A few years ago, the horror genre of video games hit a brick wall. While the age of streaming games and watching playthroughs has leant the genre a lot of attention in the past decade, it also put the genre in a stagnation during the mid-2010s, with many of the leading titles within the genre not seeking to introduce any fresh ideas or gameplay innovations but to provide cheap scares, with the aim to scare the biggest Twitch streamers into making it the next Five Nights at Freddy’s. One game that played off this trend very uniquely was Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn. Initially starting life as a first-person PlayStation Move game, Until Dawn went on to become an incredibly successful PlayStation 4 exclusive, tasking the player with trying to keep a group of one-note, Jason/Freddy-bait teenagers alive as a slasher invades their overnight getaway.
While no masterpiece, Until Dawn was sincere, it understood the pitfalls of the slasher genre of film and relished in them, something that made the game’s complete over-reliance on jump-scares seem cute in the way that many campy horror films of the 70s and 80s do. It’s for these exact reasons that the second time around, that being The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, the first in the planned 8-part anthology series based on the gameplay style of Until Dawn, the joke was less funny. While Man of Medan certainly wasn’t a disaster, Supermassive’s split with Sony and subsequent partnership with Bandai Namco Entertainment as a more “Double-A” development effort reared its head immediately. That’s why this time with The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, any semblance of humour from Supermassive’s sincere trope-filled endeavours with Until Dawn are gone.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope follows a group of college students who become stranded in the town of Little Hope after the bus they’re travelling in crashes. The game is once again framed by ‘The Curator’, played once again by Pip Torrens who, much like his role in Man of Medan, does a whole lot of nothing other than reminding the player that their actions have consequences. Following this is the usual formula of attempting to keep the characters alive before absolutely everything and its mother try to kill them. Some characters will live, some characters will die, and the mysteries of Little Hope begin to reveal themselves quickly enough (especially because, like Man of Medan, Little Hope only comes in at around 4 hours long).
Little Hope‘s biggest issue is that, while initially feeling like the the most ambitious of Supermassive’s horror efforts yet, the game ultimately fails to live up to the height of its ambition pathetically, instead resulting in a story that thinks it’s deeper than it is. While the first hour of Little Hope offers much to intrigue the player, leaving breadcrumbs to where the plot will twist and turn down the line, the lack of any likeable characters or narrative coherence up until the endings (of which there are multiple), make the 4-hour journey through Little Hope, which never once resembles an actual town, feel the most tedious any of these games have felt yet.
Adding insult to injury with this painfully dull narrative is the cast which, barring guest actor Will Poulter, features nearly unanimously cringe-worthy performances, topped by one of the most amateur-level scripts featured in a horror game this side of Valve’s debunked Steam Greenlight program. While all this is bad enough, the actual “horror” on display here is the worst offender of what is now a trilogy of Supermassive’s jump-scare heavy QuanticDream-like cinematic adventure games. Little Hope‘s attempt at horror is exactly what you have come to expect from Until Dawn and Man of Medan, nothing but jump scares. Even in the earliest moments of the story, when characters are not in any danger whatsoever, the game cuts to random imagery accompanied with loud sounds to try to catch the player off guard in what feels like an utterly pathetic attempt to conjure up any reaction other than a yawn from the players.
In terms of what you’ll actually be doing with the controller this time, it’s much of the same. Choosing dialogue options, making crucial decisions that decide the fates of the cast, partaking in quicktime events, and slowly walking around very dark environments, picking things up, reading them, putting them back. The game can be played multiple times to experience the different choice outcomes and events; however, without spoiling, all of the game’s endings ultimately make the characters’ deaths feel redundant.
What doesn’t help is that, despite The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope‘s painfully simplistic game design, the game never once stops beating the player over the head with button prompts and tutorials. Every time the game switches the perspectives of its characters, it slows down each cutscene and features some text in the lower left corner of the screen with the name of the character. Every single time. This gets especially patronising during action sequences when the tension is raised, bringing the game to a screeching halt for something that could have been easily communicated through good cutscene direction, another thing Little Hope utterly fails at. The framing of cutscenes is laughable at points, with many hideous close-ups towards the game’s unattractive character models, strange camera framing, and unnecessary shots. In a gaming genre so commonly dubbed “interactive drama,” one would imagine that the team would take some inspiration from the language of film as others in its genre, such as Life Is Strange and even Detroit: Become Human have in the past.
On the topic of the game’s unattractive character models, while the game’s characters look and animate rather unflatteringly, the game itself does manage to impress visually at times. It runs at a near constant 60 frames-per-second on the PlayStation 4 Pro, a rarity for Unreal Engine 4 games in its style, and environments are lit and detailed quite impressively. Again though, none of the characters’ interactions look flattering in the slightest, and much of the game’s horror can come from just how uncanny the character models can look in the wrong lighting.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is yet another dull, uninspired horror adventure game outing from Supermassive Games, leaving nothing but bad implications for the rest of the studio’s Dark Pictures yet to come. While the team clearly tried to tell a story more ambitious than the previous two titles, its endings make much of the adventure through Little Hope feel redundant, not to even mention the shoddy writing, poor acting, and incoherent storytelling framing it all.
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publishers: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 30th October 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was supplied by the publisher.