‘Twas a dark and stormy night…. No really, it was, the wind was hollowing and the rain was lashing against the windows as I sat down to play the latest instalment in Supermassive’s The Dark Pictures Anthology. With the lights turned off, the surround sound on, and a friend on hand to play the game in Movie Night mode, I had the perfect conditions to enjoy a spooky story.
This time we are heading in to a dark forest, home to the town of Little Hope, a seemingly abandoned settlement with a dark past. A bus accident leaves a college professor and his four students stranded on the dark road in to town, the mist swirling and forcing them forward. It’s a classic horror setting very much like Silent Hill, but with a good dollop of The Blair Witch Project and Cabin in the Woods thrown in for good measure. I don’t want to spoil any of the story but suffice to say swatting up on the Salem Witch Trials may help – Season One of the ‘Unobscured’ podcast is a good listen.
The characters you get to control are Taylor (Caitlyn Sponheimer), Daniel (Kyle Bailey), Angela (Ellen David), professor John (Alex Ivanovici), and Hollywood star Will Poulter as Andrew. I found the Man of Medan cast were an annoying bunch and quite hard to relate to, and although the Little Hope team have their quirks and rough edges, they mostly act like normal, likeable human beings and you will be rooting for all of them to survive.
Ahead of them lie.. things. Honestly, as with most horror games or movies, it’s really best if you go in to the game not knowing anything about it, and thankfully the trailers don’t spoil the plot and there’s a really good twist at the end which, unlike in Medan, I did not see coming.
There are plenty of jump scares and things going bump in the night, and once again the sound design is excellent with creaks and howls putting the player on edge. The Movie Night mode works particularly well; having a friend to talk to and unravel the mystery together is a brilliant idea, but if you don’t have a chum to sit next to you on the sofa and enjoy the scares you can also play online.
When I reviewed Man of Medan I had a number of criticism, one of which was the ponderous slow start to the story, something Little Hope quickly rectifies with shadowy figures and a lot of gory deaths. In fact, Little Hope improves on Man of Medan in almost every aspect. It is paced better, the frame rate is more stable on PS4 Pro and the annoying loading screens that broke the tension in the first game are almost non existent. The writing could still do with a little more tweaking – our five protagonists still accept that something supernatural is going far too readily – but this time they do acknowledge horror movie tropes. When John suggests the team split up Taylor is quick to point out that never ends well in films.
Nothing much has changed in terms of how you actually play, though. There’s a lot of walking about with a flashlight exploring forests and decaying buildings, all the time picking up clues as to what is going on. As before, pictures and postcards can give you premonitions, glimpses of dangers that may lay ahead, and quick time events return for the action sequences, as do sections where you hide and have to tap a button in time with your heart rate. These are much more forgiving than the first game and are less likely to an instant death.
Also returning is Pip Torrens, the mysterious Curator who critiques your progress and may offer a hint by way of a line from a famous book. As the game progresses we get to learn a little more about him with clues about who he is – I have a feeling there will be a big reveal when the anthology ends. Torrens plays him with delicious gusto, a raised eyebrow or a sly smile hinting as to what is to come, and he’s easily one my favourite characters to be found in a video game. Keep an eye out the very first time you meet him as there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss it tease of the next two games in the anthology.
Little Hope is a stunningly good looking game, bordering on photorealistic at times. The graphical fidelity, obscure camera angles, and anamorphic format place your right in the middle of a horror movie. That said it’s not an out-and-out fright fest. It’s very much on the Nightmare on Elm Street end of the spectrum with jump scares and gore, but you end up having a good giggle straight after rather than constantly being on edge and checking behind the sofa for ghosts every five minutes.
A play through lasts around seven hours, so long enough to split over two evenings. As before, you can play with a friend online or go it alone if you are feeling brave. There are a lot of collectables and secrets to discover on repeated plays, as I barely found a fifth of them on my first go and thought I was being thorough. You’re also going to need multiple plays through to uncover the full story, and you’ll get a different experience once you’re armed with the knowledge of what is going on. You also unlock the Curator’s cut after your first completion, giving you a slightly different version of the story with new scenes.