Until Then Review | PC

A moving narrative about coming of age and making tough choices in friendships and relationships.

By MariDead, Posted 08 Jul 2024

When it comes to interactive novels there is a lot of pressure on the story to ensure that the often simple gameplay doesn’t leave the player wanting more. Until Then has a focus on the story, with simple graphics and gameplay that mean the writing has to stand out. So can developer Polychroma Games pull it off?


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They have experience with in-depth games, their previous game Let’s Go There And Wander Nowhere, was a story-driven first-person experience that existed as an experimental piece but ended up telling the story of going home that many people found enjoyment from. So the real question is if they can recreate the same emotional experience.

Until Then is self-described as a mystery where you, as Mark, are thrown into a chain of events that change his world, starting a mystery you have to get to the bottom of. While the game is full of very strange disappearances, as well as a lot of unreliable narration and memories from our protagonist, it is not a mystery in the classic sense many will be used to. Instead, it plays more as a coming-of-age narrative.

This misrepresentation of the story is to the detriment of Until Then and the narrative it is really trying to express. While the mystery does exist, and is definitely well-written, it does not begin until fairly late in the game. It is also far more of a side plot. The main story is instead about coming of age and making hard decisions that affect friendships, relationships, and the rest of your life going forward.

This plot is phenomenal. Until Then has characters that are complex, they feel real, and every interaction with them feels like you are talking to a real person. Even without voice actors to help guide the emotions and add depth to the character Until Then finds ways to use impeccable dialogue to create a unique voice for everyone. This is even seen through the grammar in that dialogue. Cathy is a fantastic example of this.


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Cathy is a complex character, and the way she is written reflects that perfectly. Her sentences switch from long to short, becoming frantic as she does. You read it in her voice, without being given one. It seems like a small detail to zoom in on but in a game without actors to create the characters for you, it is a huge achievement to not be limited by this, and to, instead, thrive under such circumstances.

The gameplay in Until Then appears to be very simplistic when you first boot up the game. It is a 2D side scroller, although even that is an exaggeration as it suggests being able to move up and down, jumping and ducking, rather than just walking left or right. However, this simplicity works perfectly. To begin it can seem like a limitation but that is until you see the rest of the gameplay hidden below the surface.

Even starting the game lets you know you are in for a very interactive experience. You press “start” and wait for the game to begin but instead you are hit with the tone of an alarm clock. The button is still there and you keep hitting it. You eventually spam it enough times to wake up Mark, the main character.

These small interactions are continued throughout the gameplay and add to the experience while you play. An example of this is when Mark scrolls on social media and you, the player, have to physically scroll the mouse in order to interact. You can also interact with posts, liking and commenting on them as Mark.


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Even texting is a part of the game that is interactive. You select the option you want then type randomly on the keyboard, causing Mark's messages to appear. As well as being a fun game mechanic, it is also a great insight into Mark as a character. As you type his messages appear but often he will backspace over other things he wishes to say.

This shows his humor in the smart remarks he wishes to add. It is a fantastic way to add dimension to the character and make him feel more like a real person who has moments of indecision, and a charming wit about him.

The other main part of the gameplay is found in the “mundane mini-games”. These are named as such by the Until Then devs who wanted to create games that represented some of the mundane nature that follows some aspects of everyday life. These mini-games are far more than mundane side quests, however. They offer a switch from the normal gameplay, into an interesting sequence which all range in difficulty.

The most fun of these is probably the piano mini-game that works like Dance Dance Revolution, but without having to move around in real life. This is, however, one of the places where the downfalls of Until Then are put into sharp focus. This is because the buttons will sometimes not register fully. While this could have not felt like a big deal, it is just a mini-game after all, it is unfortunately one of the few bits of gameplay and it holds a massive floor.

It is small moments of detail like this that express the majority of the issues in Until Then as much of the game is told very simply. This means that any issue feels glaring, whereas, in a game with more complex gameplay, it would probably be a mistake that goes unnoticed.


Until Then, Review, Interactive Fiction, Gameplay, Screenshot, Mini Game
 

Another example of this is in some of the dialogue. While the occasional spelling mistake will always happen, there are times when it feels as though the two dialogue options are so similar they will end up communicating the same thing.

When you select dialogue Mark will adapt it slightly. This can be fun as Mark gives it something of his own spin on what is being said. This can be fun and, again, gives Mark some more characterization.

However, this can mean that sometimes, as I have pointed out, the options are very close and with the way it is changed as it is spoken it can seem as though either option should have been selected. It can also make it a little unclear what is being said from the options versus what will end up being communicated to the other characters.

Until Then has a very simple art style that is pixelated in a way that feels very stylized. While this artistic direction is a fun way of telling the story, and fantastically expresses the vibrancy of the world, there are moments it does not work as the characters' expression can be lost or jumbled.

This means the switch between expressions can be somewhat difficult to read. The confusing facial expressions can be annoying as the journey of the characters is one of the most effective parts of the game, so losing even small bits of their growth can feel like a huge detriment to what is going on.

There were no graphical glitches during my playthrough, which was good, although some of the transitions into the cutscenes could feel fairly clunky. The music does not suffer from this, simply switching seamlessly into the sound design of the cutscenes rather than abruptly cutting and then starting a new track entirely. Some of the background music is a little repetitive, although the excellent soundscapes for each of the environments you experience throughout the story.


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Until Then was missold as a mystery, instead, it tells an intense and beautiful story of coming of age, dealing with loss, and making hard decisions in friendships and relationships. It is an experience that is begging to be replayed, not just because it is a great story, but because each subsequent playthrough comes with its own ending. The gameplay is simple and, while being an impressive way to tell a complex story, could be lacking involvement for some. Overall, if you are looking for an enjoyable story then this is the game for you.
 

Mariella Deadman (@MariellaDead)
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Until Then

78/100

Platform(s): PC, PS5
Publisher(s): Maximum Games, Maximum Entertainment, Modus Games
Developer(s): Polychroma Games
Genres: Interactive Fiction
Themes: Visual Novel, Pixel Graphics, Adventure
Release Date: 2024-06-25

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