Our colleague has developed a nervous twitch. An adult man who's played plenty of hair-raising titles in his time is now shifting about on the leather sofa like a teenager nervously awaiting the start of a Katy Perry gig. He openly admits he has a problem with sudden shock moments. Until Dawn's perhaps not the game for him.
The work of Supermassive Games will generate discussion, partly the sort that dogged both Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, as with them, this title'll be derided for being little more than an interactive movie. But it'll also provoke talk from fans of horror and splatterfests, be they movie buffs, video game fanatics or comic book veterans.
Until Dawn focuses on a group of eight teenagers who head out to a remote weekend home in Blackwood Pines for their winter take on spring break. The cast are all young, American, and spewing the kind of meaningless dialogue that you'd expect from a teen horror flick. The setup's both familiar and perfect for what's to come.
From the very first few minutes though, every decision made by these characters - by you - will impact the story, as to will proficiency in QTEs. In our session, someone died the third 'episode' in. The game's structured around these TV show-length like segments, taking between 30 to 60 minutes to play through each.
What's fascinating is what happens between these episodes. The scene shifts to a psychotherapist's office, and with his face facing the screen dead-on, we - the player - are questioned directly about our greatest fears. And our answers influence what occurs in the game. For example, we expressed our dislike of rats, and at a later point during one of the episodes, a rat jumps out of a cabinet we open. We're eager to see how widespread an influence our answers have to the wider story.
Control-wise, we're reminded of the classic Resident Evil titles as you steer your character through some gloomy areas, with the camera fixed to specific point (but thereby ensuring plenty of surprises as you explore). Interactions with the environment are limited, letting us explore it for clues, but there's plenty of nice touches, such as using the PS4 controller's touchpad to unlock your smartphone, or having to keep the joypad as still as possible to keep a flashlight beam pointed where it can be of most benefit as someone's trying to repair items.
Progress is mostly linear until the next decision's reached, at which point a number of different possibilities open up, the potential of each glimpsed through collectable in-game Totems, which gave a brief view of what that future could hold. These are really well done, with perspective gimmicks and altered soundscapes triggering a low-level anxiety. The game also doesn't offer any map or on-screen radar to offer any helping hand, instead reenforcing the sense of isolation. You may be part of a (dwindling) group, but that doesn't stop you feeling lost and in danger.
Surprisingly despite the limited interaction the game offers compared to other adventure titles, the game fails to bore. There's a gauntlet of phobias to run, storylines to track and episodic cliffhangers waiting to pounce. It's got the potential to make for captivating evening entertainment in the same way that most engaging TV shows do.
Visually this is top-tier interactive entertainment (bizarrely, while facial expressions are amazing, there's something off-putting with characters' teeth that we can't put our finger on), and while lacking in deep interaction, our time with the game has been compelling.
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