Upon a huge debate as to whether video games are viewed as forms of art, I’d like to think a bigger debate could be at hand as to whether video games are the new platform best suited for the horror genre. Let’s face it: we associate horror primarily within film format, and I don’t know about you, but I believe horror films have become stale of recent. If it’s not another Zombie film that’s being remade or reimagined, it’s another found footage film with some spooky ghost or ethereal entity waiting to devour a family, or in this case, the money from your wallets. As subjective as this topic is, I find the Paranormal Activity films to be rather pants, but there must be a reason why we, the audience, watch these films time and time again – I don’t personally, but after checking the box office sales of each one, somebody keeps viewing these and feeding into the monster that is Hollywood.
I’d like to imagine it’s the growing fear and tension of something, other than someone, being in our homes and invading our privacy that keeps the whole ghost-haunt genre alive. The stylistic approach of the found footage direction seems to compliment a sense of awe, shock, tension and realism involved with this genre. Additionally, the video game genre also has adopted the found footage idea and implemented it rather well in their games, with the added fear of you, the player, trying to escape a certain terror, rather than watching it all unfold on the big screen. I would argue then, that games such as ‘Outlast’ do this magnificently well and substantially better than films for I found myself more nervous and anxious playing Outlast, than I have been in recent memory of watching a movie.
I’d like to cast your mind all the way back to the 80s and 90s, when the teenage ‘Slasher’ style of horror seemed the most prominent shocking force around pop culture – here’s looking at you: Freddy, Jason and Ghostface.
The reason for mentioning such iconic horror figures here comes from playing Until Dawn; Until Dawn is a Slasher horror done exceptionally well, that revolves around a particular killer out to absolutely decimate your friends, and it is up to you, the player, to stop this from happening.
There’s a clear and concise argument here that we may identify that Until Dawn is not a game, but more so an experience because of it’s long cut scenes, movie-like intermissions and dreaded quick time events (that actually work really well here) either way, I had a blast whilst ‘experiencing’ it and I strongly urge those reading this to either borrow it or pick it up cheap as possible and play it right now (I’m absolutely aware that I’m writing this at the back end of October, and Halloween is the perfect reason to play this).
The story of Until Dawn is as follows: A bunch of friends, or more so acquaintances because half of them seem to hate each other, hire out a log cabin and have the best time of their lives. The end. Only joking, this plot is as cliché as they come and what happens next is as obvious as knowing where the jump scares are in a paranormal activity film (I have a problem with them, okay?). The exception here, however, is that everything you do for the lives of these young adults affects the story dramatically.
The story has a ‘Butterfly Effect’ system, which means that, every little choice and action you choose from when prompted, will drastically alter something big later on in the game. This primarily comes from the obvious as someone dying horribly, but also comes from a story perspective. For example, in every teen slasher flick, there is always a scene where couples that are (un)lucky, get down with some nookie, and find themselves lying flat dead on the floor like a rotten cookie – this game is no exception, and there is a scene where a couple gets together and bad stuff happens, only in my first play through, the girl in question kept all her clothes on (chivalry is dead), yet in another play-through, I managed to become the alpha and seduce the pants off of her (literally speaking). This was all because of certain things I said previously for these two characters.
Although it’s definitely fun to play Until Dawn on your own, there is an element of multiplayer here. With two good friends, we passed the controller round respectively and helped decide the outcome of the story. Most of our night consisted of screaming at the TV screen and hating one and other for letting THAT person die, but within that moment of pure regret and terror I realized something – we were doing what we should be doing at a cinema screening with a horror film, and that was cowering in unison.
The idea of motivating your own story isn’t foreign mind you, the game ‘Night Trap’ tried this in the early 90s and well, anyone unfortunate enough to play it knows how it is. Yet, we now have the technology to construct a game this way properly, and Until Dawn proves this time and time again. Admittedly, I didn’t necessarily connect with any of the characters like I do when watching Game of Thrones for example, but I believe that their stereotypical character traits (The nerd, the hot one, the clever one etc.) are self-referential in mimicking the teenage slasher flick, so I don’t personally drop points for their acting on this behalf. I do drop points, however, for the lack of a run button.
I understand that there’s a certain pace for which you’re supposed to skulk through a harrowing, snow-covered forest for ultimate scares and tension, and I also understand that this game may be too short if offered an option to run, but holding L1 for what is a slightly faster version of walking is terrible, considering that there are some puzzle type parts involving backtracking and key finding. This dilemma doesn’t take away from the overall experience, in fact; the inability to run heightens tension, but imagine only being able to walk through the Spencer mansion in the first Resident Evil game.
If not a solid game in itself, Until Dawn is a solid idea executed near perfectly with a breath of fresh air for this genre. I would love to see this company publish more games like this, perhaps in a different setting or scenario, and I hope other companies that are delving into horror games take note of Until Dawn, for it is a great example of how video games are becoming more than just a game. Also to note, there are rumors that the creators of Until Dawn are looking into VR Downloadable content. Although I’m dubious about VR, if implemented well, this game would pioneer an entirely new genre for gaming and the thrills that will come with this new technology will be to die for.