The second in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures Anthology, Little Hope, is here. Can we hope for an improvement on last year’s opener, Man of Medan?
Back in 2015, Supermassive Games unveiled one of the best horrors of the entire generation. While a lot of big names had tried their hand at the moral-choice-focused narrative adventure game, very few made it work quite like Until Dawn. From preventing two teenage heartthrobs from fraternising while a killer is on the loose to opting to run for the hills at the sight of a monster, it finally made shouting at cheesy horror B-movies an interactive experience.
Unfortunately, it seems Supermassive has since struggled to rekindle that same flame. Hidden Agenda was a let-down despite its innovative mobile focus and, to quote Tom, Man of Medan “rarely reaches the heights of its stablemate.” Unfortunately, the newest game in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures Anthology, Little Hope, does little to relight that fire.
Similar to Man of Medan, it’s never that Little Hope is a terrible experience. On a gameplay front, it’s actually the smoothest and most technically proficient take on Supermassive’s formula yet. Exploring is less awkward thanks to tighter camera controls, QTEs are better telegraphed, and there’s now a prompt that signals what interaction will move you onto a new scene. The latter is actually incredibly handy, especially if, like me, you feel instant regret for not awkwardly rotating every object in a given area.
But let’s be honest. Supermassive’s games have never been about the mechanics. When it comes to story and structure, Little Hope has some major issues.
As teased in the credits of Man of Medan, the crux of the anthology sequel centres around a group of college students stranded in the titular abandoned town of Little Hope following a bus crash. Shaken up but alive, the group decide to seek out help and their missing bus driver, who disappeared after the accident. It soon becomes clear that Little Hope isn’t your average town, however, with a layer of Silent-Hill-esque mist preventing the group from escaping and demonic entities stalking them through the streets.
On paper, Little Hope plays around with a lot of intriguing ideas. The opening prologue lands flush in all the right ways, offering some surprisingly brutal deaths and a fascinating mystery that I was still struggling to solve by the final bombshell of a reveal. Meanwhile, the group of young survivors discover that a series of late 17th-century witch trials (which players jump to through flashback sequences) are key to the ghoulish creatures pursuing them, making for some solid era-hopping scares.
But, outside of its fun premise, Little Hope struggles to keep its narrative compelling. Much like Man of Medan’s obsession with lore-filled corridors, you’ll spend longer listening to dialogue while navigating long stretches of road in Little Hope than you will actually running from spooky monsters. Most set pieces in the game are strung together by these plot-heavy traversal sections, as the player is beaten over the head with aggressive exposition and repetitive flashback sequences.
For the most part, it seems Little Hope’s four-hour runtime is to blame for these issues. While Until Dawn’s story also featured quite a dense plot, it had 8-10 hours to tell it. Little Hope attempts to be just as detailed through a campaign half its length. It means every big reveal feels rushed, every exposition scene is overloaded with dialogue, and every chase sequence is far too brief. A shorter runtime is far from an issue; in truth, I love the idea of several smaller Until Dawn-type experiences. But Supermassive needs to consider stripping back the scale of its stories if it wants to get the most out of its anthology-style format.
Little Hope’s frequent pacing issues would also be far more forgivable if the game’s protagonists were a relatable bunch. While the cast itself are strong (Will Poulter of Midsommar and Mazerunner fame is a particular standout) the cheesy lines they deliver aren’t. For one, characters run through lengthy revelations hours after the player figures them out naturally, and have an unintentionally hilarious fixation on stating the obvious at all times. Even when they’re not spending minutes describing the simplest of situations, they’re one-dimensional and under-developed. None of their conflicts are explored, no matter how hard you may try through various dialogue options, while the dynamics they have between each other never quite click.
On top of that, Supermassive’s seminal moral choices feel basic and inconsequential here. No matter how much Little Hope’s insufferable narrator preaches about the butterfly effect or other thinly veiled ways of saying “Will Poulter will remember that,” it often feels like the game is robbing you of any agency. Even when it does put you in a life or death moral dilemma, the right solution is often so easily decipherable that you’ll only get a bad outcome if you’re really trying.
But, all that being said, Little Hope does still have its moments. When the game finally gets to its action-packed set pieces, they’re filled with superb monster designs and thrilling chases. The visuals are gorgeous, with environments and facial animations (despite some occasional awkwardness) looking utterly stunning. And, above all else, its story can hit some good notes when it’s not hampered by its structural issues.
At the end of the day, if you like Supermassive’s moral choice formula, this a stronger take on the format than Man of Medan was last year. Its gameplay is better than ever and, when its firing on all cylinders, there’s some creepy scares and an overarching story that consistently keeps you guessing.
But that still doesn’t prevent what’s here being bogged down by frustrating exposition, poor pacing, dull characters and terrible dialogue. In the end, it seems the cracks in The Dark Pictures Anthology’s episodic format are beginning to show. As the studio looks towards House of Ashes – the seemingly Ashley Tisdale -ed follow-up coming next year – Supermassive should consider scaling down its scope and ensuring its creepy shorts are as engaging as their solid premises set them up to be.
Game: The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: October 30, 2020