Abandoned and all alone, 4 college students and their teacher become stranded in an isolated town miles from anywhere after their bus crashes in bad weather. Trapped by a mysterious fog in the town of Little Hope, they search desperately for a means of escape whilst visions from the past haunt them from the shadows.
Title: The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope | Developer: Supermassive Games | Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment | Release Date: 10/30/2020 | Genre: Horror | Platform: Xbox One | Source: Purchased | Starred Review
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope Review
I adored 2015’s Until Dawn, one of the best horror experiences in a video game I had had in years. The announcement that the team behind it, Supermassive Games, was launching a series of shorter horror experiences called The Dark Pictures Anthology was a welcome one. The first in the series, Man of Medan, launched in 2019 and it was…fine. It was the first game I played after my second kid was born so I think I was just excited to play any video game. It was about a bunch of rich kids who end up on a haunted ship and while it had its moments, it didn’t completely come together for me. Just over a year later and we have the second installment in the series – Little Hope. I do feel like it’s a stronger entry in the series but overall it’s…fine.
Little Hope works hard to fill the Silent Hill shaped hole in my heart. Tell me if this sounds familiar. A group of people find themselves in an abandoned small town shrouded in fog that contains twisted mutant monster creatures who chase them around. The comparisons certainly don’t end there but it involves heavy story spoilers so I’ll hold back. It doesn’t hit the highs of Silent Hill, but I was certainly excited to get something that’s even tangentially connected.
The opening hour of Little Hope is very strong. After an intense opening scene culminating in a house fire and a ridiculous amount of death, we are introduced to our core group of five lead characters. Three are young college students, there’s a mature student and a professor. The bus they are on crashes when the driver swerves to avoid a little girl in the middle of the road, which is also Silent Hill as fuuuuuuck. The driver vanishes and the group starts heading towards the nearby town of Little Hope, a small town that was abandoned when its main factory closed down. There is also a disturbing history of witch trials that play a key role in the modern day story. The main story is about unravelling the mysteries around this town and just what in the hell is going on.
Anyone who has played Until Dawn or Man of Medan will be instantly familiar with the gameplay of Little Hope. Its narrative focused, with the majority of the game play being walking, quick-time events and making decisions that guide the story. The latter is the big factor as the decisions you are making can drastically control the narrative. Any of the main characters in the game can die and what seem like innocuous choices can have severe consequences. This idea brings a lot of tension to the game since you know even the smallest decision can have huge effects and the game saves immediately after each choice you make so there’s no way to backpedal. My issue is that it’s not always clear and it can feel more luck based than anything.
Sometimes the outcome is very clear. The game keeps track of how strong the relationships are between characters so if you have a choice between telling someone “I like your idea!” or “Why don’t you go fuck your own face?” you have a good sense of how those conversations might differ. Sometimes though it’s a choice of running to the left or running to the right with no indicator of what may happen afterward. It does create added stress not knowing but not the good kind. I prefer the tension of knowing the risks involved with each of my choices rather than waiting for the game to tell me “ooooo you went left? The left means ghost murder. Had you went right you would have survived a ghost attack AND gotten a lollipop. That’s tooooo bad.”
Small decisions you make early in the game can also affect things way later which is a cool idea but a wee bit irritating in practice. I had almost made it to the end of the game with all of the main characters alive when suddenly one was killed in a way that I had no control over. I looked it up after only to discover it was the result of decisions I made at the very start of the game that made complete sense in the moment. I appreciate that this makes good on the promise on the whole butterfly effect thing, but it also feels like a trick to get you to play the whole game again. I appreciate replay value but I have two children! Two of them! I ain’t got time to play your game again man!
The other big part of the game is the quick time events where you have to press a button or perform an action quickly to ensure a character makes it through the sequence safely. These are mostly used in the scenes where one of the creatures, who are pursuing the characters the whole game, attacks you. The first few times this happened it was very effective. The creature designs are fantastic and I was always on edge in the early hours that one of these twisted fuckers was going to pop out and grab me. Knowing that one wrong button may result in someone dying only added to the experience. In the final act though, these creature attack sequences are far too frequent and I started dreading them out of annoyance rather than fear.
While the pieces of the game than rely on dread and tension are usually effective, there is unfortunately an over reliance on jump scares. Whenever there is a flashback sequence (and there are many), it is introduced by a ghost lady grabbing your arm and screaming directly in front of the screen. The first time this happened I actually yelled. The second time it happened I jumped a little. The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth times I had a stone face and wished this screamy ghost would back the fuck up and stop yelling in my god damn face all the time.
That’s a lot of negatives so you’re probably wondering how this is a starred review. It’s on the cusp but I should say that I did overall enjoy the experience. The setting of Little Hope is well realized and you get to explore a variety of locations. The performances are good across the board, particularly from Will Poulter in the lead. Each actor has to play several different characters and they do a good job making each of them unique. The story is interesting and I played through the game in two sittings (about four hours total) because I was eager to see how everything wrapped up. There’s also of course a lot of incentive to play through it multiple times to see the different branches the story can take.
After two installments, The Dark Picture Anthologies has not yet hit the high of Until Dawn but it’s steadily getting there. With at least one more entry, House of Ashes, planned for later this year, I’m still very much on board for playing through one of these every year.