It would be a gross understatement to say that games like Until Dawn polarise opinion among gamers, especially in an age when social media allows everyone to pour bile over things that aren't to their tastes. And the hardcore camp would probably assert that Until Dawn isn't even a game.
Committed PlayStation owners will find it fairly familiar, though: like past efforts such as Heavy Rain, it is essentially an interactive movie, with the emphasis on the movie element, rather than the interaction.
Curiously, one could expect it to appeal to those weaned on mobile games, whose gameplay tends to be more sedate; those who demand non-stop action from their games will greet it with derision, though.
Choose your own adventure
Once you get your head around what Until Dawn is, it impresses. It's a pretty typical modern horror movie, in which eight rather brattish, entitled, late-teen Americans assemble at a creepy mountain lodge one snowy February, a year after a previous trip saw the disappearance of two sisters from the group. It becomes apparent that some sort of homicidal maniac is at large, and it's up to you to shepherd as many of the group as you can safely through to dawn the next day.
That is achieved primarily by making snap choices at crucial points, which determine (to an extent, at least) the direction of the story - Until Dawn is big on the "butterfly effect" theory, in which small choices can have big consequences.
Over the course of the game, you get to control all of the characters, so there is much exploring to do and essential objects to find, the odd bit of puzzle-solving, some occasional, very basic, shooting and a number of chase and climbing sequences in which the dreaded quicktime events - timed button-presses - are fired at you.
At times, you even have to keep the controller perfectly still, and often, when you're presented with an option, your best course of action is to do nothing. Sometimes, you come across Native American totems which add an element of collectability to the game and give you premonitions of upcoming events, and there are bizarre sequences with a sinister psychologist.
Horror clichés meet glorious visuals
The overall feel, then, is of an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure with very modern graphics and production values. And that's where Until Dawn really makes a mark: the movie side of the game is among the best we have ever seen.
The motion-capture, voice-acting, script and storyline come together beautifully to set new standards for a game. There's not even a hint of the Uncanny Valley - where something that is slightly off turns what should be a realistic experience into one which is thoroughly alien. Visually, Until Dawn is utterly believable and a joy to behold.
The story is decent, too. At first, the characters are quite annoying - which ought to be a problem, since you're trying to keep them alive. But most of them grow on you, especially after they have been subjected to all manner of psychological torture and are consequently chastened.
The storyline builds slowly at first, but enacts a satisfying change-up in the later stages and while Until Dawn isn't immune to well-worn horror-film clichés - there's an abandoned mental hospital in it, for example - it provides plenty of truly scary moments. And becomes completely bonkers as dawn approaches.
It also provides plenty of ammunition for those who disdain games of its ilk. Despite being a full-price game (given its superb production values, you can see why), a play-through won't take you more than 7 hours at the outside. It has plenty of replay value if you play it so badly that few of the characters survive, but much less if you prove adept.
If you're a fan of horror movies, and don't mind gameplay which is at the most gentle end of the spectrum, you will marvel at the movie-like experience Until Dawn provides.
But we can't help thinking that games like Until Dawn now feel thoroughly anachronistic, especially on consoles. Those gamers who will buy it and not feel like they have been cheated know who they are.
It is perhaps the best modern point-and-click adventure we have come across, but are such games still relevant in this day and age, especially on consoles?