[UPDATE: It appears the original source of the video is ThoseGamers.com and not All Games Beta. You can view their original beta preview at the embed above or at their site.]
Horror has been an important part of video gaming at least since somebody first typed in the words, “It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.” But while there have been tons of ostensible horror games unleashed on the world over the years, the number of truly frightening game experiences still don’t number that many.
Many gamers would cite franchises like Silent Hill or Dead Space among the ones that kept them up at night, while others might single out specific moments or levels that left them traumatized (the mannequins in Condemned: Criminal Origins or the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief: Deadly Shadows come to mind). When a game truly finds that elusive alchemy of terror, the immersive, interactive nature of games can make it far more intense and effective than most horror movies.
Next month a fresh contender will be striving to wet the pants of gamers who dare to play with the lights off. Until Dawn is a new survival horror game from Supermassive Games and Sony Computer Entertainment. The game was originally announced for the PS3 way back in 2012, complete with extensive Move support, but last summer it was announced that the project would be released as a PS4 exclusive. The game will finally hit shelves at the end of August, and now Supermassive has released nine minutes of gameplay footage, which can be seen up top.
Until Dawn takes a standard trope and runs with it: eight friends head into the woods, looking for some fun, only to find the stuff of nightmares instead. While Alan Wake channeled Stephen King and Dead Space tipped its helmet to Alien, Until Dawn takes its inspiration from classic slasher movies, from the cliched cabin-in-the-woods setting to the assurance that no character is safe. Player choice is a key component of Until Dawn, and the trailers promise that those choices will decide who lives and who dies…but that’s just the start of it.
The game is specifically designed to be played through multiple times, with the player’s decisions altering each playthrough in ways both obvious and unanticipated. This should result in not just multiple endings, but significant variations in how it all plays out from the get-go.
The video doesn’t show any major moral conundrums, but the player is given the option of how to respond to various situations. Some of these simply help the player define or refine the personality of the character they’re playing – such as how sensitive the player wants to be to their “friend’s” past tragedies – whereas others deal with more practical situations, such as how best to help a companion who just toppled like an idiot into a clearly visible mine entrance. It’s worth noting that there is no BioWare-style color coding or other indicator of which choice is “good” or “bad.”
At several points after these choices are made, the U.I. displays a message reading “Butterfly Effect Update.” That likely sounds familiar to anyone who’s seen Jurassic Park, but it refers to an aspect of chaos theory that posits that small changes within a system — such as a butterfly flapping its wings — can lead to huge results later. That’s obviously right in line with Until Dawn‘s core gameplay concept, and the butterfly imagery is prominently on display in the trailers. Until Dawn will also use an autosave system, so players won’t be able to “rewind” if they realize the decision they just made had consequences they don’t like. That might irritate some, but, again, this is a game designed to be played through several times to see how things could unfold differently.
Of course, while Until Dawn definitely looks to not take itself too seriously, a horror game should be scary, at least a little bit. In this regard, the nine minutes of gameplay on display don’t exactly impress. The only potentially scary moments rely on cheap jump scares, and while dark forests are inherently creepy, Until Dawn so far lacks the oppressive atmosphere that made some of the genre’s best outings so intense and pleasantly stressful. The characters on display are both obnoxious and just begging for a machete to the face, however, so in that regard Until Dawn is definitely tapping into its slasher-film roots effectively. Hopefully the kills will at least be clever.
Could we trade this in and get Alan Wake 2 instead?
Until Dawn will release for PS4 on August 25, 2015. The cast includes Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Brett Dalton (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Peter Stormare (forever beloved as Nihilist #1 from The Big Lebowski).