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A Case to be Made for Until Dawn


So when people see how high up Until Dawn is on my list of "Games of the Year" I get the feeling they will react the same way they did to the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion and just exclaim: "What the fuck?" 
Now, I'm going to take this opportunity to explain that, no, I'm not going to name it my "Game of the Year" for shock value or as a cop out. It isn't that good.
But I've seen a lot of people talk about it as if it's just another "interactive movie," a term that many use scornfully towards anything that is delivered in a cinematic way. 

It has been a seemingly divisive game when, really, it's one of the best adventure games released since The Walking Dead in 2012, nailing its subject matter and allowing  the player to take control of the situation they find themselves in.
People see how it looks and how it plays and immediately label it as something before trying it out or actually stopping to think about how the game actually plays. 

Hopefully, by the end of this long-ass blog, I can actually make you see why I've put it as high on the list as I did.
If you still disagree with me, it's cool, but you just can't be my friend (that was a joke, please be my friend, I don't have enough of them). 

Photorealistic Graphics ≠ Not An Adventure Game

Something that has bugged me about the whole argument that this game is just an interactive movie, is that they refer to the graphics and art style, that somehow the fact that this game has excellent graphics it means that the gameplay department, no matter how effective it may be, is overlooked. 
This sort of response makes me laugh, then it makes me sad, because it slowly dawns on me, time and time again, that games like this are given a bad rap just because the graphics in the cutscene look practically similar to the interaction of the game. 

An adventure game is an adventure game.
Look at all of the current adventure games and notice something: There are things to interact with, pieces of information are scattered throughout the world, clues to certain events are strewn about in the game and a lot of the time interactng with NPC's is just a butt-load of choices crammed onto your screen. 

Wait, wait, wait, I just described Until Dawn. And The Walking Dead... And Life is Strange... And Her Story... But where those games have picked up nothing but applause and critical acclaim for their inclusion of the element of choice or their interactivity with the story, Until Dawn is labelled as an interactive movie because of the movie-like quality of its graphics and animation. 

Yes, at first glance it may look like a movie and hell, I was even inclined to agree, but I then realised that the only thing it doesn't share with current adventure games is a quirky art-style or design choice. Hell, frankly Her Story is more realistic looking than any other game out there but that was a design choice that makes it stand out. 
Yet, because Until Dawn looks like every other photo realistic game out there, it was written off before it even hit its shelves even by it's publishers Sony, which, in turn, made people decide whether they were going to like it or not before they had even played it.
I mean, consumers are definitely allowed to decide whether a product looks a good fit for them, but word of mouth and good marketing are two very powerful things. And Sony handled them both poorly. 

Those Negative Reactions Are Due to Our Psychology, but the Marketing is the Real Culprit

If you honestly looked at the trailers for this game you would think one thing: This is a below-par, interactive movie.

On almost all accounts, the trailers are an incorrect depiction of the game and due to that mistake, Sony shot themselves in the foot. The publishers tried to make the game look scary when really it is cheesy, it is rompy and it always has its tongue firmly in its cheek. 
But in a trailer, that cheese will not come off in a good way, it will leave a mark on a potential gamer and, given how strong the "choice" element was marketed, they told themselves that it was just another game from the likes of Quantic Dream.
And even when you play the game and find out it's an adventure game, it doesn't matter. Your mind was made up form the get-go.
You thought that, looking at the trailers, it would be bad, so you're telling yourself it is bad. 

Now, I'm not saying people are wrong in their ways to dislike the game. If you don't like adventure games, then you will hate Until Dawn. 
If you genuinely didn't like the game for a valid reason then that's fine, but people are still making the assumption that the trailers are indicitive of the final product.
People who call it an interactive movie haven't actually stepped back to look at how the game actually works or they haven't played the game at all. 

If only Sony had marketed the game differently, then maybe the divide between players and critics wouldn't be as big as it is now.
I mean, during almost every interview, the people at Supermassive Games were stressing the importance of choice and element of adventuring throughout the world, making a point to tell people that they drew inspiration from old slasher movies such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. None of this information was put into the marketing of the game, essentially making it look as if Sony was sending their product out to die. 
More sensible gamers voiced these facts from various interviews on the forums and on the videos related to the game, but to the average gaming audience, this was a sub-standard, interactive horror-movie, not knowing that it had adventure game mechanics layered within it, not knowing that the game's cheese was tounge-in-cheek, or that the charcaters would develop however you made them.
They basically knew bugger all about the gameplay's true nature because it had barely been shown off.

To the general audience, it was labelled as an interactive movie and left to rot, not knowing how much you can affect the game as you play it.

The Game is How You Make It

Now, a major thing I've seen quite often in YouTube comments or on forums, is that the charcaters all seem so unlikeable.
They don't get along with one another, they cause the events of the game to unfold and are fairly mean-spirited most of the time. Some are annoying, others are stupid... All are under your control. 
That is what seperates this game from the crowd. 

Is a character annoying you or are they acting like a dick? Make a different decision in their dialogue options. Make the charcater more appealing to you because, frankly, that's what the game allows you to do. It even encourages it. 
Complaining about the charcater progression or their individual idiosyncrasies is null and void when you control each and every one of them.
The charcater's personalities will only progress as much as you let them. You are the catalyst so do your damn job. 

The same can be said about the game's plot actually. 

Something listed as a negative on a professional reviewing site was that the sections featuring Dr. Hill "Do not end up going anywhere or meaning anything."
I had the same thought during my playthrough until I looked deeper and found another batch of clues later on, which actually sheds light on his nature as a doctor and reveals a lot more about his relationship with his patient.
It added more weight to the situation and made me understand where Hill was coming from. 
One clue, that I found of my own volition, made me appreciate something more than a reviewer, leading to a different experience of the game as it led me to work out the purpose of the doctor. 

It's not just this part of the plot either, as the events that unfold in the second half of the game come under fire for seemingly coming out of nowhere, with no real explanation. 
If, however you actually go out of your way to find the items and look about for possible leads or clues (you know, like how you would actually play a goddam adventure game), then you would realise that the Totems and 1952 Clues flesh out the backstory of this game, letting discoverable items to prop up the second act and eventually allowing it stand on its own once you grasp the situation fully. 
Because of the devlopers design, you are essentially required to explore and discover things, allowing you to craft your own story in basic ways. If you miss a Clue or a 1952 item, then your characters miss out on the details of the story, giving more replay value to the game and making people's experiences different.

This, in almost any other case, would have been an instant plus for an adventure game but for some reason, people see it as a negative as it doesn't allow for a full, cohesive story on your first playthrough.
While that's understandable, there are two reasons as to why the developers used items as a storytelling source: 
Firstly, it adds replay value into the mix here, letting you know that you missed things and making you need to go back and play it again to get the full story.
Second is that, in the context of the story is that these kids you control have no idea what is going on around them and don't understand the history behind the locale... And neither do you.
You discover crucial pieces of information along with the characters, something all good games do with their narrative. 

Fact of the Matter Is

Until Dawn is not a perfect game.
It has pacing issues here and there and it doesn't quite manage to juggle charcaters as effectively as I would have liked (I could have gone for an extra two hours with Jess, Josh and Matt). If you miss out on certain items or a charcater dies, story-threads can seem unfinished, making parts of the game seem messy (despite the replayability factor). 

But it deserves way higher than the 6 and 7's out of 10 I've seen it getting. That's putting it on the same level as Heavy Rain... And this game is way more superior than Heavy Rain. 
This game is everything Quantic Dream have wanted to be since they started talking about "emotions in polygons." 
I have felt more genuine fear, more raw andrenaline and nerve-shredding tension in my first playthrough of Until Dawn than I have ever had in my three playthroughs of Beyond: Two Souls (yes I played it that number of times... Urgh). 

The game knows what it is, and never apologises for it.
It doesn't try too hard to be a full-blown horror tribute, it lets itself flow like the first Scream movie, letting you note the little things about the context and story that serve as cute little throw-backs to the olden days of Hollywood-Slashers, yet it has enough interactivity in the game the makes sure it doesn't step into the same territory of "interactive-movies," the phrase that so many people like to aim its way. 
It utilises modern adventure-game mechanics and couples it with its story. 

This game has managed to take the mechanic that TellTale brags about but delivers on shallowly: The element of choice
Where TellTale fails in that regard on almost every gam they have released thus far, Supermassive Games succeed in creating a game where choices do actually matter.
Yet the critics and fans laud one company's games for their hollow promises while berating another for a more in-depth and meaty experience. 

Does Until Dawn have issues? You're goddam right. 
But those issues do not negate the fact that it's a damn fine game and one of the best examples of the modern adventure game in recent years. 

It has the corniness, the overacting, the plot-twists and the characters of a classic horror movie. 

However, it is a game, not an "interactive movie." 

And it's a great game at that. 

- Make Tea. Eat Crumpets. Play Games.

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About TheLimoMakerone of us since 6:59 AM on 03.25.2015

'Sup fools, it's me, ya basic British boy.

Been on Destructoid for five years and counting now, but have been reading for this wholesome site since November 2010.

The community has welcomed me despite being as cynical as one can get, and for that I will always be grateful.
Despite my seemingly hard front, I'm a softie at heart and will always give you the time of day, whether it be on Destructoid, Discord or if I'm fortunate enough to be carried by you in an online game.

Story-driven games are my forte, along with horror games, RPG's and FPS games.
To be honest, I'm someone who will play absolutely anything I can get my hands on; I believe you can find excellent games in the strangest of places.

Also decided to add my Games of the Year from years past, just because I can't really place my thoughts elsewhere:

2010 - Nier

2011 - Portal 2

2012 - Spec-Ops: The Line

2013 - The Last of Us

2014 - Valiant Hearts

2015 - Undertale

2016 - Oxenfree

2017 - Persona 5: The Royal

2018 - Return of the Obra Dinn

2019 - Disco Elysium