Resting in a bathtub, Sam listens to unheard music on her ear buds. In the background, a menacing figure watches her before turning and leaving the dark bathroom. As the door shuts, Sam, glances around and removes her ear buds, sensing the presence. “Hello?” she calls out. Of course nobody answers. Wrapping a towel around herself, she looks for her clothes, but they are gone. “Very funny guys,” she mutters, clearly thinking that it’s her friends playing a joke on her. Finally I gained control of Sam and led her towards the bathroom door.
Choice Can Kill
This is how everyone’s preview of Until Dawn started out at PlayStation Experience, but each player’s journey and end point varied, some shorter than others. The varying factor was a variety of choices that Sam, played by Hayden Panettiere, was forced to quickly make that caused the story to branch in different directions. Choice can kill any of the main characters that we we will be able to play as in the final game, and the PlayStation Experience gameplay showed just how harrowing these choices can be.
Defenseless, and wearing only a towel — now dubbed “the magic towel” by the internet, due to its uncanny ability to stay on Sam through all of what is to come — I venture into the dark cabin beyond the bathroom door. Already I can feel the vibe of the summer teen-slasher flicks that Until Dawn draws its inspiration from. The setting and mood feel very much like Halloween, Scream, or any of the other variety of movies in this genre. A series of red balloons with arrows drawn on them eerily guide me to the cabin’s media room. Sam still thinks it’s her friends, but the player knows better, which sets me edge as the dramatic irony sets in. I knew something the character didn’t know. In the media room, the projector springs to life and a creepy voice begins asking things like “are these the last happy moments of this creature’s life?” as footage plays of Sam in the bath. There’s a definitive Saw feeling to this moment. Then the voice begins counting down from ten.
Run Sam, Run!
Before the counter can even reach zero, the figure seen earlier in the bathroom bursts through the doors and Sam is given a decision: Throw a vase, or run. Using the motion of the controller to select the option, I twist my hands to opt for throwing the vase. Sam grabs the vase, hurls it at the creepy figure, and darts for the door as he simply swats it out of the way. “Bad move, Chandler!” I think to myself. “Gotta be smart about this.” The controller utilizing motion controls is actually a carry over from the original development of the game, which was as a first person Move title. While some may find the motion controls to be gimmicky and silly, I think they fit very well in Until Dawn and help to sell the player involvement and tension of each situation.
The ensuing chase gives me a number of two-choice scenarios at certain intersections, most involving asking whether I want Sam to hide or continue running. Well, the guy is behind me right? So I think I’ll continue running in a general forward direction to remain as far from his murderous intent as possible. Reaching a blocked door, I can try to barge through it, or use a shelf to block his path. Let’s try the shelf? Nope, he can just walk over that, however it did reveal the doorknob needed to get through the door! Hastily putting it into the socket, the game asks me to jolt the controller to the side to ram my way through the door. Again, the intensity of this moment makes this motion feel natural and involved as I barely manage to make it through and slam it shut before he can get to me.
The DualShock 4 in Full Motion
I would be lying if I said the game didn’t feel like a Quantic Dream title. There are far too many similarities to Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls both graphically and within the controls to say that it doesn’t at least take inspiration from those games. What Until Dawn has more of a focus on is a tension and player involvement using all of the features of the DualShock 4. Barging through the door and slamming the lock shut using the full motion of controller is very satisfying to pull off, and the motion based controls work well for all of my experience with it in this preview.
I’m tired of running, so it’s time to select the option to hide, and I crouch down inside an elevator shaft. The option to turn my flashlight off with the triangle button appears and I barely press it in time. I try to hold my own breath as Sam holds hers. A prompt appears on the screen: Don’t Move! Beneath these words is an image of the DualShock 4’s light bar with a white outline around it. As my hands twitch ever so slightly, the blue gets closer to that outline. I steady my shaking hands, waiting for the hulking figure to pass. Just when I think it’s safe, he reaches in and drags Sam out, ending my time with Until Dawn until that release day, when perhaps I can make better decisions and keep Sam alive.
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