Step right up for a wild ride into a psychotic nightmare carnival
As someone who’s admittedly a bit of a horror game snob, it shouldn’t be taken lightly when I say that Until Dawn is one of the best horror experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing (You can read my review here). Developer Supermassive Games’ unsettling title set against the backdrop of the snowbound Blackwood Pines lodge was a perfect homage to the slasher flicks of yesterday. Its focus on delivering tense scares and tough choices that could impact the way the story unfolds in radical ways really made it something special, and even a year since its release I still find myself wanting to dive back in and experience all of the different twists and turns of the game’s blood-soaked narrative.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood may not offer the same emphasis on harrowing decision making and that permeated the entire experience of its predecessor, but it’s still a fantastic way to scare yourself silly in a virtual house of horrors.
While Until Dawn was more or less a traditional survival horror title, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is a rail shooter that has much more in common with games like The House of the Dead and Vampire Night than Resident Evil and its ilk. Set within the troubled mind of one of the original game’s main characters, the game places players in a (literally) on-rails shooter as you explore dilapidated lodges, crumbling prisons, and other perilous locales ripped straight from last year’s hit horror title. However, instead of running for your life, this time around you’ll be going in Guns Akimbo, filling killer clowns, giant spiders, and other nightmare creatures with hot lead. Sure, it’s a pretty drastic change of pace, but don’t worry your pretty head – the developer has gone to great lengths to ensure the game does its inspiration justice.
Light gun shooters have been around since gaming’s earliest days, but the benefits of the PlayStation VR do a great job of injecting some fresh life into the ancient genre by cranking the level of immersion to eleven. Enemies and jump scares constantly assault the player from all angles over the course of Rush of Blood‘s seven chapters, and you’ll constantly be peering all around you to see where the next masked psycho or hungry Wendigo is lurking. This constant sense of dread is juxtaposed with eerie calliope music pumping through the speakers looming above the rickety rails and other fairground props that add to the carnival theme.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood can be played with either the PlayStation Move or DualShock controllers. However, while using a standard pad is perfectly serviceable, the Move is definitely the preferred way to play the game, as you can aim each gun independently using each of your arms – a feature that the controller setup is sorely lacking. Besides, you can’t beat the immersion that comes with raising your arm and seeing your digital avatar place a magnum to the chin of a maniacal clown before popping his head like an overly ripe melon. Seeing your arms move with 1:1 accuracy as you scan the dark recesses of the nightmare carnival with flashlights strapped to your guns is an incredibly satisfying feeling. In fact, on more than one occasion I felt compelled to yank my arms into the cart because I felt a nearby plank or piece of scenery would literally lob my arm off. The sensation is simply mesmerizing, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to feel completely sucked into the world around you.
In addition to tracking your arms via the Move controllers, Rush of Blood also makes efficient use of the camera’s ability to track the movements of your entire body. In the first level you’ll learn to keep aware of your surroundings by swaying your head to fit through silhouettes cut into cardboard. However, the stakes are quickly ratcheted up, and in no time you’ll be swaying and ducking under whirring saw blades and bloody lumber to avoid losing your head. And by the end of the game you’ll be diving around like a madman to avoid the near constant onslaught of ghouls and environmental hazards that are thrown your way as you barrel down the tracks.
When things work as they’re supposed to, this kinetic mix of high-energy gameplay and arcade shooting is fantastic. Unfortunately, as expected with new hardware, the PlayStation VR-fueled action does experience some nagging niggles that threaten to bring the on-rails excitement to a grinding halt.
The most frustrating of these issues is the way your aim can occasionally drift to the left to the point that you’ll eventually be unable to fire at the right side of the screen altogether. During my time with the game I’ve seen this issue pop up at least a dozen times, and the only way to correct the issue is to back out of the game entirely. Sadly, the issue persisted even after adjusting the lights, closing the curtains, and ensuring no reflective surfaces with mucking up the play area. Having played the vast majority of the PlayStation VR’s launch lineup, Rush of Blood is the only game I’ve experienced this hassle with, and it’s a damn shame. Another issue worth noting is the game’s tendency to make those who get motion sick while playing VR feel incredibly ill, as the game’s sense of speed and abundance of twists and turns on the roller coaster track is extremely convincing. This isn’t necessarily a fault with the game though, and those who enjoy gut-wrenching dips and dives will likely find this to be a real selling point that greatly adds to the overall experience.
Aesthetically speaking, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is a bit of a mixed bag. Starting with the good, the various locales you’ll explore are filled to the brim with impressive little details that bring the world to life. From run-down carnival rides in the distance to enormous shrieking pigs being hacked to bits with blood saw blades, the environments are simply bristling with eye-catching moments and tucked away Easter eggs. Each stage is also completely covered in targets you can blast to keep your score multiplier filled, as well as hidden targets which reveal more of the game’s underlying story. Even after spending a dozen hours with the game, I’m stick taken aback by just how impressive the various 3D effects have been handled, and the various psychedelic moments that morph and shift the world around the player are certainly a sight to behold.
While this attention to detail and the abundance of unnerving visual effects are definitely welcome, Rush of Blood is held back by some muddy visuals thanks to a pervasive blur effect that makes faces and objects appear pretty gnarly up close. The PlayStation VR’s slight disadvantage in terms of resolution when compared to the competition is on full blast here, but, truth be told, you’ll barely notice it once the action picks up, and it does very little to impact the game in any meaningful way. However, it’s worth noting for graphics snobs will likely find the Vaseline-slathered visuals pretty hard to stomach at times.
One area where Until Dawn: Rush of Blood certainly isn’t lacking is in the audio department. The PlayStation VR’s 3D audio capabilities are put to great use here, and Supermassive takes full advantage of the technology to toy with the player, drawing their attention to one location only to bait them into a spectacular scare. In addition to letting the developers toy with the player, 3D audio also allows you to quickly identify exactly where an enemy is approaching from. This saved me countless times as giant spiders scurried towards my position from the shadows, or a flaming Molotov cocktail whizzed towards my head. The music and voice acting are just as well executed, cementing Rush of Blood’s position as the gold standard when it comes to sound direction on Sony’s new HMD.
Rush of Blood‘s seven stages can be plowed through in just a few hours, but even after the credits roll there’s still plenty of reason to dive back in. There are multiple difficulties to tackle (including a grueling single-life mode), a wealth of alternate paths to explore, and tons of secrets littered throughout each level. This treasure trove of content is enough to give this shooter some extra legs and keep completionists content for weeks on end. That said, you’re getting a ton of bang for your buck considering the game’s budget-friendly $20 price tag.
If you’re a PSVR owner who happens to be a fan of horror games or light gun shooters, you owe it to yourself to add Until Dawn: Rush of Blood to your collection. It may not be a whole new survival horror experience, but don’t let the shift from an engaging horror movie homage to arcade-inspired shooter dissuade you. Supermassive Games has done a spectacular job of crafting a spine-tingling shooting gallery that’s sure to satisfy even the most discerning marksman. That’s not to say it’s perfect. The occasional technical issues that crop up can be maddening at times. And the blurry visuals sometimes manage to break the otherwise convincing illusion the game provides. Still, the finicky tracking is infrequent enough to overlook, and hopefully can be mended with patches in the future. And the sometimes-fuzzy visuals are hard to notice when the action is moving at a fever pitch.
That said, if you’re looking for a terrifying shooter with plenty of replayability, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is sure to soothe that itchy trigger finger. Just don’t blame me if you end up stocking up on nightlights. I swear I tried my best to warn you.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed); Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment; Developer: Supermassive Games ; Players: 1; Released: October 13, 2016