Branching narratives influenced by player decisions are common in today’s videogames. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sell an open world game or an RPG that doesn’t feature this element as being able to dictate the comings and goings of the game world is incredibly enticing. It adds a level of control which in turn helps with player immersion.
Which is why Until Dawn was so intriguing.
Imagine most horror movie scenarios. It usually involves a group of young adults who engage in various illicit activities only to be hunted down one by one until one survivor remains. That in a nutshell, is Until Dawn. If this premise were to be the bulk of the game, then it would be predictable and linear. It might have some jump scares and it could end up being a serviceable horror game. But that wasn’t developer Supermassive’s intention. They wanted to throw a wrench in the horror genre formula by allowing the player to control the fates of each playable character. Until Dawn gave you the option of saving every character or if you felt so inclined, you could lead them to their demise. The possibilities are numerous and stands as one of the most repayable games in recent memory.
I normally never say this regarding plot, but having an basic and uncomplicated narrative works in the favor of Until Dawn. It allows the player to be able to manipulate the outcome in any way they see fit. The devil is in the details. Until Dawn utilizes the Butterfly Effect system, in which even the smallest decisions can affect the story. Characters will interact differently based off how you respond or act around others. You can reinforce relationships or completely tear them down. There will always be a critical interaction taking place at least once during a chapter that will create permanent change.
Player choice in a lot of videogames can be described best as an illusion. Mass Effect for example, stands as one of the best examples of player choice. The only real issue being is that all roads lead to the same ending. With Until Dawn, player choice is what drives the game. Be creative with your choices, experiment if necessary. If you want to create a cliché slasher film in the vein of famous 80’s and 90’s movies, then oblige your self. It’s all in good fun. Horror films tend to be predictable, but we all know that the best ones are those that decide to switch up the formula. Who says that there should be any survivors? Why can’t the killer or monster come out on top?
By no means is this game perfect or was it meant for everybody. Until Dawn is a great example of the player having creative control of the game world. There are few games that are truly driven by player choice and if you’re given the opportunity to direct your own horror movie, why wouldn’t you?