By Alex Alusheff
My wife groaned when I told her I wanted to buy a PS4 for my birthday. She told me I had enough systems that I never touch and asked how would this purchase be any different.
I eventually persuaded her, but under one condition – I had to buy games that she could play as well.
Woof. My wife isn’t a gamer. The only games we played together over the past 7 years of our relationship were LittleBigPlanet, Overcooked and Mario Party. Those games only captured her attention for maybe 30 minutes before she got bored and started scrolling on her phone.
Finding PS4 games we could both enjoy proved to be a challenge. She prefers to watch Law & Order: SVU or some serial killer documentary on Netflix. I like horror and fantasy.
So when I discovered a review of Until Dawn on Youtube, it felt like the perfect game for us. In this interactive horror game, you try to keep eight teens alive as a maniac stalks them outside a mountain lodge the following winter after two of their friends disappeared in a blizzard.
Until Dawn was right up her alley – there’s crime, mystery, a killer on the loose and a satisfactory twist at the end. Better yet, our decisions determined whether certain characters would live or die at multiple points in the story.
We appreciated the cinematic presentation by studio Supermassive Games and the great voice acting. The top-notch cast includes Oscar winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot), Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, Nashville), and Nichole Bloom (Superstore). The cutscenes were entertaining enough that it felt like we were watching a television show rather than playing a video game. It’s one of the reasons my wife wanted to keep playing.
You spend much of the Until Dawn walking around different environments trying to find clues, tapping through quicktime events, and making choices that will impact character relationships or the outcome of the game itself. I handled the controls and my wife chose which decision to make (she clearly wears the pants in this family).
In some instances, you may choose to run or hide from the maniac, sacrifice yourself or a friend, or choose whether to reveal important facts to the other characters. Some decisions you make change the characters’ future or what clues you can find, changing the outcome of the game. It’s all determined by a multi-layered butterfly effect system.
In one playthrough, I got a character killed by attacking a herd of deer and he was pushed off a mountain to his death. In another playthrough, I got him impaled on a hook in a mineshaft. You can also try to make sure every character survives the night, begging you to play more than once. Besides Tony Hawk’s Underground, it’s the only game I’ve completed more than once.
Until Dawn is not without its flaws. When you take control of your characters, they have two speeds: slow and slightly less slower. It’s great for the suspense-building parts of the game, but not after an intense cutscene that calls for a faster pace. And when you meander toward your destination when you should be sprinting, it ruins the immediacy. Picking up and interacting with objects throughout the game can be awkward at times too.
We played through the game in 1-hour increments. As the plot thickened, my wife would text me during the work day about how she couldn’t wait to play again. She would text her theories about who was terrorizing the teens and how it was all going to end. I found it refreshing to see her so excited about playing a video game with me. She even put her phone away as we played. That was a huge win.
As soon as we finished the first playthrough, one of my friends visited us from out of state. We played it with her and beat it in two nights. She played a completely different way, though I guided her in some points to ensure she made the opposite decisions I originally made to see if the outcomes actually changed. They did so I was pleased.
I also enjoyed watching my friend make all the wrong decisions in the last chapter and killing most of the characters minutes before the rescue team showed up.
A third playthrough is on deck. This time my wife will be taking over the controls. For someone who hasn’t played a video game by herself since Flappy Bird released in 2013, it’s a big step.
Until Dawn opened up a genre of games to us that I never had any interest in until I experienced this game with my wife. I’m happy I get to share my passion for gaming with her and that some of my “me time” can become more meaningful “we time”.
We plan on picking up Supermassive’s other horror title, Man of Medan, about a diving expedition that ends up on a ghost ship, as well as trying out some Telltale Games titles. If your wife or significant other is on the fence about video games, try out Until Dawn or another interactive story. What have you got to lose? Aside from the lives of eight teenagers on a mountaintop.