Gamescom 2012: Until Dawn preview (PS3)

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Until Dawn Logo (Gamescom)

Supermassive Games were demonstrating their newly announced game “Until Dawn”, today at Gamescom. Their refrain describing the game was “playable teen horror”, and that’s exactly what it looks to be turning out to be.

The story, inspired by teen horror movies (specific mention was made of Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Nightmare on Elm Street as examples), is typical for the genre. Eight teenagers go to one of their parents’ luxury ski lodge in Mount Washington, British Columbia, and one by one they disappear and die. Hollywood writers and TV voice actors have been contracted to do the writing an acting to give it an authentic Hollywood horror feel.

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 4

We saw a play-through of Chapter 3 of the game: “If You Go Down to the Woods Today” (one of 15 to 20 chapters). The setup is simple: “leaving their classmates at the lodge, Jessica and Michael recklessly go to the cabin in the woods to make out”. It’s classic teen horror stuff and a situation just waiting for bad things to happen.

Jez Harris from Supermassive was playing the game with only the Move controller while Will Byles narrated. Jez started out controlling Michael as Jessica walked on ahead. The view is from the first person and the Move controller is your torch – point it in a direction to light up the area. If you press the trigger you move forward in the direction you’re pointing, pressing harder to move faster. The only other control is the Move button which allows you to interact with the environment. When there is nothing to interact with close at hand pressing the Move button will light up things around you that you can interact with. When you’re close enough and you press the Move button to interact with an object the game will zoom in and the Move becomes your hand as you pull levers, turn keys and pick up items in a way similar to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, but more direct.

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 1

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 2

Jez followed the path in the way Jessica was walking and there was lots of banter between the characters going on. Jessica is a huge flirt and didn’t stop teasing Michael. At one point she disappears for a bit after jumping over a log to freak Michael out. Michael is the class president and Jessica looks every bit like an American cheerleader (or at least how they are portrayed by Hollywood.) Every teen horror trope seems to be included. The developers said that they’re trying to include references to just about every horro movie they can without plagiarising the movies.

There are clues that something is watching Michael and Jessica – the odd camera angle from somewhere in the bushes during brief in-game cut scenes, strange unexplained noises, the gory death and then disappearance of a moose nearby. After Jessica’s scare of Michael he hands the torch to her, which means you now control her. Supermassive say that you will follow the story of all eight teens as you play through the one night of horror. Their idea is that it’s a game that can be watched by a group just like horror is watched, and that when the torch is passed from one character to the other that is the cue for players to pass the torch to another player. It’s a great concept – lots of video games are watched by a second person and Until Dawn acknowledges this and tries to get the watchers included. You can’t play this game badly because, well, it’s a horror so the character dying is expected – it’s all how and when they die that matters, right?

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 5

Michael and Jessica arrive at the cabin at last, but the lights are off and it’s freezing. Michael is the one given the task of getting the lights on and the fire going, so he gets the torch and starts to look around. There are scraps of paper scattered in the cabin with your the friends’ names on them. Other clues can be found all through the game (a cigarette stub, a miners photo, that kind of thing) which can be used to understand more of the background of what’s going on but can also be ignored if you just prefer playing through the main story.

Michael picks up a chisel from the trunk and a lever from the bathroom after interacting with cupboards, the shower curtain and a trunk in the cabin. The Move controls look very intuitive because they seem to map closely to your movements, but I haven’t tried them yet and Jez had clearly played the game before. He uses the lever to turn the gas on again and get the fire going, and the chisel to break the lock keeping the gun safe. I guess Jez knew something was going to happen, but the game lets you miss items, even ones which can fundamentally affect the outcome of the characters like a shotgun can.

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 3

There are clear indications that something is not right, but Michael and Jessica just put it down to their friends playing tricks on them. Soon they start to make out, and to cut a long story short, Jessica is taken by something, leaving a trail of blood behind her. Michael chases after, and everything goes downhill. He follows the trail of blood into a big barn, complete with meat hooks. I won’t spoil how the scene ended for you, but if you know teen horror you can imagine it.

Supermassive assure us that each chapter can end differently depending on what you do, and that can affect how other chapters play out. It’s not clear whether you can save all the characters, but you can certainly influence how they die – a character dying does not mean it’s game over, it just means you get to go on to the next character and watch (and participate in) their fate. The story is roughly 6 hours long on your first play-through, and in those hours there are calm periods as well as intense parts.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this demo and I think Supermassive are well on their way to achieving the concept they set out to implement – “playable teen horror”. I can imagine groups of teens playing this game together like they watch horror movies together, and I’m quite sure I would have preferred something like this to the horror movies we had.

As someone who doesn’t enjoy teen horror much any more I like the exploration aspect of the game. All through the game you can look for clues in nooks and crannies and piece together something of the history or story of the woods. The interaction with items has a puzzle element to it too that mixes up the gameplay a bit. Until Dawn doesn’t look like a very deep game but like its inspiration it doesn’t ask too much of the player, so it might be that perfect weekend game that you can play from start to finish in one go and enjoy the story, B-grade teen horror movie that it is.

Until Dawn is slated for a 2013 release on PS3 only and will be available at retail.

Until Dawn Gamescom 2012 Screenshot 6

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