Until Dawn is probably the best David Cage-style ‘interactive story’ type game I’ve played. Which sounds like damning with faint praise, and almost certainly is. But whatever the case, I can’t deny I found it rather engaging, and I put that down to the choice of story genre.
As I said in the video, the teen slasher movie is probably a better fit for the whole branching narrative / QTE action scenes concept than Heavy Rain‘s crime mystery story or whatever the fuck Beyond: Two Souls‘ genre will turn out to be once it makes its bloody mind up. Because the beauty of the teen slasher is that it’s formulaic in way that’s almost expected of it: they always take place in enclosed environments, so you don’t have to make as many locations, and you can use the continuity of a location to your advantage, such as by having a Chekhov gun on the mantelpiece that the player can make use of upon returning to the room in act 3.
The teen slasher is also in a better position to mix and match which characters die and which ones survive, since dying in spectacular ways is their main purpose in life, and even if they survive they’re rarely going to be asked to do much more than stand around, scream, or run to the next room like a pack of fainting goats, so it’s fairly easy to edit them into a scene that they could conceivably be alive or dead for. Your old Heavy Rain failed on that score because the plot relied somewhat heavily on the main characters being alive the whole way through.
So yeah, the teen slasher works for this kind of thing, and could well be the only thing that works for this kind of thing. But even so, Until Dawn and the entire games industry missed a trick with this one. Who wants to play as the victims in a teen slasher? As we’ve established, they’re usually boring interchangeable archetypes, weirdly fixated on ‘partying’ but apparently unclear on what that entails, since once they arrive at their party spot all they can think of to do is wander around looking for fuse boxes. And another thing, why do they always find it so hilarious to jump out at each other with a musical sting? It’s like they find literally no end to the humor to be found in the human startle reflex.
No, what there should be is a game where you play as the slasher. Which I’ve thought for a long time is such an obvious idea it’s all the more frustrating that video games (and indeed culture in general) always seem to be shooting for it and juuust missing over and over again. What is all that sneaking up and instant-kill back-attacking people in action-adventure stealthy games if not the actions of a sneaky murderer? All we have to do is stop pretending that these actions are in any way heroic or justifiable. Fuck it, say I. Let’s just kill people as unjustifiably as possible. If Hatred is any evidence it’ll only boost sales. Slasher movies themselves seem to be on the same page as me, too, since most of them constantly cut to POV shots of the killer. They might as well flash up a caption saying “MAKE A FIRST PERSON GAME OUT OF THIS”. The first ten minutes of Halloween are practically a proof of concept.
So that’s how you’d do it: a first person game set sandbox-style in a sleepy country town with a day-night cycle. Let’s use the Far Cry 3 engine, but instead of using vantage points to mark targets with binoculars, you mark targets by driving around the town during the day, eavesdropping on conversations between teens as they discuss the gossip of the day and talk about how much they’re going to enjoy boning each other at Chad’s party tonight. This will prompt your character to target the speaking teen and realize how important it is that they be murdered in a poetic manner.
As the sun sets the player tails the marked teen to the location of Chad’s party, and when darkness has fully fallen, the fun stage of the game begins, and our hero puts on their custom horror mask (new masks available as DLC!) and sets to work.
Obviously the main objective is to sneak through Chad’s party house and murder the targeted teen, but there are going to be a lot of other horny teens in Chad’s party house, and if any of them discover your presence and get away from the mission area long enough to call the police then you’ll have failed. So naturally you’ll want to lure away and kill all the other teens surrounding your target before any of them can realize something’s up, almost as if it’s a standard slasher movie or something.
It’d be a score based game, and you’d earn points by killing your victims in the most creative ways – waiting for them to stand next to the garbage disposal or the side of a speeding train, you know the drill – and by killing them at the right dramatic moment. Which would be a point after they have realized a psychotic killer is on the prowl and gone into screamy panic mode, but before they can successfully get away to safety. The longer you can draw that period out before gutting them like a fish finger, the more points you get. Showing up in front of them with a big knife upraised is one way for them to realize a killer is loose, but there are more elegant ways that don’t cost you the backstab: getting a corpse to fall out of a cupboard, leaving a head in a fridge, blood in the bathroom taps, sending them a text telling them you’re going to chop them up for side salad and would they mind dousing themselves in balsamic vinaigrette as preparation, etc.
But of course the best way to farm points would be to monkey your targets around with little scares that raise their creeped-out level without pushing them quite as far as panic mode. By throwing things that make noise so they go and take a look, then stealing their glasses while they’re investigating, then killing the lights and throwing a cat at their head. So obviously we’d be looking at some pretty sophisticated AI for the NPCs, getting them to move around the mission area somewhat procedurally, tinkering with fuse boxes, raiding fridges, peering inquisitively into the workings of threshing machines, looking for sets of genitals they could rub their own genitals on for a few minutes. You could even program them to sneak up on each other, jump out and laugh raucously at the startled reaction. Over and over and fucking over again.