In her first feature series for Player 2, Cat is diving into her backlog of horror titles, summoning the courage to take on the scares she was previously to terrified to contemplate. Welcome to Scared of my Backlog.
Scared of my Backlog - Until Dawn
It’s a Monday afternoon and I have spent the majority of my day doing absolutely nothing. I’m in isolation, waiting for the results of a Covid-19 PCR test. There is no excuse for why I can’t dive headfirst into my backlog, besides the overwhelming doom I feel at the prospect of playing a horror game. I’ve decided I am going to dip my toe in first, for years, people have been talking about Until Dawn. This could potentially be a good start for me: a slasher-esque styled, story-driven, third-person interactive drama. The slasher genre is one of my favourite genres to watch, it’s exciting and there’s always a kickass protagonist that beats the odds and triumphs in the end. It’s strange, there is something calming about watching a slasher movie. It’s most likely because it follows a particular formula where you know exactly what to expect.
When I have discussed this challenge that I have forced upon myself, I always mention that I am thinking of starting with Until Dawn. This has mostly been met with positive feedback, so I am not too worried about how scary I think this is going to be. For me, this is stepping into the shoes of my favourite horror-loving queen, Kirby (Hayden Paniterrie). Kirby is my ultimate character from the Scream franchise, and getting to play a character voiced by the same actress is very exciting. I know there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in this, so here’s hoping that the stress of decision making doesn’t stop me from playing.
Straight away we are thrown into the action, Hannah and Beth go missing after a “harmless” prank goes wrong, causing them to disappear into the Blackwood Mountains. One year on, friends; Emily, Matt, Mike, Chris, Emily, Sam, and Josh return to the mountain to spend a weekend together in honour of the missing twins. It’s the perfect setting for a maniac to go on the loose and hunt down an entire group of friends. On their return, the group of friends are picked off one by one by a seemingly obsessed psychopath who is after them as a sick game. The Blackwood Lodge on an isolated mountain is the perfect setting for an interactive horror game that looks and feels like a silver screen horror flick. The dimly candlelit rooms, shady as all heck basement, and the middle of nowhere vibe set the ideal atmosphere for this horror meets point and click investigation style game.
Having to play through each character’s storyline was certainly a welcomed opportunity. The whole purpose of this exercise is to develop a bond with each of the characters so that when you have to decide their fate, your heart is broken and trodden on. Although, there was a death that I am not ashamed to admit that I wasn’t too cut up about. After spending too long with some characters, you won’t mind kissing your time with them goodbye. The over-sexualised dialogue between characters and their partners was off-putting to a degree. The trope of the hyper-masculine boyfriend and his sexualised girlfriend is often used in slasher films and it’s an element that I always find uncomfortable; no matter the context.
One of the coolest parts of Until Dawn is the butterfly effect styled consequence system, something that you decided to do at the start of the game can impact a major decision 6 hours later. It was impressive to read through the different situations that had been influenced by past decisions in the butterfly effect menu. Not only did decisions influence the outcome of situations, but they also impact the relationships between characters, later determining what decisions will need to be made regarding those characters. I played it safe most of the time, not wanting to cause any issues between characters, I am a pacifist of sorts and that certainly translated into my decision making throughout.
The interactive elements of Until Dawn make for a thrilling experience. I loved investigating, collecting clues, and piecing together the mystery that is the disappearance of Hannah and Beth. As for the horror elements, the jumpscares are perfectly timed and orchestrated to the point that I never saw them coming. It was sweat-inducing to have to lead my character through the dark and mildewy corridors of the Blackwood Lodge basement. Additional chills came in the form of the sound design, hearing the howls of something supernatural. Nothing screams “terrifying than the sound of screeching coming through the speaker on my PlayStation 5 controller.
Not only are the friends fighting off a psycho killer, but they are also being hunted by the wendigo. The introduction of the supernatural was an interesting choice, however, the wendigo has an important role in Native American folklore. The legend is different depending on which First Nations peoples tell the story. In Until Dawn, the Cree respected the mountain and would not hunt or harm any animals that lived on the land there. When the mining in the mountain began, the Cree said that the mountain cried out and released the spirit of the wendigo.
As the first cab off the rank in my challenge to play my horror game backlog, Until Dawn was a successful title. It had the right amount of scares that didn’t send me screaming through my house or yelling at my cat to hold my hand. It may have taken a few nights of courage to get through all ten chapters but, I really enjoyed my experience diving into horror games (dare I say, for the first time?).
After making it through the last moments of Until Dawn relatively unscathed, I have decided to move on to a palette cleanser of sorts. The next game I will be tackling in this scary feature is Devolver Digitals’ Stories Untold. Look out for my in-depth thoughts on that one soon.