One of my fondest memories from primary school is sitting cross-legged at my friend Elizabeth’s house, shrieking our way through the then-terrifying Nightmare VHS board game. As both an avid horror movie fan, and a fan of being yelled at by rotting middle-aged actors dipped in fluorescent paint, this was my absolute favourite activity. I’ve since bought the VHS tapes, and can vouch that the game has not aged well at all. The actor, on the other hand, is doing brilliantly.
Luckily, the makers of Playstation’s new game Until Dawn have picked up the Nightmare gauntlet, creating a sophisticated and frightening pick-a-path horror game with no board, no dice, and no bloody prisoners. It stars Hayden Panettiere, who also features in a number of Lightbox shows – so they suggested we try it out.
The premise is a simple, well-loved story – a group of horny and hapless young things end up in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. There’s some freaky creaky noises outside – and the rest is history. It’s all just very, very scary:
Swapping between all of the eight characters stuck in this hopeless place, the gameplay is mostly spent making a LOT of decisions under pressure. I’m very indecisive, so this prompted a stress rash within the first ten minutes. From choosing to kiss a friend, to checking your phone, to leaving a mate for dead due to pure terror – each choice influences the “butterfly effect” of the game. This leads to an extremely stressful environment, where you become unsure if eating a chip in real life might somehow kill a whole village in Eastern Europe.
Fans of the Goosebumps ‘Choose Your Own Scare’ books will appreciate the exhilarating element of sealing your own fate, before you even realise you’ve chosen it. Amplify that feeling by 100 million due to the addition of batshit visuals, trembling controllers and truly alarming noises, and you’ve got yourself an captivating, unrelenting scream-fest. However the game ends for you, you’ll be left wishing you’d done things differently. Thankfully there are a multitude of outcomes and storylines on offer to play again and again.
The game has very basic controls, and endlessly prompts the buttons required to do the simplest of manoeuvres. As an honest pleb, this was great for me. One of my favourite tasks was being required to hold the controller completely still so your character doesn’t move and attract the attention of the killer. It’s genuinely terrifying, and very difficult to pull off when your hands are shaking and you are trying to muffle your own screams IRL. I knew they couldn’t actually hear me, but a few hours in you’ll lose all those pesky traits like “logic” and “sleep”.
If you have spent your whole life wanting to take a gander at Hayden Panettiere’s digital pores, then this is the game for you. The only visual element that I didn’t buy was the hair. If they were all bald, this would be a revelation in simulation. Unfortunately, the hair looks like those terrible makeup apps where you can add your own virtual wig. Another let down is the snow – when it gets on their pants (particularly in the groin area) it can look exceptionally grim.
Talking of sex, there were an incredible number of gratuitous angles, shots and clothing deployed to emphasise the boobs and butts of the female characters. Part of me understands that this, however bleak, is sadly in keeping with the expectations of the horror genre. The rest of me just hears the makers repeatedly whispering “dat ass” in a dark room like they are summoning the Candy Man of bottoms.
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Until Dawn actually strikes me as less of a game, and more the pinnacle of an immersive horror movie experience. You become the victim, the villain, and even that idiot limping in the snow because you couldn’t stop tripping on pesky logs. This is one for pulpy horror fans, with all the clunky dialogue, cheap scares and unfounded reactions you would get in your favourite teen slasher film.
Love Hayden Panettiere but don’t want to petrify yourself silly? Click here to watch her in Nashville and Heroes on Lightbox today.
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