The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One and PC
Until Dawn by Supermassive Games was an incredibly compelling horror title that hinged on decision-making, quick reflexes and their consequences. Where you got to discover the painful truth that every time you yell at a horror character for being an idiot, you would probably be that idiot.
Supermassive followed up Until Dawn with Man of Medan, the first instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology; a series of shorter, disconnected horror stories built around the same style of play. This follow-up made some tweaks to the gameplay mechanics, greatly improving the ‘don’t move’ mini-game, and added a very interesting and entertaining co-op mode.
Man of Medan did have its issues, though. The game environments were too restrictive to move around comfortably, the camera choices often caused more intrusion than clarity, and the story hinged on a twist that was easy to predict less than halfway through. The latest instalment. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope manages to fix every issue with Man of Medan quite comfortably.
The intricacies of Little Hope’s story should be discovered while playing so I will be very vague about things such as plot. All I will say is that the present-day story begins with a bus crash that has five passengers stranded in Little Hope, a town with plenty of grisly secrets buried in the past.
The game deals with the witch trials that plagued America in the 17th Century and the way Little Hope tackles the subject is one of the more intriguing, unique spins on the concept without being disrespectful to the real victims of these abhorrent trials. It is a story full of twists and turns, always managing to stay just far enough ahead that you are continually surprised but not so far as to make the story indecipherable. This is a brilliantly structured story, the ways it conveys information to you may well be a series of info-dumps but they feel dynamic and cinematic, it is always exciting to unearth new revelations and toy with new theories. The momentum of the story builds incredibly effectively too, as things seemingly become more and more clear the revelations ramp up and the level of danger amplifies with it. Until Dawn built in a steady incline towards the chaotic finale while Man of Medan’s story plateaued at several points before abruptly hitting its conclusion, Little Hope is by far the best work Supermassive have done as storytellers.
Aiding that storytelling is a much more cinematic visual style compared to Man of Medan, the scenes in this game are more evocatively lit and framed with a greater eye for the mise en scene. The cast, headlined by Midsommar’s Will Poulter, are also top quality ensuring every major beat they take us on feels believable. Without them, the scares would not work nearly as well.
And there are plenty of scares to be found in Little Hope.
The game builds up the intensity of the frights, wearing your nerves down slowly to start before increasing the intensity when you are suitably positioned to be rattled. It employs some of the best jump-scares I have seen in a game but it also has a few other tools at its disposal. The threat that introduces itself, and the surprising ways the characters are tied to it, creates an atmosphere of overwhelming doom. The sound design used to surround you as you make your way through thick fog or pitch-black woods is incredibly unnerving, recalling the best moments of tension building from Until Dawn. That inescapable feeling of dread is enhanced by the way the game disorients the player; whatever evil resides in Little Hope has no intention of letting these characters go, characters will find themselves somehow doubling back on themselves, much like the characters in The Blair Witch Project. Even if you can outrun the danger, is it even possible to escape it? It all coheres together to make the player feel, well, little hope.
The core gameplay mechanics are designed to complement the scares. A major complaint levelled at Man of Medan was that it relied too heavily on quick time events that were sprung on the player, sometimes unfairly, and characters would die as a result. Little Hope remedied that extremely well, giving visual alerts whenever a QTE is coming, and making more crucial moments centred around decision-making rather than just reflexes. Yet, reflexes will still matter. At first, the game quite calmly introduces you to the QTE alerts, it feels almost too easy and there is the initial worry that the developers had taken away the game’s edge. Not so much. As things start to spiral out of control, the button prompts become faster and more frequent, getting more difficult with every escalating scenario. Eventually, those alerts trigger a panic in you and it can be all too easy to hit the wrong button. In Man of Medan, you might make a mistake because the QTE shows up out of nowhere, in Little Hope you will make a mistake because the game got under your skin. Supermassive put a lot of thought into how this small but noticeable change would alter the flow of the game and managed to make it work to their advantage.
Much like with their previous two titles, Supermassive put a lot of focus into branching storylines, offering numerous variables within a play-through so no two first time plays will be quite the same. Seemingly innocuous choices could have horrifying repercussions, you won’t know until it is too late. This opens the game up to many repeat plays, the story remains engaging enough that knowing the twists will not hurt replays, rather they will bring a fresh perspective to your experiences.
Co-op play is once again available for Little Hope but it will play differently to its predecessor. The thing with Man of Medan was it felt like the only real way to play was through co-op, the games central gimmick depended on two unique perspectives to the same events. Little Hope, comparatively, thrives as a single-player experience. The co-op mode will provide additional scenes and new perspectives on existing scenes but it will enhance the main story instead of being the main story. A solo play of Little Hope will offer you a full and satisfying horror experience, you will not feel like you are missing out on something by playing alone.
Little Hope feels far closer to the Until Dawn experience than Man of Medan did, a true horror movie experience transferred to your video game, while still maintaining enough of the good ideas introduced in the first Dark Pictures title and improving them. It is a sign of a developer finding their feet with a new horror IP and refining their signature playstyle; the future is looking very promising (and terrifying) for The Dark Pictures Anthology.