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Until Dawn: Rush of Blood review: “This is the VR ghost train to beat”

Got a specific fear? Something that really gets you in horror? Spot of coulrophobia courtesy of exposure to Tim Curry’s It when you were too young, perchance? Maybe you’re afraid of spiders, or just long periods in the dark? Perhaps your fears are more specific; sentient dolls, or the lifeless corpses of abattoirs. Whoever you are, whatever you’re scared of, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood has something for you. It’s equal terror-portunities, so to speak, and that means it’s utterly horrific. In a really good way.

Whether you’ve played Until Dawn on PS4 or not, Rush of Blood is equally, terrifyingly effective but there are highlights for fans of the original. Travelling through the unravelling mental state of one of the original visitors to the snowy mountain cabin, Josh, it dresses his journey into his own psychosis as a fairground ride of fear, complete with jaunty looking ringmaster to send you into each hellish level.

Armed with two pistols and only your resolve for comfort, you hurtle along a possessed minecart ride, firing at anything that moves or is (helpfully) painted with a target. There’s a high score to tally but this is far more than just a standard fairground shooter. Your vehicle changes speeds, stops in creaking, pitch-dark rooms and whispers in your ear. This is the virtual reality ghost train to beat. If Rush of Blood is someone’s first experience of VR, they won’t be keen to lift up another headset any time soon. 

Shooting is a great distraction that makes you feel vaguely safe, and the variation of weapons offers a satisfying range of firepower. Few things are as satisfying as blowing the head off a moving mannequin when it gets a little too close for comfort. If the idea of that even existing in a darkened creepy mansion doesn’t give you any comfort, close or not, then be afraid. The scares spread across the seven levels are masterful. As was evident from the original game, Supermassive has done its horror homework. The combination of jump frights, creeping dread and all-out disturbing imagery is as if every horror movie from the last ten years has been blended together in a haunted gory soup and then force fed into your eyeballs. Whether you are slowly being wheeled through a slaughterhouse of dead pigs the size of family cars or waiting in the dark to be swarmed by spitting spiders, being afraid hasn’t been this much fun in years. 

The good thing is that this has been specifically built for VR and so are the scares. The same things that terrify you in 2D might not have quite the same effect in virtual reality, and vice versa. Giggling clowns are all fine and well but there’s no depth to them on their own. Give you a minecart and arms and legs though - even if you are in dungarees - and your presence is complete in their world. This isn’t a safe horror house where no one can touch you. There might be no genuine physical sensation here, but there’s a genuine sense of risk involved.

Add in then the clever use of intruding in your personal space every so often but only just enough that it feels invasive, and you can’t help but feel like the guinea pig in Supermassive’s horribly successful fear test. The surprises are relentless, forcing you to face your fears to progress. One memorable sequence had me stuck in a giant wooden mill with only green goo dripping from the ceiling for company. I didn’t want to look up to find the source of the seeping gunk but horror rules dictated I had to gaze upwards to move on. Spoiler: it wasn’t pretty and I still jumped out of my skin. 

The seven sprawling levels on offer are rich with gory sights to feast your eyes on if you’re just brave enough. Enormous spiders climb watchtowers, misty snowy mountains rise all around you as your coaster cranks up another hill, underground  mines are packed with secret caves to peer into. Secret shootables lurk everywhere and the hunt for 20 hidden items per level will be your best way to see all that’s been lovingly placed just to send shivers down your spine. Add in the fact that you have to dodge and duck out of the way of hazards while your cart careers under low beams or fast powered spinning blades and you’re constantly moving. And yes, you will die if you career 100mph into a plank of wood. Who knew?

It’s not all horrifically brilliant though, thanks to a couple of misplaced boss battles at the end of some levels. Die and you’re frustratingly sent back to a checkpoint. Given that these are laborious repetitions of the same task and somewhat fussy in their execution, and they quickly become an endurance test of gaming mettle. The fear of the rest of the game relies on its ability to scare relentlessly before hurtling on to the next fright. While battling a machete wielding psycho sounds fun on paper, repeatedly blowing up the same barrels in a corridor just doesn’t have the same appeal the fifth time. Add in a ridiculous final level, worthy of a Z-list horror movie, and it’s not perfect.

Bosses aside, Rush Of Blood is an essential day-one purchase for VR. Few theme park rides can compete with exactly how this makes you feel if you’re playing in a room with an open window and an occasional breeze. Of course you know the jumps are coming, of course it’s only a game - recite it Evil Dead-style and it still doesn’t help - but this is VR horror at its finest. This will be what you wheel out to show friends and film their reactions as you grab them at the same time as a jump scare. The latter might also be what causes a PS VR related heart attack. I jumped, I cursed, I didn’t want to look around the corner. And that’s exactly why you should play. Enjoy. 

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