Until Dawn is a horror-survival with an emphasis on both horror and survival equally enough. It borrows the gameplay elements from other movie-like games which let your choices branch the story and change what happens, such as Heavy Rain (2010), and story elements from horror teen slasher movies like “Scream” (1996).
The story opens at the mountain cabin as a couple of friends pulled the prank on Hannah during her rather intimate moment. Embarrassed and angry, she storms out into the snow and heads toward the woods. Finding about what happened, her-twin sister, Beth, rushes after her in order to find her. She does so, only to find out there’s someone else with them. The mysterious figure catches up and what happens next is up to the player. Bodies of Beth and Hannah were never found and are presumed missing. The police never closed the case.
Fast forward to a year after this incident, eight friends decide to come to the same mountain cabin for a reunion at Josh’s request. Josh being the brother who lost his two sisters, and a close friend, the rest of them were in no position to refuse his invitation. In memory or Hannah and Beth, to catch up with one another, and possibly enjoy the romantic retreat in the mountains. What starts with good intentions, soon ends in screams, bloodshed and impossible choices as the eights of them fight for survival again someone or something.
The story switches from one character to another, making the player control most of them as the story progresses, very often being accompanied by another character, depending on the situation. During the gameplay, the player can use time to explore around and look for clues, or just remain ignorant and forward the story. Everything has consequences, and looking for clues will keep you more informed and in turn increase your chances for survival. Clues that can be found are tied to three things in particular… the twin sisters Hannah and Beth, the incident that occurred in 1952, and the mysterious man that might be somewhere on the mountain with all of you.
By picking up objects and clues, you can rotate them for more detailed view, much like it was done in L.A. Noire (2011). Additionally, there are pieces of totem poles scattered around that give you a short vision of possible things to come and serve as a warning. Totem poles are split into five categories… those that show your death, those that try to guide you, those that show a loss of your friend, those that prompt you to a danger, and the fortune telling ones. By collecting the totems, you unlock the excerpts from a video that tells about the events from the past. Video can be watched incomplete as well, it will just skip to unlocked parts of the full presentation.
The game choices are presented in a form of a butterfly effect. Your choices, your decisions or indecisiveness, they will shape the story and constantly branch it toward one of the many different paths and conclusions. You can review the list of your choices and see your butterfly effect from the main menu, showing the key choices you have done throughout the game and what they in turn instigated. At any point during gameplay, you can check your character traits which are also defined by your choices. Things like honesty, bravery, curiosity, and such. Additionally, you can see the affection bar between your current character and the rest of the protagonists.
Aside from Hannah and Beth in the prologue, protagonists in the game feature these eight people:
- Ashley – inquisitive and academic, a good friend with Chris
- Chris – humorous and methodical, a good friend with Ashley
- Emily – Mike’s ex, currently dating Matt
- Jessica – Mike’s girlfriend, doesn’t get along with Emily
- Josh – the brother of Beth and Hannah
- Matt – Emily’s boyfriend
- Mike – Emily’s ex, currently dating Jessica
- Sam – the one who tried to warn Hannah about the prank