Push to Smart Water Cooler: Until Dawn

This week we try to survive the terrors of Mount Washington in Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn.
Was it worth it?

Full transcript under the cut!

This episode contains spoilers for Until Dawn. As such, it also contains images of violence and gore consistent with teen slasher films and a discussion of ableism.

STACEY: Hello and welcome back to the Push to Smart Water Cooler. Today we’re doing something a little bit different. Taking a break from our episodic games, we’re going to talk about another game that kind of falls into that same genre without coming out week to week. That’s Until Dawn. It’s the latest game–I think actually the first game–from Supermassive games. It is divided into chapters and within those chapters your choices determine whether your characters live or die in a teen slasher film.

JAYLEE: So, Until Dawn originally came out in August and I have been, to put it nicely, bugging you to play it– (Laughs)

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: –Since then. And you did.

STACEY: I did!

JAYLEE: So, I’ve played Heavy Rain and Beyond and I’m really into the kind of “cinematic gameplay experience” kind of thing where it’s basically just a bunch of quick-time events. I know that you haven’t played those. Am I correct?

STACEY: You are correct. I’ve played the Heavy Rain demo and that’s it. I was just like, “That’s enough, we’re good.” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah. So what did you expect coming into this game?

STACEY: I don’t really know. It’s a game that I think I mentioned back in, I think our Gamescom episode? This has been on my radar for a while because I had some classmates that worked on it when it was in the early stages. I thought it was cancelled after it kind of disappeared. It was originally announced as a Playstation 3 Move game until it resurfaced at Gamescom. And I really didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of excited about the prospect of a good high school slasher horror game. For a medium that has really latched onto horror we haven’t seen a lot of that side of it. But I didn’t really know how it would function necessarily or what my interactions– or how I would interact with it? And I was kind of surprised in the way it did. And I’m glad you brought up Heavy Rain and Beyond first because one of the first things that really struck me when starting this game is the title sequence forefronts the screenwriters.


STACEY: I have never known a game to do that. It lists all the actors, which is also unique for a game, then “screenplay by” which is a very bold statement of this is the kind of game it is. It’s going to be totally narrative driven.

JAYLEE: When Heavy Rain came out I loved it, because I’d never really played anything like it, and then when I went back and replayed it just earlier this year I was like, “Oh, this has aged. And I have aged!” (Laughs) It just… sometimes you can’t go back home.

STACEY: (Laughs) Ridiculous in what way? I find when I go back to play Uncharted for instance it just looks old. Is that it, or is it the way it plays, or the writing?

JAYLEE: The writing, definitely.

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: There’s a lot of over-the-top weirdness and I didn’t really notice how racist it was.

STACEY: Oh god! (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah, it’s just all these things. But one thing that I really liked about Until Dawn is that, I mean it does take itself seriously. It’s not like when Heavy Rain came out it was like “This is changing video games.”

STACEY: “This is art and you will see it as art.”

JAYLEE: Exactly. It takes itself seriously for a teen slasher narrative.

STACEY: Yeah. The way it takes itself seriously is very interesting to me. Basically, I was kind of expecting a Scream-like scenario, and it kind of gets into Scream a little bit. But this whole idea of knowing the tropes of the horror film will help you survive.


STACEY: So when I was playing I was trying to keep the group together. If there was ever a fight I was like, “No, all of you shut up and get along.”

JAYLEE: (Laughs) Yeah.

STACEY: When it was a choice between risk the jump or take the safe path I was always like “Safe path.” But that does not pay off. If you take the safe path at a certain point, a certain character will die. That was actually the first character death too, that kind of threw me for a loop. Like “This game is not– These rules are different than I was expecting.”

JAYLEE: Did you not save Jessica?

STACEY: I did not save Jessica, she got her face chewed off.

JAYLEE: When I first started I was like “Hey, guys. Let’s not fight and also let’s never split up.”

STACEY: Yeah. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: And then, as I was playing I kind of started forgetting these rules. Which is really weird.


JAYLEE: There’s a scene with Mike when he’s going through the asylum. Abandoned, spooky, asylum. And he comes across that very obvious trap, the bear trap underneath the…

STACEY: The hand waving? (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah. And as soon as I got there I was like, “That is a trap, I am not touching that. And so I went through and I looked at everything else in the room and right as I was at the door to leave I was like “…But maybe something’s important there?”

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: And this morbid curiosity took over and if I was watching a horror movie I’d be like “What are you doing? This is ridiculous.” But I was playing it and was like “But, what if I missed something?”


JAYLEE: And, I don’t know, I just thought it was really interesting the way, by putting myself in the character it totally changed how I viewed the scenario.

STACEY: Mhmmmm.

JAYLEE: And part of that is because it’s a video game with collectables, so I didn’t want to miss anything but at the same time  was like, “What if it’s just, you know, creepy hand?” No. I have to chop my fingers off now. (Laughs)

STACEY: I didn’t. I refused to chop my fingers off. It took three tries to get out of the bear trap but he got out.

JAYLEE: (Laughs) I was like “Oh, I am not going to do that.” And then it had the POV of the monster or the dogs or something and I was like “Shit shit shit!”

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Little things like that, when I come away from the game I find so interesting.

STACEY: Mhmm. You find yourself kind of playing by the rules instead of gaming the system using the rules like I expected to be doing.

JAYLEE: Yeah, and also later in the game when Ashley hears a noise and you can separate from the group, this is like the final chapter. Because you haven’t seen Jessica in such a long time at that point I was like “Maybe this is where I can save her!” So of course I leave the group and…

STACEY: Did she die?

JAYLEE: Yeah, her neck gets twisted off.

STACEY: That was one of those things… there are some things that don’t quite work, because in my game we’ve already established at this point that Jessica’s had her face chewed off, and so when we’re walking through the tunnels and Ashley’s goes “Jess? Jessica?” I’m like “No. Noooooo.” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah, I guess it’s a bit different when you go that way. (Laughs).

JAYLEE: In games like Heavy Rain, even Telltale Games, once you make a decision there’s always that “What path am I on now? Was there a different path?” In this game, parts of that frustrated me. For example Sam can only die at the end at the lodge.

STACEY: Yeah, Sam is strange.


STACEY: She doesn’t really do anything. Then all of a sudden she’s a main character at the very end. It’s like, “You’re in the bath for like three hours offscreen.” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs) While Jessica was dying.

STACEY: “Where did you come from?” Yeah.

JAYLEE: Totally, because it was all “Hayden Panatierre in Until Dawn!” and so I expected a bit more. She’s a lot more of a blank canvas.

STACEY: Yeah, but she has all the dressings of a Final Girl. She has the very gender neutral name, she’s kind of sporty, and she is a Final Girl, somewhat.

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: And at the end she starts really investigating and tries to fight off the monsters but there’s no–as we talked about in the Final Girl episode–there’s no real transferral of the phallus and things like that. But for the Final Girl she’s really absent through most of the game.


STACEY: The big celebrity thing and then the fact that she has all those dressings is just strange, it didn’t really quite fit the rest of it.

JAYLEE: The first time that I actually was invested in her character was when the credits were rolling and she was talking into the camera.


JAYLEE: I was like “Ooh, that was actually some pretty good acting there.” I wish we would have seen more of that Sam throughout the game.

STACEY: Yeah, especially since in my game because I accidentally killed everybody at the last minute but Sam. So she was really emoting for the camera. “It’s my fault!”

JAYLEE: “This is my moment!”

STACEY: So maybe we should stop before we go any further and talk about who survived our games.


STACEY: Just kind of lay that all out first and then we can get into differences from there.

JAYLEE: Okay. When I first played the game, Ashley died from investigating the possible Jessica that ended up being a wendigo.


JAYLEE: And then Jessica died because I didn’t hide with Matt.

STACEY: Oh. Ohhh.

JAYLEE: So those are the two that died my first playthrough.

STACEY: Okay, have you completed a second, then?

JAYLEE: I’ve played it three or four times now. (Laughs) Once I beat it I was very invested to see the differences, to see if it was like Heavy Rain or not.

STACEY: For me, everybody died but Sam and Chris because I made a very bad decision; literally the last decision of the game. I blew everybody up. (Laughs) But before that I’d only killed off Jess who got her face chewed off at the very beginning and Matt who died a very horrible death that did not seem to fit the crime.

JAYLEE: (laughs) Which part did he die at?

STACEY: After the radio tower collapsed, he tried to help Em. She fell and then he had to jump off as the thing was collapsing and then he was dragged off by a Wendigo and just like….

JAYLEE: Hooked.

STACEY: Thrown on a hook. Yeah.

JAYLEE: Yeah. So you didn’t give him the flare gun then?

STACEY: I guess not!

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: I was like “Oh! Oh! Oh! What did I do wrong?!” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs) Yeah!

STACEY: That scene’s very disproportionate to what you’ve done.

JAYLEE: Mhmm. That’s the thing is I feel bad because I feel Matt and Emily got the least amount.

STACEY: Which they were the bonus mission that you got when your preordered.

JAYLEE: Exactly! And when I watched that bonus scene on YouTube, I kind of understand why it was cut, because for pacing at least I felt it kind of would have dragged the game down. But it actually gave more insight to the characters and showed how their relationship was more than just bickering.

STACEY: Good. Because I thought it really needed something like that, because I too had that thought when I was playing the game, there was awhile where it was like, wow, we haven’t seen Matt and Emily for awhile. I’ve almost killed off several characters. They’re just wandering around. Where are they?

JAYLEE: Looking for her bag!

STACEY: And then once I saw afterward, I read about the preorder mission, I was like, “Oh, well that would probably be it.” And I’m glad, because part of my problem going in too, was Em and Jess are at each other’s throats very early, and it seemed very one-note. I was a little bit worried that it wouldn’t evolve beyond that. And then when I finally was reunited with Em and Matt it was like they were doing the same thing…


STACEY: It was like, oh, don’t make all these girls like that and then just have Sam, the Tomboy Savior, you know…

JAYLEE: (Laughs) Who doesn’t deserve to die! Because….

STACEY: Because she’s taking a bath a guess.

JAYLEE: Yeah. (Laughs)

STACEY: I don’t know if it quite rose above that. But it would have been nice I guess to have an extra scene kind of humanizing them a little bit.

JAYLEE: Yeah, it’s a bit kind of flirtatious and….

STACEY: Oh good! Because there is that sense of why are these two together?

JAYLEE: Exactly!

STACEY: She’s so mean to him!

JAYLEE: I know, and some of the choices you can make, it’s just like, “Oh, you guys are terrible for each other!”

STACEY: Yeah! (Laughs)

JAYLEE: When the radio tower’s collapsing, that is a time when Matt can bring up kissing Mike or whatever.

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: And that point, I totally agree with Emily’s response where she’s like, “You’re bringing this up now?” There was just some weird moments. And I feel like Emily kind of ended up being the badass of the game.

STACEY: Yeah! Emily is always right! Rule number 1! (Laughs)

JAYLEE: And she’s doing weird acrobatics to save her life. I just feel like she deserved better writing. Same with Matt. Actually, I feel like Matt deserved more screen time. Emily deserved better writing.

STACEY: Yeah, there was a couple… That was some of things where like, I bet in the different version of this game they had more in store for them.


STACEY: Those characters seemed to be built for something else.

JAYLEE: Thinking about the characters, I feel like they were trying very hard to make certain characters likeable, like Chris and Ashley and Sam and Mike. While the others kind of fell to the wayside a bit and ended up just being stereotypes and tropes.

STACEY: Because I also, now that I think about it… Ashley and Chris, during their two segments where you have to choose between them, and Ashley’s actually in both of them, and I don’t think they can die in either of them.

JAYLEE: Right.

STACEY: Even though you’re led to believe you’re killing one of them in a Saw-like trap.

JAYLEE: So what did you think of the change between the quote-unquote psycho and the Wendigos. How it starts of being like, “Oh, there’s a psycho killer running around!” And then it’s like, “Actually, the Wendigos are evil!”

STACEY: I mean, I kind of… I didn’t figure out, oh, the Wendigo! Of course! The mythical creature of the Northeast. But I figured out there were several things going on at the very beginning, because when Beth and Hannah are running from the guy with the flamethrower, it was very obvious that he was reaching down to help them. So it’s like like, okay, he’s not the killer. He’s out there fighting something. And then when Jessica’s grabbed out the window, it was very clear, okay, that was not a person.

JAYLEE: Yeah, that was not a human.

STACEY: So I kind of knew it was going to be something like that. I also figured out that Josh was probably involved.

JAYLEE: As soon as Sam is watching that welcome video on the train or whatever, I was like, oh, it’s him.

STACEY: Yep, exactly. And that was the part I was alluding to earlier. It gets a little bit Scream-y, this whole idea that if you know enough horror movies you can actually become the killer. You know. So that was kind of a fun send-up. But then I like that they just kind of dropped it after that. But my, I guess… So I’m going to turn this around on you then: what did you think about the sequences where we play in the first person and we later find out that is Josh?

JAYLEE: When I first started playing it, I thought it was really cool.


JAYLEE: How it was asking you, “Who’s your favorite character? Who’s your least favorite character? What are you afraid of?” But I feel like that ultimately didn’t pay off that much.


JAYLEE: Because I don’t think that saying that one character is your favorite or one character is your least favorite puts them in any danger or saves them from anything. And then when it’s shown that it’s all in Josh’s head. I don’t know. I didn’t really like it. I was just kind of like… I felt like it was building to something more.


JAYLEE: Or that it would continue. I don’t know.

STACEY: Yeah. It kind of reminded me at the start of the Doctor Kaufmann segments in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.


STACEY: In fact I was calling him Dr. Kaufmann in notes and stuff, like “Okay, talking to Dr. Kaufmann again.”

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: And I really like that. And the whole idea of choosing your favorite character, a lot of those thing ended up being cosmetic. But it was kind of fun. Like he’d ask what you’re most afraid of, spiders or cockroaches, and a spider would appear on like a screen later in the game.


STACEY: One thing I really liked is he called me out on the way I was playing the game.

JAYLEE: Oh yeah! I did like that.

STACEY: Because he asks… Because, as we talked about, we were trying to game the system. We’re like, okay, if we’re in a horror movie, we’re going to keep the group together. And then there’s a point where he asks, are you afraid of large crowds? And I, playing as a first-person, unknown character said yes, and he goes “Well you’re not playing it that way!” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs) And you’re like, oh, you got me there!

STACEY: Yeah. I’m normally not into horror movies! (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: You’re right, it felt like it was building to something that it ultimately didn’t really pay off.

JAYLEE: And I think it’s part of the reason I didn’t like the Dr. Hill segments is because I would have liked it if it was just that, instead of just that and then in the finall chapter he’s hallucinating his sisters and there’s pig heads and… I don’t know. That just felt very… I can’t put my finger on it, but it just didn’t rub me the right way.

STACEY: Well, if I can say so, Mike is my favorite because I got to pet two animals on his campaign.

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: Even though they both died. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Oh yeah. I saved him the first time, because you have to lock that door behind you.

STACEY: Oh good! So you can save him, because…


STACEY: Okay, because I didn’t barricade the door, and then the game makes a big show of “You made  a terrible choice! Here’s the dead dog!” And it’s like, “I know I made a terrible choice, game. Stop rubbing it in.”

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: And then I blew up the building afterwards. And I was like, well maybe the dog dies here no matter what.

JAYLEE: You actually get a trophy if you save the dog.

STACEY: Oh my god! I gotta go back and save the dog. Okay.

JAYLEE: (Laughs) I remember saving the dog and then blowing up the asylum, and I was like, “I hope he got out of there!”

STACEY: There were so many scenes were like Mike would slam the door shut, and I’d be like, “Where’s the dog?!” And the dog would come up behind him and I’d be like, “Whew!” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah! Exactly. No, I was the exact same way. Like he’s always just right behind the camera. (Laughs)

STACEY: Yeah. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: One thing that I really liked and I really appreciated… Because, like I said, how in Telltale games or Heavy Rain, if you miss something or if you make a decision, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a different scene.


JAYLEE: So one of my later playthroughs, there’s the chase in the asylum that eventually leads to the explosion as Mike. And I ws like, I’m going to put my controller down, I’m not going to fire anything, I’m not going to do anything, and I’m going to see if he just has plot armor this entire time. And he does for a little bit. But eventually they try attacking him and it kind of fades out. And then you get a bonus scene as Sam where you go into the asylum and rescue Mike.

STACEY: What?!


STACEY:  That’s awesome!

JAYLEE: Which I thought was really cool, Yeah. Because, if you’re Mike and you destroy the asylum and you run away, they kind of meet up in the mine and Sam beheads the guy that’s after him.


JAYLEE: But if you’re like me and you put the controller down, then Sam has to go into the asylum and then, basically from there it’s about the same where you have to blow up all the oil tanks that are conveniently placed and then they escape together. But I just thought it was really cool how my decisions led to the same outcome, but I still got different scenes.

STACEY: Mhmm. Sam gets to do more too, sort of justifying her as the Final Girl. I do wonder then… We definitely have to blow up the asylum, right? Regardless?


STACEY: Because every time you kill one of those things, a spirit thing kind of flies into the camera.

JAYLEE: Yeah. (Laughs)

STACEY: And you read in the book, the guide, that you have to avoid killing them because that releases the spirit into the air. Does that do anything? Because also you have another option to blow up some before, in a hallway, and I did it and I saw that thing fly through me, and I was like,” Oh shit! I’m going to turn into one of those things!” So I guess I’m wondering, did you notice any difference with that between your playthroughs then? Or is it just a “Fly at the screen! 3D! What?!”

JAYLEE: (Laughs) Just like The Mummy. (Laughs)

STACEY: (Laughs) That cinematic classic.

JAYLEE: I think that’s just supposed to be like the spirit’s out there, so now if there’s a cannibal–like Josh–they could become a Wendigo.

STACEY: Oh, so it’s always just going to hook in for that.

JAYLEE: When you played, did you have Sam discover that Josh was the psycho?

STACEY: I don’t know! Because I had her explore a little bit and then of course she and Mike walk in on him.

JAYLEE: So there’s that scene where she’s escaping him.


JAYLEE: Did you get caught by him?

STACEY: I did eventually.

JAYLEE: If you don’t get caught, then she actually stumbles upon his base of operations.


JAYLEE: That’s where you get his psych records and blueprints for all the traps and stuff, and he has this little shrine to his sisters.

STACEY: Interesting.

JAYLEE: When she goes in with Mike and there’s that whole scene, she’s like, “Josh, this has your fingerprints all over it.”

STACEY: Ah! That’s interesting. That would make her a lot more Final Girl-y too. That investigative gaze.


STACEY: Interesting!

JAYLEE: Yeah, so I liked how there wasn’t that much wiggle room, but there was just enough that you wouldn’t really be disappointed if you replayed it again, tried to make difference choices. And I really appreciated that.

STACEY: Mhmm. Especially since this is like a $60 game. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah! (Laughs) And like six hours for your first playthrough.

STACEY: Yeah, that’s one of the things we were discussing, whether or not to do it as a… You should play, or just a regular Water Cooler. The price is a little weird.

JAYLEE: It’s definitely a factor. Yeah.

STACEY: Because when I eventually got it after you kept insisting that I play it, I got it with my Amazon points, so for a nearly free game, it was awesome!

JAYLEE: Yeah. (Laughs)

STACEY: But I don’t know if I want to pay $60 for it.

JAYLEE: And also, unfortunately this game falls into a lot of tropes. So you have the Native American burial ground and totems as like these weird spiritual guides. And then you have Josh and his….

STACEY: “He’s off his meds!”

JAYLEE: That’s what you find out, actually. As Sam. He’s literally off his meds.

STACEY: I think they say something to that effect when he’s tied up. He says it…. Like Chris says it or something. And then he says, “Revenge is the best medicine.”

JAYLEE: That was another thing I didn’t like, was once they figure out that Josh did it, Josh is suddenly like, you know, acting all….

STACEY: Like he’s not lucid.

JAYLEE: Yeah. And it’s was like, okay, where did that come from?

STACEY: Yeah. That’s not how it works typically. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah. (Laughs) “I’ve been found out! I really need to lay it on thick now.”

STACEY: Yeah. Uh… Yeah. The Native American thing, I wasn’t quite sure where it was going with that. And the first thing I did, because I’m woefully ignorant of these things, is I ran to Wikipedia. Like, Wendigo, are these real things? (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: And there is a tradition of the Wendigo as folklore. And that sort of thing, but the totem thing…. It’s a little weird.

JAYLEE: Yeah. Especially when you figure out that it was the flamethrower guy just making totems because that’s…

STACEY: Oh, I missed that!

JAYLEE: It’s one of his diary entries or whatever.

STACEY: Oh, I didn’t get that.

JAYLEE: He’s like, “I’ve been making these things because that’s what Native Americans used to do.” So it’s like…


JAYLEE: Yeah. So I loved my time with Until Dawn. I highly recommend it, but it is a really short game. And it does have some replayability to it, but I’d probably wait until a price drop, personally.

STACEY: Yeah, I paid $20 for it and I am very happy with that $20. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: I’m really hoping it’ll get some kind of Halloween/October kind of sale. A bump from Sony at least. But yeah, it’s a really interesting experiment… It holds up well for the most part by itself, but I also think it’s also one of those things almost like Never Alone, in a weird way, that it’s indicative of much cooler things to come.


STACEY: So I’m definitely going to revisit and try to save everybody or at least the characters I killed off in the final decision I made. And the dog.


STACEY: But I definitely thinks it’s an interesting game to experience if you can.

JAYLEE: So that does it for our Until Dawn Water Cooler discussion, so now we want to know–

STACEY: Who did you save? Who did you kill? Did you kill the dog? Did you pet the dog?

JAYLEE: So let us know in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe and keep up to date on all of our latest episodes and Water Cooler discussions.

Narrator: He started having night terrors, screaming in his sleep.
Sick Man: I am the Wendigo!

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