Going for that b-movie flavor is tricky business. Too often, movie directors will overshoot the mark and end up making something too stupid to be fun or something so painfully trying to self aware that it's embarrassing. The horror genre is filled with examples of failed attempts, and examples of campy horror done right are even rarer in video games. That's why I was so surprised when I finally got a chance to play Supermassive Games' Until Dawn at E3 2015. I went into my hands-on demo with low expectations and decades of horror game/film fandom, but walked away amused and intrigued.
My playable preview of Until Dawn kicks off on a delightful surreal note. Two 20-somethings, Emily and Matt, being stalked by a psycho killer are cornered on the edge of cliff as a herd of pointy-antlered deer encroach. The beasts' eyes glow a strange hue as the two scared survivors decide how to handle the situation. Until Dawn follows modern adventure game trends, allowing players to explore environments and tinker with items to advance the story, all the while making binary choices that affect the story and stick with them. In this instance, I can decide whether to hack my way through the deer with a fire axe or anxiously wade through the sea of pointy horns as they gradually part before me. I choose not to shed any stag blood (because I'm not a monster), and nervously guide the characters out of the tense inter-species standoff.
For more on Until Dawn, watch the video above hosted by Sony during E3 2015.
Emily and Matt are out of harm's way for the time being, but are quickly reminded that they're being pursued by a maniac when they ascend a radio tower to call for help. They climb the tower and lock the ladder's door on the floor, but the crazed antagonist locates them after they call a ranger station for help (the rescue chopper won't be here... until dawn). Did my choice to shoot off an emergency flair tip off the killer to our whereabouts? The killer quickly realizes a direct means for killing Emily and Matt is shut, so he takes to snapping the stabilizing cables keeping the tower standing up. Within moments the tower is collapsing and Mike and Emily are clinging to railings and support beams for dear life. Most of the action plays out automatically, while snap decisions are left up to me. For instance, after Matt gets his feet beneath him he can respond to Emily's hysterical bossiness by snapping back or trying to keep her calm. My attempts to reassure Emily as she precariously hangs off the side of the radio tower don't work, and I'm forced to decide whether to try to save her or jump to safety. I try once to save her, and she falls slightly further down the side of the falling tower. Worried my extra weight will finally bring down the structure, I leap to safety nearby instead of trying to save her again. My quick choice appears to prove fatal for Emily, as the tower quickly falls and Emily's panicked cries for help suddenly cease. I meant to rescue her after I saved myself, I swear!
I left my time with Until Dawn with many questions. What's up with those weird deer? Why does this masked killer want us dead? Could I have saved Emily? Did she really deserve my potential self-sacrifice with that attitude of hers? Is the rest of the game this appealing? I'll have to wait for answers to those queries until the game hits PS4 August 25. But until then, I'm optimistic about the game's bizarre tone and genuinely tense choice-driven moments. Until Dawn is shaping up to be a horrifying adventure game to rival Telltale's The Walking Dead, made even more effective thanks to its convincing visuals.
Learn more about Until Dawn by reading our previous hands-on with the game