Until Dawn Review

Trigger Warnings: Spoilers, Misogyny, Transmisogyny, Internalized Misogyny, Trigger Warnings, Externalized Misogyny, Transpoilers, Pansexualphobia, Straight White Men, Homophobia, Transphobia, Toxic Masculinity, Male Gaze, Heteronormitivitivity, Mansplaining, Literal Rape, Racism, Unchecked Privilege, Implied Rape, Sexist Weather, Cultural Appropriation, Oppression, Objectification, Ableism, Supplied Rape, Bropression, Neglect Rape, and Masculine Toxicity. 

Until Dawn is a survival horror game that centers around a group of eight teenagers, who return to a mountain resort one year after the death of a couple of their friends (spoilers). Their goal is to have a good time and move past the events of the previous year, but they end up becoming stranded and must survive "until dawn".

The game shares some similarities with Heavy Rain, namely that it routinely saves after certain events and decisions, which is intended to prevent you from reloading to correct mistakes or change your mind (though you totally can if you're fast enough), and that action sequences are handled using a series of quick-time events.

It also uses what the developers call the "Butterfly Effect" system, in which decisions made can have consequences down the line. You can find various types of totems throughout the game, which can sometimes clue you in on possible outcomes, but they aren't always clear. I know that decisions in Heavy Rain could also impact the story, but I don't remember how far reaching they went, or what the number of possible plot branches were.

Frankly though none of that matters, because despite the incredible quality of the story (which has twists that M. Night Shamwow could take a lesson from), graphics, animation, and voice acting, this is not a game worth celebrating. Given all the grievous social justice violations it commits, it is much, much better suited as a triple A example of how not to write characters, in particular women and other minorities.

As the only person of color in this game, I will be made to carry luggage, act unnecessarily aggressive, will do everything I'm told, and will consider abandoning a white woman to save myself. I am also the most difficult character to keep alive.

Technically just over half of the characters in the game are women. This would normally be something worth praising, but the game constantly depicts them as frail, powerless, overly emotional, irrational, conniving, and in need of "the men" to acknowledge, encourage, and even rescue them. This reinforces the mistaken, sexist belief that women can be irrational, overly emotional, conniving, or need help from a man.

In addition, Jessica has low self-esteem, Emily is very cruel (a male character in the game actually refers to her as "too bitchy"), Ashley is cowardly and whiny, and Samantha spends a portion of the game wearing nothing but a towel.

What better attire for investigating a creepy, dark house on the top of a mountain?

It should also be noted that these women all have "ideal" body types. After all, what better to draw in the "male gaze"? None of them are overweight or are missing any appendages. None of them are even trans or gay, traits that would have objectively made them better characters by any standard.

On the topic of marginalized groups, of all the characters only two are minorities, Emily and Matt. Emily used to date Mike, and while there's no reason given for their breakup, given that it happened at most in the course of a year it's a safe bet to assume that Mike only pursued her due to an Asian woman fetish; once he "conquered" and "appropriated" her "culture", he decided to move on.

Now that we've got the characters, such as they are, out of the way, let's talk plot.

At the start of the game most of the characters play a prank on Hannah, one of Josh's sisters. She has a crush on Mike (which reinforces hetero-normative values), and accepts his invitation to meet him in one of the rooms at the resort. Unbeknownst to her, most of the other characters are also there in hiding, preparing to record the entire scene.

Hannah starts to undress in front of Mike, but one of the girls begins to laugh (because of course one of the women has to fuck it up), and in tears she flees the house, barely dressed, in the middle of the snowstorm (remember, women are irrational). Beth, Hannah's sister, goes after her alone, because no one else could be bothered to help, and why would they? It's just a few women out there, in a hostile environment, all alone.

Anyway, once she finds Hannah they're chased by an unseen creature, and both fall off a cliff to their deaths. Well, not really: Hannah survives, but you don't realize it right away (spoilers).

Just to recap, the game opens by having women treat each other cruelly, make irrational decisions, and then just kills two of them off purely to serve as Josh's motivation for revenge. Again, this reinforces how our Patriarchal society thinks of and treats women: they're irrational, overly emotional, and ultimately disposable (there's no way to save them). As you'll see in a moment, it's also a prime example of the women in refrigerators trope.

A year later the characters return to the resort at Josh's request, under the pretense of wanting them all to have a good time and try to move on after last year's events. While they're there, strange incidents continue to occur. Initially the game tries to get you to believe both that there's a masked psychopath on the loose, and that the resort is haunted by the ghosts of Beth and Hannah.

It is eventually revealed that most of the incidents were orchestrated by Josh (spoiler), who was trying to scare the other characters as part of his "revenge game", as he believes that they were responsible for the death of his sisters. This is a prime example of toxic masculinity: at no point does he try to talk with the other characters about his feelings, instead resorting to emotionally tormenting them.

Sorry, but as a straight white man it's the only socially acceptable way for me to deal with my problems.

Near the end of the game you discover that there is in fact a real monster hunting the characters: the wendigo (spoilers). The wendigo is a Native American creature believed to be created when a human resorted to cannibalism. Given that none of the characters, or even the stranger that temporarily assists them (he dies...also, spoilers), is noticeably of Native American descent, this (along with the aforementioned totems) is blatant cultural appropriation.

I'm honestly surprised that it's not wearing leather chaps and an overly large headdress, with antlers.

In case any or all of the above wasn't bad enough (if it's not, please reevaluate your life or kill yourself), here's a list of other infractions:

  • Chris mansplains the butterfly effect to Sam at the start of the game. I think he also manspreads on the cable car.
  • Each of the women is "marked" by clear, "female" "indicators", like lipstick, eyeshadow, and in one case, a skirt. This reinforces the gender stereotype that women "do" and are "supposed" to use and wear those sorts of things.
  • Aside from Chris, who wears glasses, every other character is perfectly handy-capable. At one point Mike can be forced to cut off some of his fingers to free himself from a trap (spoilers). This is not required, and even if you do no one makes a big deal that he's able to defeat the wendigo despite being crippled.
  • Josh mansplains how he set up and executed all of the strange phenomena at the resort, and his reasons for doing so.
  • Mike, an all-too typical macho, straight, white man, is of course the character that contributes the most in destroying the wendigo. It's not like there was a roster of other characters that could have stepped in to save the day.
  • The game puts you in control of the lives of innocent, young girls. It invites you to force them into uncomfortable situations, possibly even killing them at your whim. In other words, the game objectifies them, and strips them of their agency.
  • In a short scene between Mike and Jess, Mike can attempt to get into Jess's pants, despite the fact that she's clearly not ready or willing to have sex. This encourages rape culture.
  • Hannah is one of the wendigo, having resorted to eating her own sister in order to survive (spoilers). The developers are not-so-subtly making a nod towards the sexist stereotype, that for no reason women turn on each other to get what they want.

This game had so much potential to be something actually good, It would have been easy to tweak the characters to appeal to a much broader audience, as opposed to merely straight white men. Instead, the designers took the easy way out, and created yet another game that panders to the undeserving, privileged majority.

I don't know what else to say, except that it's both disappointing and disgusting, especially in this day and age.

The Twist
Given how much I remember disliking Heavy Rain, I was incredibly surprised by how much I enjoyed this game, despite only partially paying attention to Melissa when she played through it the first time. I've since been playing through it on my own, to see if we can save more people this time around (three people died under Melissa's watch).

The positive stuff I said at the start of this article is actually true: it has excellent graphics, animation, voice acting, and plot. Unless you're lucky, it's also a game worth playing more than once, especially if you wanna save everyone and get the, I dunno, "true" ending. If you like horror films and/or Heavy Rain, you'll probably really like this. Even if you don't/didn't, you'll probably still enjoy it.


  1. I was so confused by this article, I had to scroll up and check the tags. That is to say: you do well at social justice. Fight on, warrior! Err, war-person?

  2. was this satire? game sounds awesome it hits all of my favorite triggers.

  3. @Svafa: I identify as a social justice warzir! Seriously though, it's called Poe's Law. My other post "God of Social Justice War", people that it was serious, too: I just wrote the insane shit that other SJWs have said.

    @Chris: Game is awesome and honestly doesn't hit any triggers, unless you're a no-talent third-waver that thinks Liking a post is the same as actually getting off your ass and doing something.

    If you've got a PS4 and like horror games, GET IT!


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