I truly love a game that can sink me into its world and story. If you’ve listened to the Creature Cast or read my review on games like Oxenfree 2,you might already know this.
Recently I had a chance to dive into an early demo for Until Then from Polychroma Games and publisher Maximum Entertainment. During my 80 minutes of play time, I can already tell it has a special and unique story to tell.
The pixel and voxel-like approach had my eyes glued to the screen immediately. But it was a world building and character moments that really had me wanting more once my time was up.
A Day In The Life
You play as Mark Bjora. The Until Thendemo begins with your teenage character waking up in a dimly lit bedroom, trying to hush away the sounds of the morning rush outside his window and a blaring alarm. This was a great start to the game, and also felt all to real!
The setting of the game is also important. While my time with Until Then didn’t dive too far into the backstory of this world, I did find tidbits of information from the dozens of conversations I had. To say that I am intrigued would be an understatement.
Essentially, the world is in a type of recovery mode from a catastrophe. Earthquakes are mentioned for example, but nothing is explicitly explained. I found this to be a compelling approach early on, as it was definitely a piece of the puzzle I want to continue to discover.
Outside of the story set up, Mark is an average high school kid doing average high school things. The first 20-30 minutes of my time was spent texting with friends and frantically trying to put together presentation slides for a group project. Again…been there, done that!
Until Then‘s Approach To Interaction and Storytelling
What I found most compelling about the demo (and presumably the opening 80 minutes of the game), were the countless character moments and how they are treated.
For example, when frantically finishing that group project, you make dialogue choices, but the music intensifies, the camera shakes, and the sound design shifts to make it feel like a fast-moving action scene. Which if you’ve even been in this scenario (do your homework kids!), is exactly what it feels like! I loved this choice from Polychroma. While the game is not set in the “real world,” this felt like a true, real world experience millions of high school or post-secondary students find themselves in.
As far as choosing that dialogue and interacting with the people and world around Mark, Until Then has a very simple approach. I played on PC and all I needed were the WASD keys, the spacebar, and occasionally my mouse. It’s a breeze to understand and I found it to be just enough interaction to make me feel like I was Mark.
An example of just how simplified things get it when you text message your friends. The easiest way is to just hold on to the spacebar. Words will be typed for you and sent along, carrying the story and conversations forward with ease. Or, feel free to type random keys and letters and the same thing will happen. It’s an interesting approach that despite the minimal input, still worked for me. Depending on the player you are, this may feel a touch too straightforward, but for me I was happy just to see and hear the story unfold.
A Mystery Within A Beautiful Package
Until Then has various moments of typical teenage interactions and amazingly written dialogue. That’s the crux of the game, or at least it is until some potentially supernatural and surreal occurrences begin to creep into Mark’s world.
I will avoid any potential spoilers within the story itself, but I think it’s important to point out that there is something strange going on below the surface of Until Then, and I don’t mean the typical teenage drama.
Until Then also looks great. The mix of pixelated backgrounds and foregrounds, and character models feel very unique. Just as impressive is the colour palette and how it all is lit up with great shading and lighting. People and places may be blocky or retro-inspired, but the rays of sun and bright signage at night make the world feel alive.
Character models and their wardrobes all feel authentic and well designed. In high school nearly everyone is trying to find their place. How you choose to wear a school uniform or what you wear outside of the school halls can define “who you are” to others. All of that is evident in the large cast of characters in Until Then.
Despite spending under 90 minutes with Until Then, I know there’s something special to unravel and explore. If the story its weaving does turn out to be as interesting and unique as I hope, we could have another special indie hit on our hands.
The game is scheduled for release sometime this year on PC and PlayStation 5.