The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope provides me somewhat hope for the way forward for Supermassive Games’ horror sequence. Some sensible gameplay tweaks make sure that Little Hope nonetheless highlights Supermassive’s important function within the fashionable journey house, however it additionally highlights why the studio’s future video games should be higher than this for these sensible modifications to actually shine.
Little Hope, like its instant predecessor Man of Medan, is a mashup of horror tropes and subgenres. It borrows iconography from The Blair Witch Project. It borrows its Puritan-era paranoia from The Witch (and Arthur Miller’s non-horror play The Crucible). And its conceit, which finds a gaggle of faculty college students and their professor stranded within the woods after their bus crashes, hangs on a premise that might be acquainted for followers of Stephen King’s The Mist or John Carpenter’s The Fog. As the sport progressed, I grew to become more and more skeptical that these threads would come collectively in a satisfying method. In the top, they do not, however I nonetheless had fun on the journey to that disappointing conclusion.
Little Hope begins with a flashback to the 1970s and a short introduction to a troubled household of six. Dad is a heavy drinker. The older sister feels remoted and depressed. And, in a touch on the non secular warfare that can dominate a lot of Little Hope’s second half, the youthful sister has been held again repeatedly after church to talk with the reverend. These glowing embers of drama quickly blaze up right into a literal raging fireplace when the youthful sister leaves her doll on the stovetop. In the following blaze, each member of the household meets their grisly demise, save Will Poulter’s Anthony, who helplessly watches on.
Our focus quickly shifts to a different group–a professor, John, and 4 college students, Andrew, Angela, Taylor, and Daniel–who try to regain their bearings after a bus crash leaves them stranded within the woods. The bus driver liable for the crash is lacking, and the field-tripping group finds themselves surrounded by a mysterious fog that sends anybody who ventures into it again within the path they got here. Each member of this group is a lifeless ringer for a member of the household from the sport’s opening. And, because the group ventures into the deserted city of Little Hope, they start to have visions of earlier doppelgangers, former inhabitants of the city caught up within the deadly paranoia of 17th-century witch trials.
Despite the sprawling solid, you solely management the present-day variations of the characters. As you do, you make dialogue choices by pointing the needle of a compass at considered one of two spoken choices or the ever-present possibility to only be silent. Your decisions have an effect on the dynamics of character relationships and likewise trigger modifications to their character traits.
As this story unfolds, it turns into more and more clear that Little Hope’s time-hopping ambitions impede its potential to do a lot profitable character work within the right here and now. I’ve solely imprecise concepts of who John, Angela, Taylor, Daniel, and Andrew are. In earlier video games, Supermassive has offered characters as well-acted archetypes, then allowed gamers to additional outline their personalities inside these boundaries–playing to or towards sort. Here, the kinds are so ill-defined that it turns into tough to even have an opinion on what every character would or would not do. In a bonus unlockable interview with Will Poulter, the actor described his character as socially awkward. “I guess he was socially awkward,” I assumed. But, as I assumed again by way of the sport, I noticed that impression got here from a line the place his character, in impact, instructed one other character that he was socially awkward. There is not practically sufficient within the moment-to-moment character interactions to floor these particulars. As a consequence, Little Hope’s central solid do not feel like three-dimensional characters. Some of them aren’t even profitable archetypes.
As you discover, you management your character’s motion and flashlight beam because the digital camera frames them in old-school Resident Evil-style angles. This is considered one of my favourite quirks of Supermassive design; it is one of many few studios in fashionable mainstream video games carrying the torch for fastened digital camera horror. But the truth that a lot of Little Hope takes place on a lonely street implies that Supermassive does not have as a lot room to mess around with standpoint. Most of the time, Little Hope employs what quantities to a barely zoomed out third-person perspective, which appears like a missed alternative given Supermassive’s expertise for shot composition.
There are some optimistic modifications, although. Little Hope appears way more technically sound than Man of Medan, and the story handles Supermassive’s trademark branching paths extra easily than ever in consequence. While Man of Medan noticeably hitched at occasions because it tried to deliver the whole lot collectively and, presumably, cycle between completely different variations of cutscenes relying on which members of your social gathering have been nonetheless alive, Little Hope feels prefer it’s telling one seamless story. Little Hope genuinely nails the sensation that the whole lot that’s occurring is authored. For instance, in a single scene that might play out with burgeoning couple Taylor and Daniel alone or with the pair accompanied by older nontraditional scholar Angela, Daniel says one thing to the impact of, “We’ll both get out of this, you’ll see.” It works as is when it is Daniel and Taylor alone. But it turns into a character-building second when Angela is current and, excluded from Daniel’s “both,” pointedly clears her throat. In this manner, Little Hope manages to make use of the constraints inherent to its versatile narrative to do some good character work, even when that work is squandered of their total improvement.
Additionally, the QTEs that outline Supermassive’s adrenaline-pumping method to life-or-death motion are at their greatest right here. Instead of simply popping up randomly, the timed button presses now seem first as a warning–smartly positioned on-screen to reflect the location of the button on the controller–before you’re required to press them. This does not take away the strain, however it does provide you with a greater likelihood of succeeding with out first spending a number of playthroughs studying the timing.
The Traits system, nevertheless, pushes the opposite path. As you make choices, the character traits, like “Fearful” or “Reckless,” are accentuated. If you make sufficient choices leaning in a single path, a padlock image will seem subsequent to that trait in your character profile, indicating that that trait is now an unchangeable a part of your character. I can clarify it now, however it took me two full playthroughs to grasp how this method works as a result of none of that is defined upfront. This system, which is opaque and never tutorialized, has main penalties late within the sport. But as you play, no context is given for the lock showing subsequent to the trait, and it is immensely irritating to see a personality’s destiny tied to a system the sport did not clarify. Tying character traits to a personality’s destiny could make narrative sense, however it’s offered in such a murky method that it ends in sure late-game character deaths that really feel fully out of your palms. While the UI has been improved to its greatest iteration in Little Hope, the Traits system ensures that shepherding your characters by way of the sport remains to be a irritating five-hour-long train in trial-and-error.
Still, regardless of its faults, Little Hope can not help however remind me of the explanations I like Supermassive’s tackle the fashionable narrative journey sport. The studio is masterful at producing rigidity by way of gameplay so simple as a well-timed button press, and Little Hope is a high-water mark for the studio’s technical proficiency. While the story and character work are uncharacteristically lackluster, Little Hope nonetheless manages to supply a strong basis for Supermassive’s future.