Interactive horror at its PS4 best.
Editor's Note: The following feature retells of a presentation of 'Until Dawn' by developer Supermassive Games and publisher SCEE.
Update: The full High-Def Digest review of 'Until Dawn' can be found here.
Atmosphere and presentation are key to persuading and motivating the jaded gaming press (and enthusiastic, ever smiling yours truly). Hence Sony's offer to send a slew of Belgian journalists to our northern neighbors, The Netherlands, in order to sample the new console exclusive 'Until Dawn'. The place to be? South Limburg, a region that was unknown to me until now, full of gorgeous landscapes, castles and slight hills (after all, the Netherlands are called 'the low lands'). And because the game takes place in a remote, 'Resident Evil'/'Alone in the Dark'-esque mansion, Sony found and decorated a mansion in a stunning country setting to promote and hype the upcoming title.
Starting from the drive up to the house, there is no other way to describe it, but, "Beautiful, just beautiful."
Today's host is Steve Goss, design director of British developer Supermassive Games. During a short, hands-on demonstration, he plays through a vertical slice of 'Until Dawn.'
Steve Goss: I'll show you 'me', making some bad choices, and getting some dire consequences out of the game. We construct videos as you play, and we remind you of what happened with 'previously on' highlights. If you play the game, your video will be slightly different from what is shown here. It's all about emotions and characters. When you're nice or nasty, when you're a supportive sport or a douchebag, the game tracks that, and the relationships change. Even the chapter names will change according to the pre-simulated events.
Goss decides to be a douchebag, and proceeds to flub and make stupid mistakes as all horror teens tend to do. He revels in showcasing the comeuppance one can have by not behaving appropriately. The audience of gaming journalists laughs whenever a choice results in a horrendous death. He's mean to his girlfriend, he even leaves her alone, he kills animals, and ultimately, he gets what he deserves. During gameplay, the music is mostly absent, in order to enhance the scary surroundings. Sudden, loud thumps intrude and startle. The audience eats it up and is freaked out on cue. It's a genuine interactive horror movie, focused on ideas that will propel the player in a horror world. "Go left, go right, don't go down into the bloody basement! You are free to make lots of very poor decisions. 'Until Dawn' starts with eight people, and they could all live and they could all die. And no, you can't pause, reload, and undo that stupid decision."
The basic set-up for the story sees eight friends coming back to a mountain hideaway owned by the wealthy family Washington. They have a mountain lodge, with cabins, ski lifts, the whole nine yards. The group consists of the usual teenagers. The year before, a tragic event happened. What we get to play, are the results of said tragic event. The eight people got caught up into something, and have to cope with that. Will they be able to get on with their lives? The core gameplay is all about choices. There is no right and no wrong, no good story or bad story. It's all about the choices we make.
After the presentation, duos of journalists are given a flashlight and need to find their way through the real-life mansion. A francophone colleague and I are looking for a key in a poorly lit room (it's dark). There are cobwebs, human brains, some skeletons, all of it the kind of ambience designed to freak us out.
Once the key is in our possession, we move on to the next room, where a playable demo is waiting for us. During the gameplay, one of Sony's hired actors (a vaudevillian, scenery chewing guy) was there to keep unsteadiness going. (Think being tapped on the shoulder in getting a major fright.) Luckily, I heard him coming. The demo is short and sweet, and features Hayden Panettiere (the most famous actor in the game, together with the always excellent Peter Stormare) in nothing more than a towel. Some wound-up journalists couldn't stop talking about how "excellent" she looked. It's all very 'Revenge of the Nerds.'
At 3 pm, we get exactly 6 minutes for a very short interview with Mr. Goss. The three Flemish journalists need to enter together, so needless to say, I didn't have a lot of time for a deep, quality chat. I apologize in advance for this interview not being up to what I consider my standards. Blame the popularity of the game, and the developer.
High-Def Digest: "When was the seed for the game first planted?"
Steve Goss: We were working with Sony, and Sony brought an idea to us. Between us and Sony, we took it into a completely different direction. The story's grown and changed. It's been a long journey: originally developed for PlayStation 3, subsequently with added PlayStation Move controls, and finally, everything shifted to PlayStation 4. We kept changing content between those versions. What we have now, is very different from when we started.
HDD: "When you can get an actor with the caliber of Peter Stormare, do you have to convince him to sign on? Or did he already like video games?"
Goss: We had to get a lot of talent. We have a casting director in the US, and the talent absolutely loved the idea because it's a really well-written script. We sent the script to the actors, and we talked about our screenwriters Larry Fassenden and Graham Reznick. 'Oh, wow, you got people involved that know what they're doing?' We had a PlayStation 3 game we could show them, and we convinced them with the fantastic technology for capturing faces and performances. If you can show them that, and that they'll appear looking really great, they'll be on board. Much faster than when they'll be a potato-headed lump in the corner. The technology we used really gave people the confidence. We were able to deliver. Peter was an absolute darling to work with. He adored what we did. We had him for a couple of days. He was awesome!
HDD: "Did he dub his own voice in the Swedish version of the game?"
Goss: No. He has a very interesting American-Swedish accent. Play the game. He gives a fabulous Peter Stormare performance.
And with that, the event and our day in The Netherlands was wrapped.Here is our full review of 'Until Dawn' (see here), but my quick take is that the visuals, from the atmosphere to the character performance, deliver. It's got that creepiness that a good horror movie or horror game needs. It's better/worse at night.
You can find the latest info on 'Until Dawn' linked from our Video Game Release Schedule.