It’s time to head back down into The Depths, with the first of three DLC for Little Nightmares. Read Josh’s review of the main game.
With a really good sequel or DLC addition, a developer commits the edges and contours of its prior work to muscle memory, freeing up headspace to inject new ideas into the formula, spreading butter to the very edge of the crust. With The Depths DLC for Little Nightmares, there is a bittersweet tinge to Tarsier’s efforts.
On one hand, the all-too-brief chapter toys with some of the ideas in the main game fiendishly – introducing a terrifying new foe in the process. On the other, considering its slight frame, it’s easy to come away feeling as if the developer had purposefully held back some ideas which would have greatly elevated and varied the main game had they been included.
You play a new character, dubbed ‘The Runaway Kid’, whose attempt at escaping The Maw is comprised of a three-piece DLC suite – the second instalment, The Hideaway, is scheduled for November, the third, as yet unnamed, for January 2018. The opportunity is there for a sublime side-story à la Resident Evil 4‘s Separate Ways: a parallel path that double-helixes with a well-trodden one, bridging narrative gaps and running a new current through a familiar circuit.
For a time it’s easy to be in thrall to The Depths, imbued as it is with terrific examples of Tarsier’s distinctive artistic vision. It’s all in the details. The Kid’s personality permeates his design, in subtle, visual touches: the faded blue of his top, the manacle clasped round his right ankle, his mop of dirty hair. In place of Six’s zippo lighter and luminous yellow mac, he carries a torch; casting light away from himself, he retreats into the gloom, a smudge in the dark.
That torch is a small revelation as well. By lurching the camera with the right stick, you can swing the beam wherever you’d like, licking into The Maw’s murkiest corners with light. It really comes into its own when cast over the surface of the water – which is the star of the show. Turbid, brown, its opacity conceals spectres both real and imagined. I have a deep-rooted fear of water, and there were moments, adrift and helpless, where the sight of a shadow shifting below the depths sent me into sheer panic. Sometimes there was nothing to it; other times…
The Depths introduces a new foe named ‘The Granny’. Bandai Namco has described her as “a creature abandoned to decay that will let no-one go.” There isn’t a more perfect description of this savage wraith; she embodies everything twisted and chilling about the world Tarsier has wrought. Like the most rarefied of Miyazaki’s designs, fear eventually gives way to residual melancholy, as the apparitions of what once was emerge from the churning horrors of what now stands in their stead.
The Granny is inseparably part of the environment as well, in the same way that the lumbering, leather-faced chefs were in their element in the grimy kitchens, and the Janitor weaved between towering shelves and looming pipes. The Depths explores a different glimpse of The Maw than was in the game proper – this is a partially flooded, industrial pit – and little concession is made to comfort, save for the room of beds you wake up in. It lacks some of the thematic narrative that came before – visions of cannibalistic tourism, of waxy wallpaper and antique furniture – opting instead to explore below, and take on water.
Water fills puzzles with a welcome dimension: more is made of verticality, flooding entire rooms to certain levels and using it to bridge gaps. In a similar fashion to Bioshock 2 – with its sea floor sections outside rapture’s walls – it is with the second outing that the idea of an underwater setting really comes into its own. It’s a shame there wasn’t more made of it in Little Nightmares, as it brings variety to environments and what you’re doing in them, a lack of which blighted the overall experience of the main game.
Not quite a blight, but certainly a blemish, is the muddy frame rate. It sticks to other problems like plaque: try walking across a narrow plank – something already problematic for the game’s wonky depth perception – while hampered with a jarring judder. It wasn’t a problem in the main game, making this a small, irritating step back.
As a concentrated shot of Tarsier’s imagination, The Depths delivers in terms of its play and of expanding The Maw’s terrible breadth; it’s the format that groans. At around half an hour in length, The Depths is a small and meaningful offering. Its price is fair (£3.29) and you may want to consider the season pass (£7.99) for access to all three chapters. It does feel spread thin though: there is variety here that would have benefited Little Nightmares, and stretching this side story over the span of six months means that each morsel will likely keep you as malnourished as Six and The Kid.
Little Nightmares – The Depths
This would have been better as a complete package, with all three chapters sewn together. Considering it’s a plan that Tarsier has had all along – teasing its DLC, as it did, long ago – its merits and additions would be more sating had they been swallowed by The Maw, along with everything else, from day one.