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    Until Dawn: Save the cheerleader, save the world

    One Of The trickiest tasks in the lead-up to any new game is separating the realistic, achievable target features from the PR bullshit. A lot of it comes down to pedigree, or at least that’s the easiest way to get a rough feel for whether the hype train will reach its destination intact. When Naughty Dog promises the moon on a stick, for instance, the fact that it has The Last Of Us and Uncharted to back up its promises makes them all that much easier to swallow, while an unproven studio has to work a lot harder to make us believe in its ambitious plans. So when we hear that the team responsible for Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock and Move game-belch Start The Party is looking to try its hand at the same formula Quantic Dream has been struggling to convincingly get right for over a decade, it’s perhaps understandable that we should go into Until Dawn dual-wielding salt shakers.

    The concept is simple enough it’s your regular teen horror ‘eight teenagers take a holiday in a creepy old cabin because YOLO’ setup, but things obviously go south pretty sharpish as it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want them to have a nice time. We recall suggesting that it may be a horror Heavy Rain mere moments after its announcement and having finally picked up a controller, that appraisal is spot on. Gameplay is a blend of point-and-click style exploration, Telltale esque binary decisions that all have lasting effects on the way the narrative plays out and QTEs when it all kicks off, again with performance impacting on each character’s fate.

    Apparently, all eight can live or die, the story playing out differently should any of the hateful little shits kick the bucket before the credits roll. It’s a mammoth task and no mistake but after playing through the latest demo section twice with different decisions and almost exactly the same outcome, we’re left wondering whether the team chose the wrong part of the game to show off or if it has maybe just borrowed a handful of mirrors and a few wisps of smoke off Telltale to help build the illusion of choice and consequence.
    Our playthrough begins some way into the game, with Heroes’ version of Wolverine relaxing in the bath. Startled by a loud noise, she emerges to find all her friends missing and goes off to investigate in a towel. Supermassive has clearly nailed the idiot teenager characters that populate the films it is aiming to replicate and sure enough, a masked asshole smashes through a door and gameplay goes from gentle exploration to time-based decision-making in the blink of an eye. Devoid of context, it’s hard for us to know whether we should be putting Sam’s ‘International Hide And Seek Champion 2010’ experience to use in order to avoid capture or just pegging it to make use of the superhuman speed she may or may not have decisions are effectively arbitrary with no grounds on which to base them, although they don’t appear to make all that much difference in this sequence anyway. Choose to run and you’ll simply skip the hiding ‘mini-game’ (read: hold the controller still), which basically just offers an extra way to get caught should you fail. Even failing a QTE where she stumbles down the stairs doesn’t seem to have any impact the next part looks to play out the same either way after the brief panic but again, this could simply be a problem with taking one section of an ambitious and complex gaming web in isolation.

    You only need to look at Heavy Rain or any recent Telltale game to see that this approach really doesn’t hold up to repeated plays, nor can one short sequence tell you all that much about the game as a whole. It could be that choices and failures here don’t come back to haunt you until beyond the section we played a sprained ankle from falling down the stairs impairing Sam for later trials or whatever but it’s just incredibly hard to tell at this point. It all looks smart enough, an enhanced version of Killzone’s engine doing its job admirably and the gesture-based decisions, arbitrary as they may be, serve their purpose. We just haven’t seen enough yet. The concept is neat and controls fairly tight we’re just going to have to wait on the full version to see how much of the ambition of the narrative web is real and how much is falsified.

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