Category Archives: First Impressions

First Impression: Until Dawn

I think we can all agree that people’s choice in movies says a lot about their psyches.  Perhaps someone unhappy with their love life frequents sappy romantic-comedies to swoon and dream that their lives might one day turn out like those from the movie.  Or perhaps someone with low self-esteem loves to watch uplifting underdog movies because they feel they can relate to the hero and hope they too might get their chance to shine.  Because of this, it probably says something very unfortunate about those of us who enjoy watching slasher flicks.

As much as I love horror movies in general, the slasher flick serves a special role.  They’re cathartic.  We watch them as a way of venting our repressed frustrations toward those around us.  We enjoy seeing the characters tormented and killed.  Their story structures are pretty much the same: a group of people do something or go somewhere that no rational, intelligent person would willing choose, do stupid things & die, but not after being tormented for various amounts of their on-screen time.  Typically this group is composed of the most obnoxious stereotypes.  The macho jerk, the harlot, the nice guy, the partyer, the comedian… & usually one person (typically female) that the audience is supposed to actually care about & want to see survive.  Sometimes she’ll even hook up with the only surviving guy, who were crushing on each other but never got around to saying it, but bond over some trauma.  But there’s a reason for this formula; it’s so we don’t have to feel bad when the people die.  It’s the same reason you see so many Nazi’s in games.  They’re just ubiquitously evil so no one has to feel bad when they kill them.  We enjoy seeing annoying characters get what we feel they deserve — makes me wonder if people who really act like that ever feel self-conscious when watching slasher flicks.

But that’s what horror is.  Horror stories have always served as a warning.  Don’t go to dangerous, creepy places.  Don’t do stupid things like making out in the middle of the woods at night.  Don’t be a jerk or be mean to people.

I bring this analysis up not because it’s a new commentary, but because everything I heard about Until Dawn said it was the slasher flick in game form.  Only this time I get to decide who lives & dies.  I decide how obnoxious the characters get to be.

Here’s a little stream-of-conscious writing about my thoughts will playing through the game for a few chapters:

– Who do I want to die first?  The blonde chick or Mike?

– What is up with these creepy stalker camera angles?

– The facial animations are impressive, but they emote too much.  No real person’s mouth moves that much.  And why is everyone’s teeth so big & white?  It’s like tic-tacs.

– Why is there no invert controls option?  Don’t tell me it’s in this stupid update that’s still downloading.

– I don’t appreciate the doctor calling me a liar because I say one thing during his “exam” & then supposedly do something different in-game.  If I’m always playing based on my own genuine responses, then they’re coherent.

– I’m getting major Cabin in the Woods vibes.  Not that that’s bad.  I liked that movie.

– This is why you don’t date within your sphere of friends.  And if you do, you certainly don’t keep them in your group of friends after you break up.  And you most certainly don’t start dating another person within this same group of friends.  In fact, these people shouldn’t be dating period.  They’re clearly too stupid to handle relationships.

– Why am I staring at Mike’s face?  Oh!  That’s why!

– Doc, we really need to talk about your decorating sensibilities.  First the creepy painting on the wall.  Now there’re boards on the windows & a giant tarantula giving me the evil eye in this jar conveniently next to me.

I actually completed the entirety of Until Dawn in one massive, day-long session… & then promptly went to ice my hand.  For anyone curious, I saved all but one person my first time around.  But I want to wait until I’ve played through at least some of the game a second time to get a feel for how much different choices actually affect the story progression before giving a final review.  And I’ve got an interesting experiment planned where I’m going to have a non-gamer tell me what decisions to make.  So expect both of these posts sometime soon.


– GamerDame


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Sara is Missing & I’m in a Creepypasta

With the craziness of my schedule over the holidays on top of interviewing for a potential new job, I’ve had neither the time nor attention span to focus on new games this month.  However, I recently saw a short indie horror game popping up in my video feed from various Youtubers, & after seeing the premise I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Sara is Missing (or S.I.M.) was created by Monsoon Lab for the 2016 Halloween Game Jam, which are essentially challenges to create games on a fixed time limit.  In it, you play as yourself, having found a random cellphone.  The only immediate clue as to the identity of the broken phone’s owner is the image of a woman and her cat on the wallpaper.  Upon trying to recover the phone’s memory, the phone’s supposedly helpful AI/personal assistant program IRIS (which a clever gamer would recognize as SIRI backwards) enlists your help in tracking down the missing Sara.  To this end, you find yourself on a voyeuristic journey through a stranger’s text messages, emails & gallery to uncover potentially the last moments of her life.

What drew me to this title was the almost augmented reality aspect of it.  Although it’s still just a program on your phone, it acts as if you’re using your own phone.  I love the rise in incorporating the modes of entertainment into the experience rather than just being vehicles.  My initial impression upon seeing S.I.M. was that it reminded me a lot of the recent horror movie Unfriended, which I adored.  It works similar to that movie, actually, with the player as the protagonist flipping through various software & files, trying to connect the disparate pieces of Sara’s life together to find her.

The game also has more than a passing vibe of the Creepypasta variety.  Finding a random phone presumably in the middle of the woods… cursed videos… Red Rooms & the deep web… In fact, I recognized some of the video clips spliced together specifically from Creepypastas, including Marble Hornets & Tomino’s Hell.

The game’s fairly short, depending on how in-depth you search through Sara’s phone, so it’s hard to give a full review.  Rather, I wanted to touch briefly on the positives & negatives.  On the positive side, the technology is well-integrated into the app.  Although I believe it’s also available for play on a PC, I played it on my Android, which I recommend for the most immersive experience.  It felt like I was really using someone else’s phone, to the point it startled me when my own phone got email notifications.  The IRIS seemed a bit weird, but I’m assuming it’s based on how SIRI works, & as I just mentioned I use Android so I can’t speak to how it imitates that.  Maybe SIRI is creepily self-aware.

Monsoon Lab did a good job of really establishing Sara’s character through just what we see on her phone.  Although most of what’s available isn’t related directly to solving the mystery, it helps flesh out the character, adding to the eerie blurring between the app & reality.  It made me think about what’s on my own phone & what that would say to someone who found it.  The overarching narrative is interesting, if a bit cliché to anyone familiar with Creepypastas, & they did a good job ramping up the tension toward the end when you have to decide whether or not to pass on the cursed video to save these strangers all the while someone keeps sending you pictures of them bound.  It does an excellent job of eliciting your own natural reactions.

But for all those good points, I was left feeling a little disappointed.  Not because the game is bad, but because it could’ve been better.  Granted, this was made on limited time, & I don’t even know if it’s considered finished at this point.  There are a lot of ways I can see S.I.M. improving.  I’d like to see more of a build-up for the mystery.  It only really takes reading one text message to figure out what happened & kicking off the climax.  I’d love to see a slower reveal, where you have to really piece different messages, pictures & emails together.  I’d also like the different “endings” to actually feel different.

But as I said before, I don’t know if the devs plan to flesh this out more.  I hope they do.  The very end definitely hints that there’s more to come.  Hopefully with all this positive press, they’ll be able to expand & make something truly remarkable.

I’m holding off on giving an actual score, so consider this a very strong recommendation to try this game.  It’s fun, short & free (or pay as you want on PC).  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future updates.

– GamerDame

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