Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
October 30, 2020
Bandai Namco Entertainment
With 2019’s The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, Supermassive kicked off their horror anthology series. The general consensus, which I also share, is that it’s fine with a capital F – nothing great, but not particularly bad either. Stepping into the next title in the series, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope has some ground to prove. Unfortunately, I’m sad to say it shares a similar fate to that of its predecessor.
Little Hope follows four college students and their professor that, after a bus crash, have become stranded in the abandoned titular town of Little Hope. Surrounding them is an impenetrable fog that upon entering, leaves the travelers turned around and back to where they started. It becomes clear to the group that forces, be it this midst or the ghostly spirits they get glimpses of in the shadows, are pushing them further into town. A dark history of witchcraft trials, murder, and horror plague the abandoned suburb. As they descend into the town, horrific secrets about its lineage come to light.
If I’m frank, the narrative offers a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has one of the Supermassive’s best cold opens. Forty or so years earlier, we see a perfectly middle class but troubled and nuclear family beget a horrible tragedy in their home. Plenty of loss and gory, tragic and nightmarish deaths occur. It’s shell-shocking to see, and sets up what you believe will be similar level gravitas. Then, it just never really does. Instead, Little Hope just gives you another story with nothing too bad, but nothing to write home about either.
Largely, you’ll be following the aforementioned group of college students and their professor. A young girl will appear to you throughout your nervous ventures through the town. Ghosts, demons, spirits and the likes will pull you into moments of the town pasts where you witness witch trials. Some faces bare a striking resemblance to your current day party members. It’s up to you to piece together just what on Earth is going on.
“Stepping into the next title in the series, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope has some ground to prove. Unfortunately, I’m sad to say it fares a similar fate to that of its predecessor.”
This premise is initially quite promising, but it isn’t long before the pieces begin to fall apart. Characters become a bit too unpredictable, despite you doing your best to shape them through in-game choices. Uninteresting reveals as well as weak narrative decisions pervade the experience. My second playthrough, known as the ‘Curators Cut,’ which consisted of B-side scenarios I didn’t see in my run prior, swayed me a bit back towards positive when I wrapped up my time with the game.
With that considered, I can’t see many being motivated to give the game another go after the inevitable disappointment your first playthrough will bring.
Really, all this promise just left me downright frustrated. Its setting and worldbuilding has a lot of cool work put into it: wandering around fogged up, Silent Hill-esque streets, brief sightings of doppelgangers or the mysterious little girl between trees off the beaten path not to mention all the witchcraft imagery. The game thrives in this regard; great terror comes with the game’s quiet moments, walking along those long winding streets and not another human soul in sight.
Moments of fixed frames to stage some scares were also a lot better utilised than Man of Medan before it. It doesn’t shove it in your face either. I counted many tense moments where I was dreading what jump scares awaited me around every corner. Sure, these could look like the cheap and fairly frequent appearance of a black cat frightening me or a ghost reaching out to grab me but it fulfilled its purpose. Still, the game as a whole is muddied by a cast I struggled to invest in until only my second playthrough. Simply, I was never too worried if a character was about to cark it.
Like Supermassive games before it, Little Hope is obviously a game all about character. In the 4-5 hours you’ll spend per playthrough, you’ll somehow simultaneously learn a decent amount and yet so little about each of the main crew.
Will Poulter, who you’ll know from movies such as Midsommar and Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, leads the crew here as bumbling and cowardly 20 something college student Andrew. Besides the recurring Curator (more on him later), he’s the face tapped to the game that’s most known. I’m confident Poulter has solid range and talent, but it doesn’t really get time to shine here. Largely, that feels due to the time constraints and scope the game has. Like the rest of the cast, he feels like a bit of a nothing character used just to drive the B grade horror plot forward. That’d be okay if the game’s plot were engaging.
The fact of the matter is, Little Hope feels like a game hurt by the brilliant shadow of the studio’s hit 2015 game Until Dawn. In that entry, I got to feel for the characters strongly, be it adoration or loathing. It’s where the game shined. Attempts at diversifying and mixing up the cast were definitely made. Not all characters are just young, dumb teens. Now we have a mature age student in Angela, and the older professor in John. Considering that, I can’t feel much of anything for the characters, even when some of them sport familiar Hollywood faces. None of them had the time to be remotely interesting in any particular way. I totally understand that development time and scope of the game wasn’t on their side, it just could’ve been a good means of saving face.
When it comes to getting characters to make choices in the game, it’s more confusing and frustrating than ever at times. Character relationships and traits return once more, with the latter taking a larger role than ever. Say one character is mean to another in a moment. Give me the option to retaliate as the one that’s being targeted and I absolutely will. Then, I suddenly get the trait “defensive”. Now, when it comes turn to lay out some headstrong or direct dialogue (or hell, even option to engage in combat), I can’t. Nope. Sorry! You’re defensive now because of that one thing you said two hours ago. Largely, this cost me some crucial decisions in-game, some even costing a characters life. It’s an overlying issue the game has throughout that speaks to both a flawed system and even an uncertainty to how the writers wanted the characters to be.
Once more, the mysterious Curator played wonderfully by Pip Torrens returns. He’s a mysterious figure that marks as an omniscient means of reflecting on your progress in the game so far. Suited up in a green three-piece business suit with a bowler hat and wicked smile, it’s hard not to be oddly charmed by him. In regular intervals in the game, you’ll be cut back to him in his little refuge in the form of a library. Maybe he’ll give you hints of choices to make in the future through quotes from famous authors such as Oscar Wilde. If you’re lucky, you’ll get fun little dunks from him, mocking you for missteps you’ve made in the game. Like Medan prior, he’s a big highlight in the Dark Pictures Anthology series so far.
If you’re going to want your cast of characters in Little Hope to make it out alive, you’ll have to be both intuitive and quick on your toes. Many dangers await you, and your team’s lives can be taken away from you at a moment notice. Here comes the QTEs.
Supermassive have absolutely taken into account the criticisms that Man of Medan had going for it. QTE button prompts are less challenging this time around, and it works. Where prior these events would hit you without warning, flashes and more distinguishable visual cues now stand in its place to prepare you. It comes in handy for those moments you’ve undoubtedly laid the controller down, expecting it to just be a cinematic moment.
Great recognition should come from Supermassive in this regard. QTE’s are genuinely more fun in this game. Combine that with the improved walking speed and the pleasure of traversing of exploring the eerie town of Little Hope is greatly boosted.
Different items can be found in your journey too. Premonitions in the form of pictures that hint towards characters’ fate, notes and even weapons are all present. What’s to really like here is that the notes and items feel more important in dialogue and the narrative than ever. On several occasions the college classmates would piece together parts of the story aloud through past readings they came across. Weapons are also a fun risk and reward option for the player too; I found a knife that saved one of my party members in one instance, but a gun led to a tragic end for another character in the climax.
As alluded to earlier, traits can entirely throw off a character’s survival. In my second run I did everything that I thought was right. All QTE moments were perfected. Every character managed to make it through to the final scene. It didn’t matter. The monsters took all but one of my team. Dramatic zooms on their killers’ eyes indicated what traits I was missing for them to survive and it felt like a cruel tease. They were doomed to die in some arbitrary way hours back, with little indication of how to prevent it. In other cases you could make the argument this helps replayability for the game, testing and tweaking little changes here and there. Not Little Hope. Not when I firmly believe players will even struggle to make it through a second playthrough.
Right after wrapping up the story of Little Hope, the Curator reflects back with me. Upon departing his humble abode he says the following to me: “We will meet again, at least one more time.” I can’t help but feel like this feels like a knowing line from Supermassive. With The Dark Pictures Anthology still not quite taking off how Supermassive hoped, its future definitely remains uncertain. Maybe they’re planning on at least scraping through under the wire one more game in this series. Frankly, I wholeheartedly hope they do.
Even with all of its downfalls and disappointments, Little Hope is a game I’m still glad I played. The Dark Pictures Anthology is a cool video game project I hope keeps going and eventually truly thrives. Party game-modes and co-op (features I didn’t get to try due to only being issued the one review code) are on offer for some good popcorn-fuelled gaming with a group. The Curator is a wicked cool character, and Dark Pictures is at least an interesting concept thus far. It’s at the best of times not a great product, but there’s enough there to have some fun.
Eclipsed by the greatness of Until Dawn before it, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope will never quite take off in the way you hope. There’s enough in its bones to make it a fun distraction for horror fans for a few hours but that’s about all.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is yet to succeed and if the hints at the next entry being the last is true, it’ll need to go out with a bang. For now, the series feels a little too disposable. If Supermassive wants such a send off, memorable characters and a clear, lean and engaging story will more than work. Capture some of that anthology magic of franchises like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, and this horror franchise could still yet have a wonderful dying breath. Give us what we deserve, Supermassive, I’m begging you.