One of the more surprising announcements to come out of Sony's Gamescom 2014 press conference was Supermassive Games' Until Dawn, a game that had all but vanished since its last appearance at New York Comicon in 2012. Originally unveiled as Move game on PlayStation 3, Until Dawn has now ditched the Move controller and the PS3 for Sony's shiny new Dualshock 4 and PS4. But the biggest change to the game comes from its new stylistic direction. Where the old Until Dawn was pitched as a schlocky teen horror, its new next-gen guise takes a darker, more terrifying turn--and that is a very good thing.
It helps that Until Dawn is longer played from a first-person perspective. Instead, the game is played in third person, and camera angles are typically fixed. I doubt few will lament the loss of the Move controller, but the switch to third-person might ruffle a few feathers for those wanting first-person immersion. That said, those cinematic camera angles worked very well in the demo I was shown, helping to build tension by tucking darkened doors and the nasties of the night just out of sight.
One thing that hasn't changed is the story, which revolves around a group of eight people spending a night in a log cabin to commemorate the anniversary of their friend's death. Naturally, things go awry, the group gets separated, and things go bump in the night; so far, so horror then. Certainly, the demo was more about classic shock tactics and splashes of blood than any sophisticated psychological scares, but with only a small snippet of the game on show, it's hard to get a true feel for how the story will develop.
What I can tell you is that there is going to be a lot of story to dig into. Supermassive claims the game features over a thousand different endings, which are made possible by the game's "Butterfly Effect" tech. The idea is that any action you take in the game--whether be as small as turning over an object or knocking something over, or as big as killing another character off--will have a knock on effect on the rest of story. Everyone that plays the game starts from the same central point, but from then on the story can branch out in numerous directions, the idea being that everyone will have a different experience.
Every character in the game can be killed, with the story adapting around the remaining characters. There's no right or wrong way to do things. While you'll be asked to make some tough choices--abandoning your partner to investigate a distant noise, or deciding to shoot yourself in the head to save your partner's life were just two examples I was shown--there's no hard and fast moral compass other than your own to guide you. There's also the option of simply not making a choice at all, or taking too long to do so, in which case an entirely different event plays out.
Not all Butterfly Effect interactions have dramatic consequences, though. Some interactions with objects only results in an instant response, while others might only affect a particular scene. Regardless, you're encouraged to poke around as much as possible, which is helped along by a clues system that tracks your progress into uncovering the mysterious events surrounding your friend's death and your current predicament.
Until Dawn is first and foremost an adventure game, so rather than being armed to the teeth with weapons shooting bad guys, interactions are of the Heavy Rain style, where you pick up objects and examine them, tiling the Dualshock controller to do so. Motion also controls the flashlight as you wander around the suitably dark and creepy backdrops. Sometimes, you might pick up an object that can used as a weapon, but it only comes into play during a particular scene and you make a moral choice whether to use it or not. An example of this was show during the demo, where the character Ashley picks up a pair of scissors, and a butterfly icon flashes on screen. Later, as she and her partner Chris encounter a sadistic psycho in a creepy clown mask, you're given the option to defend yourself with the scissors, or back down entirely.
Given the focus on storytelling and character interactions over all-out action, the success of Until Dawn depends largely on its voice actors and believable animations, as well as excellent writing. On all fronts, Supermassive has drafted some impressive talent, including Hollywood writers for the script, and actors Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malik for the voice acting and motion capture. Indeed, it was hard not to get sucked into the drama between Chris and Ashley as they explored a dilapidated hotel. The game also features some impressive facial animation technology running atop the Killzone: Shadowfall engine, which gives each line of dialogue an impressively convincing feel.
That's all well and good, but what you're probably wondering is, "is it scary?" I'm a bit of a horror fanatic, but there were definitely some moments during the demo that made me jump; others in the room let out some terrified screams. If you're a sucker for scares, this is on game I'd definitely keep an eye on.See more coverage of Gamescom 2014