The creators of Until Dawn return with another multiplayer horror game featuring witches, time travel, and a lot of arguing.
Usually at this time of year we complain about how there are no new survival horror games to celebrate Halloween with. But there’s been two this year, with this and the recent Amnesia: Rebirth, and we imagine The Medium and Scorn were originally intended to be out this month too. Together with Resident Evil Village and the ongoing rumours of a new Silent Hill and/or Hideo Kojima game the world of survival horror is surprisingly healthy right now. Or it would be if either of this month’s two games were any good.
Little Hope is the second entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology series, from Supermassive Games – creators of PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn. If you’ve played that game you’ll instantly know how this works, as it’s basically the same mixture of third person exploration, QTE sequences, simple dialogue options, and PG-13 levels of horror.
Put like that it’s not a very appealing sounding mixture but the graphics and facial animation in the games are amongst the best of the current generation, and unfairly underrated. Plus, The Dark Pictures games have a great gimmick where you can play them with one or more people, each player taking the role of a different in-game character. That has huge potential well beyond just horror games but, once again, it feels largely wasted in the context of The Dark Pictures.
We almost hesitate to call the Dark Pictures games horror titles at all. They’re certainly not scary, even though they’re clearly trying to be, and it would be easier to turn them into Twilight Zone style weird tales then it would a proper horror narrative.
The earlier Man Of Medan centred around a ghost ship that was less than meets the eye and which not even the most nervous of souls could possibly find frightening. The story was a based on an existing urban legend, the game’s explanation for which was extremely unsatisfying, but Little Hope has a more complex and interesting set-up.
It’s inspired by the history of New England witch trials but opens with a modern day bus crash involving a handful of students and their professor, before flashing back in time to show what seems to be the same people in the 70s being menaced by a creepy little girl who appears to have a demonic invisible friend.
The story eventually flashes back even further, to the 17th century, where again everyone looks the same but appear to be different people. There’s a lot of obvious cliché weaved in amongst it, such as the spooky fog that after walking into it you end up right back where you started, but it is a more intriguing set-up than the first game, in that you genuinely don’t know what’s going on at first.
Whether you care to find out is a different question though as the game’s line-up of characters is hard to engage with, even when you’re pulling their strings. The lack of likeable characters was also a problem in Man Of Medan, but much less so in Until Dawn, which suggests that somehow Supermassive is getting worse with each game. That includes the writing, which in Little Hope is filled with banal observations and eye-rolling quips about how everything feels like a horror movie.
None of the characters seem to like each other, even though two of them are supposed to be romantically involved and another two old acquaintances, and none has a strong enough personality to make the constant arguments interesting. Once again there’s no real jokes, and barely any attempts at them, which means for the majority of the game you’re just slowly traipsing around in the dark, looking for some mundane plot element like a lost phone, and waiting for something scary to happen.
As in the last game you’re able to select dialogue choices which emphasise a particular attitude, such as being sarcastic or sympathetic. Your relationship with whoever you’re talking to is then altered as a result, and your own personality traits are likewise adjusted. This does change the way characters behave when you’re not in control of them, but it feels vague and unimportant. Having a stream of adjectives flashing up on screen every time you choose something is all well and good but it doesn’t feel like you’re making a difference, not in the same way as a game like Life Is Strange.
The multiplayer options are largely the same as before and are a fantastic idea that really could revolutionise story-based video games… if they were ever used in a story anyone cared about. You can play with one other player in something like traditional co-op – where each sees the same game from the perspective of a different character – but there’s also another mode where you pass the controller round a larger group.
Again, this seems like a great idea, but it needs to be matched with an Evil Dead style shlocky horror experience, where everyone can laugh and shout at the screen. By comparison Little Hope is far too stuffy and dull to expect anything like that reaction.
That said, the horror aspect is a little more pronounced than Man Of Medan, as you’re occasionally set upon by monsters, although the QTEs that were previously criticised for being too hard are now so easy they’re almost trivial. By the end of our first game all of the main characters had survived, without us much caring whether they did or not – as opposed to previous games where we were genuinely trying to help them and lots of them died anyway.
Unlike Man Of Medan, there are some interesting ideas at play here, but neither that or the excellent presentation can save a game that often seems barely interactive and curiously desperate to offer up the least interesting resolution to each situation. The Dark Pictures provides a canvas for Supermassive to make the perfect horror video game but Little Hope isn’t horrific or horrible, it’s just bland and boring and that’s a real shame.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope review summary
In Short: The least interesting use of the Until Dawn formula so far, with a tedious tale of 17th century witchcraft that fails to either scare or entertain.
Pros: The graphics and presentation are excellent and the multiplayer options are potentially groundbreaking, if only they’d be matched with the right game.
Cons: Thoroughly unlikeable and uninteresting cast of characters, with no real scares and far too much downtime. Weak script, overly easy QTEs, and too little influence on the story outcome.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: 30th October 2020
Age Rating: 16
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