NYCC: Until Dawn Preview


Not everyone’s making it to sunrise.

“We’ve seen many, many horror movies,” Supermassive Games’ Managing Director Pete Samuels told an attentive group while showing off the PS3 horror game Until Dawn. In just the short demo I saw, the influence of classic horror flicks was obvious, from the hockey mask hanging in the abandoned vehicle to the isolated cabin in the woods to which two teenagers go for some alone time.

Until Dawn is a first-person PlayStation Move game that uses the motion controller as a flashlight, guiding the way through the story as you take control of any of eight playable characters. No Navigation controller is needed -pull the Move trigger to walk in the direction you’re pointing, and the Move button is used to interact with items along the way. There are situational prompts that require you to pull levers, unlock doors, or unzip your lady friend’s coat, just to name a few. It sounds simple enough, but as anyone who’s played Telltale’s The Walking Dead can tell you, it’s a lot harder to react to situational prompts when tensions are high and lives are at stake.

The hands-off demo followed Michael and Jessica, two teenagers who wander off during a trip with their friends to find some privacy in an old cabin. It’s definitely a premise we’ve heard before, and Until Dawn happily embraces the familiar horror trope. The player takes control of both Michael and Jessica as they make their way to the old house, and the teens get the feeling they’re being watched. They come across a ravaged deer that’s pulled away by an unseen force, but after unlocking the cabin door and finding themselves safely on the other side, they convince each other it was a bear and proceed to remove their clothing -hence the unzipping I mentioned earlier.

In just a moment Jessica is down to her undies, naturally, but the sexytimes are interrupted by some noise outside. That pesky bear has returned, it seems, and Jessica doesn’t want anyone – or any woodland creatures – watching their illicit activities through the window. Throughout all of this, the natural, humorous dialogue breaks up the tension, at least until Jessica is pulled through the window by the “bear” and dragged through the woods.

Michael runs to the rescue, following the sound of her screams. He uses a shotgun that he found back at the cabin to blast open an old mining facility, but the screams have stopped. Michael soon discovers Jessica’s lifeless body, but there’s no time to mourn. The mysterious, deadly force has set his sights on Michael, and the demo ends with him looking at the unseen entity and screaming.

What’s interesting is that Michael and Jessica are just two of Until Dawn‘s eight playable characters, and according to Samuels, any of them can live or die. Similar claims have been made for other games, like Heavy Rain, and there are usually some strings attached, but I’d love to know how Michael and Jessica could have made it out alive (maybe if they’d paid more attention to the dead animals in the woods and less to their own hormones). Along the way, clues can be found that shed some light on the disturbing goings-on, like old photos of miners.

Until Dawn seems like a great fit for the Move controller. At no point during the demo did I wish it used a regular control scheme. Watching Samuels play, his movements were totally natural, allowing him to focus less on the controller and more on the horror happening onscreen. Supermassive Games hopes that the simple Move controls will make Until Dawn more accessible, and design choices like unlimited ammo for the shotgun add to the accessibility factor. It might rely too heavily on scary movie stereotypes, but from what I saw, Until Dawn does a pretty good job of bringing them to life.

Until Dawn will be out for the PlayStation 3 in 2013.

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