I hate horror. There, I said it.
There are two reasons as to why I hate horror and I'd say it's about a 20-80 split between the two. The first is because most things that consider themselves to be 'horror stories' are garbage. It's a harsh judgement to make but it's possibly the most trope-filled genre of them all, meaning that you can normally guess what is going to happen before it does. There's a reason why people say they're fans of horror movies from the 60s, 70s and 80s is because that was the last time they were actually any good and the stories could be considered original. Nowadays we get to experience the same movies but through over-produced carbon copies, or 'parodies' that think they're being clever.
However, the main reason I hate horror is because I'm a massive wuss.
I scare so easily that it's not even funny. Jump scares are the worst - catch me hiding underneath a blanket for the rest of the movie after the smallest thing has made me jump. 'Creepy scary' keeps me awake at night as I start wondering what could be lurking in the dark, and 'gruesome scary' gives me strange sensations where I can actually feel the thing happening to my own body. I honestly try and avoid horror as much as I can, even when people say things like "oh but it's much more of a thriller," I'm still going to nope out of there faster than it takes a teenage girl to be murdered after having sex in a slasher flick. From this you could probably guess what my reaction was when Reece suggested we get the new, trendy horror game bundled with our PS4.
"But I've seen all these people on YouTube play it and it looks awesome! It'd be great to play it for ourselves."
I wasn't convinced and really tried to suggest otherwise. In the end however, we compromised and bought the game. I had less to worry about than I realised though as it took us almost a year of owning the PS4 before we decided to give it a try. Reece had already watched a lot of play-throughs by this point, so basically knew exactly what he was in for. Finally he convinced me to play it with him as a co-op team, and a promise that if it ever got too spooky we could turn it off (he said with his fingers crossed behind his back.) I was told that Until Dawn was a survival-horror game with an interactive narrative that changed based on the players decisions. This interested me greatly as I've always loved the 'choose your own adventure' stories, dating back to the books I had as a child. We decided to make this play through a continuous event as to keep the atmosphere fresh; after work/university every night, we'd play a portion of the game until we eventually completed it. Lights off, huddled under a duvet, the whole shebang. As Reece already had a relatively firm grasp on the story from watching it on YouTube, he left the decision making up to me whilst he manned the controls, and boy did he mean it! I got zero help from him along the way - the whole thing was in my hands. We began our journey through this game and, as cliché as it sounds, I honestly had no idea what to expect along the way. Would this game finally change my mind about horror stories?
I was shocked, but for once in a good way. Until Dawn had me hooked from start to finish and it got to the point where I'd become excited and impatient to play it every evening. I truly didn't expect to get much out of this game but I love to be proven wrong with these kinds of things. Baseline yes, it is a survival horror story, but there's also a lot more to it that than. At points it can turn into a drama, an action film or a mystery, with the beauty of it being that it was YOU who made it that. The narrative isn't just one note, it's a whole symphony, and I wish I could talk about it in depth but then we'd be here for days. It's very difficult to write a multi-strand narrative with this much complexity and have it actually work (believe me, I've tried) so props to the writers who probably had to take over a whole wall with sticky-notes in order to figure out each individual event and outcome. I was very worried as I was to be the one that was controlling how the story goes with my decisions. As well as being a scaredy-cat I am also incredibly indecisive, so I was terrified that any decision I would make would lead to the death of one of these characters that we had become so emotionally invested in. But my confidence grew as we played on and I ended up trusting my better judgement more than I ever thought I could.
Speaking of the characters, they are also great too; there's 8 playable characters and you switch between them as you go. Here is where some of those horror stereotypes I mentioned earlier start to show however. You've got your pretty girl and her jock boyfriend, the shy girl, the nice guy, the main 'straight' character etc. As you're introduced to each character in the opening scenes of the game it's hard not to roll your eyes at these seemingly obvious choices, but as always this game has some tricks up its sleeves. It feels like these character choices were made in order to make a point to break away from them. The horrific events that happen during the game change them for good, seeing and experiencing things that no young person should have to. Again this shows the beauty of interactivity as you, the player, begin to feel personally responsible for what these characters go through as it was YOU who decided to send them on this path. You begin to project yourself onto them and, if the worst were to happen and one was to get killed, it really affects you. When Reece and I played it we managed to get everyone bar one person through the night alive and I didn't see this as a victory at all. You spend so much time with these characters in their terrible situations that all you can focus on is protecting them as much as you can. It's that whole 'God complex' idea, being in control of these tiny peoples lives, but unlike something like The Sims, you actually feel guilt if something happens to them as their presence was actually an important part of the greater story.
I feel like I'm rambling, but the point of this is not to explain the story to you as it's a story that can't be explained, only experienced. I don't want to spoil any of the cool twists and turns, scary parts or story points. Anyway if I were to try and talk you through the story you would only get the path that I chose to take. There are still a million options that I have no clue about! Basically what I want to say is, is that this game impressed me. Even as someone who really doesn't like horror, I enjoyed Until Dawn.
This game is also one of the first that has truly made me appreciate good game design and the process of making these kinds of games. Coming up with a complex story is of course one thing, but something I found out pretty early on (as it is quite obvious) is that this games uses face-capture technology, so that the characters resemble the actors that were playing them. I know a lot of games of this type use this kind of technology (Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls etc.) but at the time of playing Until Dawn I had no idea about this particular style so to me it was all brand new. I was fascinated by how much physical effort this game took to make and how taxing it must have been for both the actors and the developers to have to go through and explore every single scenario that had been written. They couldn't leave anything to chance and had to cover every base. Since playing this I've gone on to investigate other games of this type, primarily those written by the infamous David Cage. I've yet to play through any of his work properly, but I look forward to experiencing his, *ahem*, brilliantly written dialogue.
At the end of the day thought I think what really made this game for me though was the cooperative nature of it. Until Dawn was so much fun to play through with Reece and we really had a great time on the adventure together. We're always looking for two-player stuff, but this wasn't like anything we'd done before as we were following the same path with no way to predict what was going to happen. We experienced it from different perspectives and this gave us each a unique memory of the game. I still hate horror, but games like Until Dawn have made me just that little bit more open minded.