The Dark Pictures Anthology series is essentially Supermassive Games' attempt at making a Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt-esque franchise. Only instead of Rod Serling or The Cryptkeeper, a middle-aged librarian with a hipster haircut guides you through a horrible misadventure where it's up to you to keep everyone alive.
There are still some rough edges to The Dark Pictures Anthology's method of game design, but these bite-sized titles offer something unique when it comes to the horror genre. And while Little Hope isn't a massive step forward for the series, it's certainly a narrative improvement over Man Of Medan.
Little Hope puts you and potentially four of your friends in the roles of a group of college students and their pretentious professor. They've set out to go on a field trip in the middle of the night (which is normal, I guess?) when their bus is diverted down a path to the titular ghost town of Little Hope. Their driver ends up crashing when trying to swerve out of the way of a mysterious little girl, and the group finds themselves dazed and lost in the woods. Soon, they all begin experiencing strange visions of a 300-year-old witch trial featuring civilians who are their exact doppelgangers. Now, the fivesome needs to determine why strange apparitions are trying to hunt them down and figure out how to escape from the nightmare of Little Hope.
From a storytelling perspective, I find Little Hope to be much more engaging than the previous Dark Pictures episode. The problem with Man Of Medan was once you knew what the main twist of the plot was, it kind of removed all of the drama from the story. Here, there isn't a twist that comes halfway through that takes away all the stakes. It's just a straight-up ghost story involving a demonic child, witch trials, and reincarnation. That being said, this still has some rather insane twists. Some of which are so out there that I'm still not sure they make sense.
The actors involved do a fair job with the material they were given. There are more than a few dodgy moments in terms of performance and writing, but I find myself liking these characters more than most of the cast in Man Of Medan. These actors also have to play multiple versions of themselves from different time periods, which includes doing different era-appropriate accents. The witch trial sections all seem like something out of The Crucible and everyone here does surprisingly believable Colonial British accents. They make me want to save these characters even when they are being annoying jerks, so I'd say that's proof that they did some solid work here.
I find myself conflicted when it comes to the tech that Supermassive Games uses to make these interactive movies. These games are puzzling to me because sometimes they can appear stunning and lifelike, while other times everyone looks like a bunch of animatronics going haywire.
I believe the way Supermassive Games films these titles is by capturing the actors' faces while doing the physical mo-cap for the bodies separately. This can result in characters having strange body movements and facial tics that don't quite look human. For the most part, Little Hope looks really good with moody, creepy environments that are reminiscent of Silent Hill. But every so often, someone will move in a herky-jerky manner or stare at you with a pair of dead eyes.
Because it's your choices that determine the way the story plays out, some of the transitions and character interactions can be awkward. Scenes will sometimes play out with missing characters or characters that shouldn't be there, or dialogue will abruptly cut to go to the next scene. Interactions between the cast can be wildly inconsistent based on your dialogue selections. Sometimes a character will act nicely towards you and then immediately become a jackass within two sentences. Supermassive's game engine works reasonably well, but it's not quite flawless at resembling an actual movie.
Gameplay-wise, Little Hope doesn't control all that differently from Man Of Medan. If you've played a Telltale title before, then you'll pick this one up quickly. The only real difference is the way The Dark Pictures Anthology handles dialogue choices. You use the needle of a compass - a moral compass... get it? - to point toward one of two dialogue options. Or you could choose to say nothing depending on the circumstance.
These choices determine what sort of personality trait that character has. If you choose to work as a team, then you may get the amicable trait. If you choose to be a total douche to everyone, then you may be labeled as arrogant. These choices also affect relationships between the characters. Initially, this doesn't seem like an important part of the game, but it can lead to dire narrative consequences.
The rest of the gameplay involves walking around the area and investigating interactable objects. You can find secrets scattered around the world, which includes postcards that give you premonitions. These are hints that show you small snippets of future events so you can see what may or may not happen depending on your choices.
Then there's the most dreaded of gameplay elements: quick-time events. This series is absolutely ridden with QTEs. You'll have to press the correct button prompts to get out of dangerous situations, along with placing a cursor inside of a target area to perform attacks and timing button presses in rhythm with your character's heartbeat when hiding.
If you get stressed out easily, then these games may not be for you. Trying to match the button that pops up on the screen before the timer runs out is a great way to induce some serious anxiety. These are horror games after all, and since missing a QTE could potentially kill off the character you're playing as, it's a reliable, albeit cheap way of creating a genuine feeling of terror. It can also lead to some serious frustration if your QTE reflexes aren't up to snuff.
What might make it less scary is playing with a group of friends. Much like Man Of Medan, you have the option to play Little Hope in Movie Night mode where you and up to four other players can pass the controller around to take control of each character. There's also an online co-op mode where you and a friend can play it together and experience different parts of the story concurrently.
This is still great fun, although I have noticed from playing it alone that the singleplayer mode seems to omit certain parts of the plot. There were a few times where a character would go off on their own and come back saying, "You won't believe what just happened to me!" It feels like in order to get the full picture, you have to play the multiplayer modes, which sucks for people who can't find some buddies to get scared with.
I think Supermassive Games is pretty clever for releasing this right before Halloween. Since most people won't be going out this year due to the pandemic, this could make for a fun activity to get some friends together and get spooked over. Even if you're playing it alone, it makes for an entertaining night of frights. Plus, there are multiple endings depending on how you play and who survives, so there's a decent amount of replayability.
I wouldn't necessarily call this high-art or a gaming masterpiece, as it's rich with horror movie cliches and light on actual gameplay. But if you liked Until Dawn or Man Of Medan, then you're sure to enjoy this. Just make sure you have those fingers ready to go because some of these QTEs can be deadly.
A PC copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was provided to TheGamer for this review. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.
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