Back in 2015, one of the best games I’ve ever played was released. No, I’m not talking about The Witcher III, Bloodborne or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I’m actually referring to Supermassive Games’ surprise hit, Until Dawn: The new IP that ended up being my resounding Game of the Year once that 12 month calendar came to a close.
For those who are unfamiliar with the game and its interesting format: Until Dawn was a cinematic horror experience, which tasked players with keeping several different characters alive. Using a choose-your-own-adventure format, it presented players with important choices, dilemmas and pulse pounding quicktime events that were designed to make each play through unique. While one’s goal was to do as best as possible, the ultimate conclusion was seeing everyone emerge from that dangerous mountain alive. It wasn’t easy, though, because every choice and button-based event had an impact on how things played out, thanks to the butterfly effect.
That masterpiece of interactive entertainment was also notable for starring actual real-life actors, like Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Night at the Museum) and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes). Their likenesses were impeccably captured, and their acting made things both believable and more immersive.
At the time I was slightly worried that Until Dawn would end up being a one off, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s inspired other games, yes, but has also continued through a spiritual successor called The Dark Pictures Anthology. This series of several planned titles has yet to conclude, and has so far seen the release of two separate cinematic titles: Man of Medan and now Little Hope.
As the series’ name suggests, none of these experiences share the same story. It’s true of Man of Medan — which took place aboard a ghost ship in the South Pacific — and now Little Hope, and will continue to be true when House of Ashes releases next year. They do share one character, though he’s not part of the actual story. He’s the Curator, and he talks to the players during intermissions, offering spooky insights and potential clues.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope stars actor Will Poulter in its title role. Its story begins in the early 1970s, where an unexpected house fire marks the end of several members of a tumultuous family. It needn’t have been that way, though, because from the looks of things the fire was caused by some otherworldly evil spirit. Or was it?
Afterwards, the true meat of the game begins. It’s at this point where a middle aged bus driver is stopped by police, who tell him that the road ahead is unusable for the time being. As such, traffic is being redirected through rural Little Hope, where that aforementioned fire took place. The driver begrudgingly accepts, but says he’s worried that he won’t be able to get his passengers — four college students of varying ages, and their studious professor — to where they need to be. By the designated time, that is.
When the bus inevitably crashes — following the sight of a ghost in the road — the four students and their professor wake up dazed, slightly injured and potentially concussed. When they do, they discover that the driver is nowhere to be found, forcing them to head out in search of his whereabouts despite the fact that the bus is on its side. This sends them into the nightmarish former town of Little Hope, which was unincorporated after losing at least one factory. Now a ghost town, it resembles Silent Hill in numerous ways; something which is added to by the fact that a dense fog permeates throughout it. It’s the type of condensation that is only found in horror movies and video games, because whenever someone walks into it they get turned around and end up back in the same place they started.
The next several hours are spent alternating between these five characters, all of whom have their own personal strengths and weaknesses. By this, I mean their personality traits, as opposed to something like super strength or the ability to find secret items. Like its predecessor, Little Hope is a narrative-based game, and one that doesn’t include much in the way of combat or alternative gameplay. It’s driven by quicktime events, which require fast button pressing, and dialogue choices. There are, however, other segments where you’ll have to press A or Y in time with a heartbeat in order to hide from danger, or where you’ll move the left joystick into a small circle, before pressing the right trigger to hit something. That’s pretty much the extent of the gameplay and the combat within.
At the heart of things is Andrew (Will Poulter), a young college student who looks awfully similar to one of the family members in the previous flashback. He’s joined by dating couple Taylor and Daniel, grumpy mature student Angela, and professor John. Each one has good qualities and bad qualities, which are represented as positive and negative traits. As you play through the game and make decisions, such as where to go, who to help first and what to say, you’ll increase and decrease these qualities and help or hinder personal relationships with the others. For whatever reason, failing to unlock any of their negative qualities (perhaps I’m just too nice?) led to an awful ending, where only one of the five survived.
From the start, it’s obvious that the rest of the group doesn’t particularly care for Angela, with maybe only one of them having a soft spot for the grumpy older woman. It’s interesting to see how her personality develops throughout the story, and how the other characters react to things too. This is a very cinematic experience, so it’s almost like playing a movie. The actors and their expressions have been so well captured that they feel believable. The cast may not be full of big names, but its combined acting is pretty solid.
As they investigate the disturbing former town of Little Hope, the group is stalked by nightmarish creatures, including the undead. These monsters correspond to flashbacks that they all periodically witness, all of which begin as jump scares when a little girl or older woman’s ghost grabs their arms. The flashbacks take place hundreds of years ago, during a period of Little Hope‘s history where people were afraid that the women among them were practicing witches. In fact, they mostly deal with one particular woman’s trial, although a couple of others also factor in. What disturbs everyone most, though, is the fact that these women look familiar. One happens to resemble Taylor, while the other looks a lot like Angela. Furthermore, the ghost who keeps following and touching them looks a lot like the little girl in the flashbacks. One who may be in league with the devil.
What you won’t find in The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is fast moving characters (they’re so slow) or much in the way of twitch gameplay, outside of some surprisingly quick QTEs that are over in the flash of an eye. I feel that some people will have issue with this, because not all folks are as quick to react as this game seems to want. I’m getting older myself, and find that I’m often tired and that my reaction times have slowed. There were a couple of times where I came close to missing some button presses, but I managed to do fine in the end. I don’t think I actually missed any. It just seemed like I was close to doing so, because the timer decreased so quickly.
As was the case with previous games in this series (and I’m counting Until Dawn here for obvious reasons), how you do and what you choose (to say, do, save, fight, etc.) will affect the ending you see before the credits roll. In this case, there are at least three different endings, and they all depend on the choices you make, the negative traits you unlock and whether or not you fall for any traps. Every person will play differently, and that’s part of the fun and appeal here. That said, I wish there was more to this game, because its pivotal moments seem lesser (in amount and in memorability) than before.
While it’s still completely possible to play alone, the developers have once again included a movie night mode that allows you to take turns with friends. This is done through a pass the controller style of play, and is something that may be of interest for late night parties once Covid-19 leaves us.
When I played Until Dawn for the first of two consecutive play throughs during one great weekend, it wowed me. Then, when I played Man of Medan, I enjoyed myself but found the game lacking in comparison. After playing Little Hope, I must say that I cannot place it ahead of either game. While Man of Medan wasn’t great, it seemed to have more depth to it, and I felt that the choices and events were better overall. Although it’s far from my favourite horror game, it stood out more than Little Hope did. That said, I did enjoy my time with this game, and would recommend it to people who like this type of interactive horror movie experience, especially since there are so few options. It may not be the best of the bunch, but it’s still above average and something I’d like to see more of within this medium.
On the presentation side of things, Supermassive Games’ latest is a bit of a mixed bag. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the actors’ character models are quite impressive, as is the motion capture that was used to bring their performances to digital life. For the most part, this is a good looking horror game, but it doesn’t wow in any other category. The town looks pretty good, there’s a great amount of Silent Hill-esque atmosphere, and there are some good scares. However, little about the visuals stands out outside of the character models. I also noticed something that I’m not exactly sure how to describe in today’s terminology. That is, whenever things moved quickly on screen, like one of the actors moving quickly through the frame, I saw what are best described as resolution lines in their clothing and other things. It looked like those lines you would see on old TVs, although these were all vertical.
I should note that I played through this thing on an Xbox Series S console, using a 1080p TV that I haven’t had any visual issues with. It’s something I plan to upgrade soon, so as to have a 4K set. It wasn’t my TV, because every other game I’ve played has looked good to great.
Little Hope utilizes a lot of jump scares, which is to its detriment. Thus, there are quite a few loud sound effects to be found throughout the game. The sound designers did a good job of also making the town feel creepy when nothing is happening, although you’ll quite often see something scurry into the woods behind, or even in front of, the characters. They don’t notice the creatures, of course.
Most of what you’ll hear, outside of some spooky sound effects and fitting music, is dialogue. Thus, the actors’ portrayals were the most important thing. Thankfully, their performances are quite good, their dialogue is pretty well written, and everything feels believable. I didn’t have trouble hearing the dialogue, nor did I wince at any of it. Some of the acting was certainly better than other aspects, but that’s what you get with both horror movies and video games.
If you’re interested in The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, know that it’s worth purchasing if you’re a fan of such things. Those who love horror movies, and have always enjoyed games like Until Dawn, Man of Medan and the Telltale back catalogue, should enjoy this one. I would simply recommend waiting for a sale, or at least tempering one’s expectations. Although I had high hopes for Little Hope, it wasn’t the great game I’d hoped it would be, though it was solid overall.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Supermassive Games has in store for us with the rest of The Dark Pictures Anthology, starting with House of Ashes. I doubt I’ll replay this particular entry, though.
This review is based on the Xbox version of the game, which we were provided with. We reviewed it using an Xbox Series S.
- Some impressive motion capture work
- Quite a bit of choice, not to mention incentive to replay and make different choices
- The Curator remains one of the best things about this series
- Not Supermassive's best game
- Doesn't seem to have the depth or memorability of its predecessors
- The timed QTEs/button presses can be quite demanding, which may make this difficult for those who don't often game