Something special happened this year when my friends and I got together to play Until Dawn. This special “thing” not only happined in my own group of friends though, because Until Dawn has a very special appeal, one that no other game this year has reached throughout the entirety of 2015. With the new year finally over, i’ve not found an experience quite like the one Until Dawn created. It’s basically the Star Wars Episode VII of video gaming this year, and that’s with titles such as Star Wars: Battlefront out right now as well. Until Dawn created a conversation that hadn’t been heard in video gaming before, and that conversation carried easily into a non-video gaming world, and that’s only part of why it’s my game of the year pick.
Until Dawn was the game that gained traction through word of mouth, but had the visuals and storyline of a AAA title behind it. This combination created a game that was better off being supported through the gaming community rather than a big marketing push (though it certainly would have helped), one that made players trust the title they were getting into, rather than worry about what Supermassive might have done to create DLC, make money or any other AAA title money grab players fear. What really made the title special though, was its subject matter and the way it handled its gameplay.
We’ve never seen a title quite like this, where the player is thrown in a scary movie scenario, surrounded by teenagers who have drinking and sex on their minds in the middle of an abandoned lodge during a snowstorm. The story is set up right there for you, and you already know where it’s going, except this time, you have a hand in deciding exactly how it plays out, determining who lives and who dies. To cover the bases, this game divulges into every scary movie scene you can think, clown killer, Ouija board ghosts, Saw style torture, and mysterious men and demonic creatures, it’s all there.
The best part about playing through this title for me though, was playing with friends. This game created a dynamic where my friends and I could yell at the screen, be petrified or brave or act ridiculous for the sake of these teenagers whose lives are literally in our hands. There’s a reason people grab their friends to go see horror films, Until Dawn will be the reason to grab their friends and immerse themselves in the world even further. It’s an indescribable situation where YOU ARE essentially a part of this story, deciding the fate of characters who are straight out of the last horror film you’ve seen. This is that “thing” I mentioned before, the ability to be a part of something, and bring that conversation into the outside world. It’s great to compare the choices you’ve made with someone else, and who you saved and who you killed. Even better though is the ability to bring outsiders (those who don’t consider themselves gamers) into a gaming universe where they can feel at home. The controls are simple and easy, but even if they don’t want to control the characters themselves, playing through with someone else and letting them make the decisions creates a new “movie experience” for the non-gamer. It’s a very easy medium to slip into, and that’s what also makes it my game of the year, it’s accessibility.
One of the most immersive experiences, is the mechanic where players are told to not move, as they see their light from the controller reflected on the screen and their forced to keep completely still. Nothing was more immersive than that experience, and nothing racked up the nerves of the player more than knowing that the fate of this character lied in your ability to be as still as they are supposed to be in this situation. The game also has you do a little survey, deciding what factors scare you the most (scarecrows or clowns, cockroaches or needles) and it will tailor itself to your fears, making the experience that more personal.
Unlike the Telltale series (which I adore for its ability to also do so) Supermassive have created a new genre all its own, one that Telltale should be looking at for their future endeavors into gaming. The choices in this title may sometimes only be surface choices, but the impact they have make them matter much more than in some other instances. Plus, the ability to look at how your choices have affected the actions and relationships of the characters and see the outcome of those big decisions is something that helps players feel like what they’re doing actually has consequences and actually matters. Even the beginning cinematic that remind viewers of what happened “previously on Until Dawn” help create that immersive feel. In short this is no longer a video-game, it’s an interactive world that we’ve become a part of.
Not to mention, the game is gorgeous. The actors the characters are based on do a great job at being the cliche teens we see in these films, and the presentation is so spot on, that sometimes you’ve got to stop and just look at how gorgeous and elaborate the scenes are. The houses are carved so carefully, the characters are so spot on, their reactions and movements and facial expressions are all so real, it’s a wonder the game hasn’t received praise just for its visuals and performance.
I could go on and on about just how much I love this game, but it’s unique approach at a genre we thought we knew, as well as its ability to bring outside gamers into the fold, while doing so in a way that supports the gaming community and still being a AAA title brings me to the conclusion that Until dawn was the best game that was released all year this year. Who will survive on your playthrough?