroads, or perhaps you don’t pick up that shotgun in the cabin.
Supermassive are really keeping a tight lid on things right now, so it might be possible to keep several of these kids alive or it might not. We also don’t really know how long the game will last but with the pacing of the demo, I’d expect a pretty decent length.
From what I saw, this game just looks fun. I’m holding back from saying it was my game of the show, just because even though it had me laughing every few minutes and really seems to have captured the essence of the genre of films, I do have a few concerns.
The pacing will have to be absolutely spot on, where I felt that the section in the cabin dragged on just a little too long. Similarly, these down times in action where tension is being built very gradually will need the script to be at its best throughout. I can see that the game might start feeling a bit tired later on if either of these is even just a little bit lacking.
Fingers crossed, though, that Supermassive can keep the overall feeling from what was a great demonstration running through the rest of the title. If they do, then this will easily be one of the must have titles for the PS Move. I can’t wait to see if they can pull it off.
– Until Dawn is currently set for a 2013 release.