The first thing I see in the new Until Dawn demo is Hayden Panettiere (she plays a character called Sam) lounging around in a giant bathtub, listening to music, and OH MY GOD IS THAT A TERRIFYING CLOWN IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM?!? The clown casually strolls out, the door slams, and the horror begins.
Until Dawn - which began life as a PS Move game on PS3 - is a slasher story in the vein of Saw and Hostel. A group of white-teethed teenagers travel to this massive cabin in the woods, ignorant of the fact it's occupied by some bloodthirsty nut-bar, and they all start dying horribly. Whether they survive or perish is really up to you: according to the developers you can run through the whole game and lose everyone, or you can ensure no-one dies. However, once a character is brutally eviscerated, that's it. They're gone. No reloads, no checkpoints.
Won't lie, I died a couple of times as Sam. After she gets out of the bath, and discovers her clothes are missing, Sam heads into the hallway of the lodge wearing nothing but a towel. As she follows a series of unsettling red balloons with arrows drawn on them, she constantly berates her friends. “Ok guys, this isn't funny anymore. Haha - steal Sam's clothes. Seriously, cut it out guys!” I've got limited control of Sam here, moving her around the area, occasionally picking up items and examining them. Eventually, she ends up inside the cabin's cinema room. Hey, it's a big old building.
The door immediately slams shut. A film starts to play, which first shows Sam in the bath, then follows up with another character being cut in half by a saw, his guts spilling into the camera as the film sputters to a halt. Uh-oh. A creepy voice tells Sam that she has ten seconds to run, and then THAT TERRIFYING CLOWN BURSTS THROUGH THE DOOR. It's tough to describe how awful the clown looks, hence the gratuitous use of caps.
Now it's all quick-time prompts, as Sam flees from her attacker. Given the cinematic intentions of Until Dawn, this feels like a good fit for the action - fully-controlled chase sequences rarely work effectively. It's here that you make a number of choices to influence the way the attack plays out, so what you're getting is my version of events. Sam picks up a nearby lamp (I move the DualShock 4 to point at a prompt on-screen that says “Throw”) and lobs it at the TERRIFYING CLOWN OMG! I direct the throw using the controller, and score a meaty hit. Then, I run.
Sam dashes into a nearby room, and sprints down to a creepy cellar. Obviously. While running down the stairs, I make her avoid a stumble by tapping triangle at the right time. Now, I have the option to run or hide. The HORRIFIC CLOWN BEAST hasn't arrived yet, so I opt to hide. I tap triangle to turn off Sam's torch, and have to hold the DualShock perfectly still (there's an on-screen gauge) to avoid drawing attention to her. Sure, it's all quick-time events, but the pacing is breathless, and there's genuine rushed tension to every decision. I desperately want to survive.
The NIGHTMARE CLOWN is in the cellar now, taunting Sam. “Where are you going to hide?” he mocks. When the next prompt appears I try to sprint for it, but my enemy grabs Sam by the throat. Quickly, I tap square to grab a nearby block of wood, and smash it into his awful face. He staggers, and she runs to the cellar door... which has no handle. Where the hell is the handle?! Another prompt, and I choose to bring down a nearby wine-rack onto the INFERNAL HORROR CLOWN, which only slows him down. However, the handle (which was rather conveniently placed on top of the rack) rattles onto the floor, giving Sam just enough time to throw open the door and bolt it from the other side. Bolt the door Sam! Bolt it! I'm moving the controller. BOLT THE GODDAMNED DOOR!
As the motion controls fail me (I'm furiously pushing my pad from side-to-side to match the on-screen prompt, but nothing is happening) the WRONG HEADED CLOWN FUCKER bursts through the door, injects Sam with a massive syringe-full of sedative, and... it's demo over.
It's an intense experience, leaving me with a sickening yet entertained sense of satisfaction. Sure, it's more of an interactive horror movie (very similar to the likes of The Walking Dead and Tales From The Borderlands) than a traditional game, but that's fine by me. The only real problem is the occasional inaccuracy of the motion controls, which definitely need to be perfect before launch. But there's plenty of time for that, as the game is still due for an unspecified 2015 launch. For now, it's time to get myself some therapy to scrub the image of THAT HORRENDOUS CLOWN CREATURE out of my mind.