By DEV CROWLEY
When The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan was released last year, people were really excited. Until Dawn was a raging success and boosted a genre of horror survival that had previously been ignored. While there was an abundance of technical issues, the story was strong, mysterious, and had a tinge of realism as it was based on a real ship. The anthology is back now with a new cast, a new story, and some improved game mechanics in THE DARK PICTURES ANTHOLOGY: LITTLE HOPE.
This series of horror games is being developed by Supermassive Games and published by Bandai Namco. While the first was a lesson in maritime murder and mystery, this time around, the series is dipping its toes into witchcraft and small-town evils. LITTLE HOPE follows four students and their professor on a bus trip. In the middle of the night on the way to their destination, the bus driver runs across a police blockade due to a wreck ahead. There is a small detour through Little Hope and the driver hesitantly agrees. Not long after, a heavy fog rolls in and the driver swerves to avoid hitting something in the middle of the road, crashing the bus. All five of the passengers are ok (albeit a little banged up) and the bus driver is missing.
The only way out of the fog seems to be through a small, empty town called Little Hope which has a history rich in death since 1692, when its people took part in witchcraft accusations and executions. In the present day, as the students and professor make their way through the town, they keep having visions of a past witch trial which involved people who look exactly like them. They must unravel the story of what happened to their dopplegangers while working to figure out what is happening to them in the town of Little Hope and try to get out alive. The main players in this game of horrors are Andrea (Will Poulter), Taylor (Caitlyn Sponheimer), Daniel (Kyle Bailey), Angela (Ellen David) and John (Alex Ivanovici).
The story itself differs a lot of from its predecessors in more ways than just the setting. While Man of Medan leaned in heavy with jump scares and easy gets, LITTLE HOPE is more of a slow burn: focusing more on the disturbing nature of the story and its environment. In terms of game mechanics, there are some big improvements, the most noticeable of which is quick-time events. The QTEs in Man of Medan were a nightmare for anyone with the slightest case of directional dyslexia and, personally, I can’t tell you how many of my characters died because the margin for error was non-existent. You couldn’t blink too many times lest one of your characters hit a QTE suddenly and then die. In LITTLE HOPE, there has been a massive improvement; Before a QTE, there will be a small notification that one is coming, and that little detail gives people a couple of extra seconds that make all the difference.
During your journey through Little Hope, you will play as every character, as you did in Man of Medan, and much like that game, the character movement sucks. You feel as if you are walking through hard set pudding and even the fast walk wouldn’t be enough to pass an old person in a mall. The camera angles range between static and moveable and, although all are fairly cinematic, not all are very functional. Some of the tension is lost when you are walking around like a drunk frat boy at a party every time the angle changes. There are lots of lighting bugs and the scenes don’t always line up, making for some continuity issues which can jolt you out of the narrative slightly.
On a more positive note, the environments look awesome. They’re reminiscent of a lot of old Silent Hill games with the thick fog that creates a linear experience, but doesn’t feel as such because the fog adds so much character. There is a ghost town feeling as the forest seems to creep right to the edges of town and fog fills every corner. There is also a blatant homage to The Blair Witch Project, and it’s not done in a hokey manner, which is appreciated.
The motion capture is great, but every character has dead eyes and that is easily one of the game’s most frightening elements. The voice acting is on point (Poulter, especially, does a phenomenal job) and the story really does create a lot of tension, as something is always about to happen. A slow build and a dark story will always win over jump scares, every time. The game also features the return of the Curator (Pip Torrens) to give up small hints along the way and guide us through the story. This is a great story to play with friends to feel the consequences of another’s actions. Also included is the “Curator’s Cut” which offers new scenes, different consequences, and the ability to see the story from a different perspective. This mode helps increase the replayability quite a bit.
Overall, THE DARK PICTURES ANTHOLOGY: LITTLE HOPE is a step above Man of Medan in story structure and improved gameplay mechanics, and tucks itself nicely into the anthology series. There’s hope that with the release of the upcoming House Of Ashes in 2021, some of the series’ strange angles and difficult movements will be further improved upon. We look forward to seeing what subject they touch on for their next story, which is said to star Ashley Tisdale.
You can play THE DARK PICTURES ANTHOLOGY: LITTLE HOPE starting October 30th on PS4, Xbox One and Windows for $29.99. Review code provided by the publisher.