Dark Pictures: Little Hope offers a chilling experience that makes good use out of its tried and true formula.
Atmosphere is the glue that holds the story, characters, and monsters together in horror games and Dark Pictures: Little Hope creates the kind of atmosphere that one should expect from Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games. From the moment the game starts until its credits roll, Little Hope is painted with an oppressive atmosphere that’s dripping with mystery and intrigue.
Dark Pictures: Little Hope is the second installment in the Dark Pictures Anthology and was preceded by Dark Pictures: Man of Medan. It seems like Supermassive Games learned from some of their missteps in Man of Medan to create an entry in the series that has me excited to see what comes next.
The game is a part of the “interactive film” genre of gaming, one known for entries such as Heavy Rain, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and Until Dawn; games not defined by their gameplay per se, but by their ability to tell engaging stories.
Luckily, Little Hope’s story is engaging and starts with a bang. That bang comes in the form of a crashing school bus just outside of a North East American ghost town named Little Hope. After the crash, the shaken passengers venture into the town to try and find help. However, as the name of the town may suggest, help may be out of reach. The cast is tormented by visions of witch trials from the town’s bloody past and monsters that chase them through the dilapidated town of the present.
Following Man of Medan, Little Hope is also told like it’s being read from a book by the mysterious “Curator,” played by Pip Torrens, who checks in with the player periodically throughout the game to either praise or scold them depending on the choices they’ve made and to impart little bits of wisdom. His study serves as a nice refuge from the waking nightmare that is the town of Little Hope, however, he occasionally makes you doubt your choices making your relationship with him a trepidatious one at best.
Throughout its playtime, Little Hope is pretty scary. Something that Supermassive Games understands well is that monsters in horror games stay scary when the player can never seem to get a good look at them. Because characters are being chased through the woods or abandoned buildings, they never really see their pursuers with any sort of clarity. Players catch a glimpse here and there, but at the end of the day, what you can’t see is always more frightening than what you can.
With that being said, it’s unfortunate that Little Hope feels like it needs to rely so heavily on jumpscares. Some of them are absolutely earned and extremely effective, but there gets to be a certain point when you’ve grown numb to being startled. It’s tense enough without them, so their inclusion doesn’t always make sense because, towards the end of the game, they start becoming predictable.
The gameplay mechanics present in all of Supermassive’s other interactive films are present in Little Hope, however, they’ve been refined. For example, quick-time events have an interesting new feature that tells the player what action each button press will do before it happens. This gives the player more notice on when a quick-time event is coming meaning that they’ll have a much likelier chance of doing it correctly and lowers the possibility of a late-game death due to a missed button prompt.
Additionally, the areas of exploration are generally much smaller than they have been in the past, meaning that it’s pretty simple to find a large majority of the 50 hidden clues that help piece the mystery together in a single playthrough.
The problems that Man of Medan and Until Dawn had with shifting camera angles are still present. As the camera moves around to give the game a more cinematic look, the controls change to match the fixed camera angle, which is usually disorienting and breaks the flow of movement. It makes areas hard to navigate, especially in tight corridors and small rooms. The overall look and idea is cool, however, it gets immediately less cool when the player character walks directly into a wall.
Man of Medan took the totem system from Until Dawn that pretty much told the player which choices to make in order to keep everyone alive and replaced it with the titular Dark Pictures that don’t explicitly tell the player what to do. Instead, they offer a glimpse into the future and say nothing about if what they show is good or bad. In Little Hope, they’re equally unclear, but still tell the player, “Hey, this is going to be important, so make sure you really think about it when it comes up.” The mechanic works the best it ever has in Little Hope and will hopefully be implemented similarly in future Dark Picture installments.
The decision making and dialogue choices are still around from past games and remain to be a majority of what you do throughout Little Hope. As you choose responses, you unlock character traits for each individual person which then dictates how they react in situations when you’re not controlling them. It still works great and feels like you are having a direct impact on the story.
Each time you directly impact the narrative, the game updates its “bearings” and you can see what actions led to what results. It’s a formula that’s worked for Supermassive in the past and it continues to work well in Little Hope.
As you jump around between characters, you also start developing hidden agendas for each of them and you begin to feel like you’re the writer of the story instead of merely being a participant in it. It’s an interesting effect that makes each playthrough feel unique. Those hidden agendas come into play when you’re making important choices that sometimes will save someone’s life or cost them it.
The story of Dark Pictures: Little Hope revolves around four college students and their professor as they try to escape the ghost town they mistakenly thought would contain help. Because it’s so reliant on story and characters, the animations need to be top-notch in order to convey the subtly and the range of the actors’ emotions. In some spots, the game is great in that regard highlighting the standout performance from horror veteran Will Poulter, but in many places, animations seem stiff and unnatural.
The terror and atmosphere are certainly gripping, but those moments are sometimes ruined by the “seams” of the game starting to show. Because of the interactive nature of Little Hope, the game needs to create a route through the story that encompasses all of the player’s choices. However, there are times when those choices don’t entirely match the story that Supermassive Games wanted to tell.
For example, there are scenes when different groups of characters split up, despite all of them agreeing that that’s how you get killed in horror movies, and who goes in what group is decided by player choice. In one of my playthroughs, three people went one way and two went the other. One scene felt like it was missing dialogue from a third character and the other scene consisted of two characters talking to each other and one interjecting with seemingly unconnected ideas.
Additionally, towards the end of my second playthrough, someone had died in a previous scene and then showed up for a few camera angles like they were a part of the group again. At first, I thought it was an intentional scare, but when no one mentioned it and when the character didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, I realized that it was simply a mistake on the development side.
That sort of thing isn’t always immediately noticeable until you’ve played the game more than once, however. Additionally, I seemed to have more trouble with it playing the “Curator’s Cut” of the game. The Curator’s Cut was introduced in Dark Pictures: Man of Medan alongside the game’s online “Don’t Play Alone” mode. The cut simulates the experience of playing the game with others online by having you play through alternate scenes and character perspectives that are only available through the online mode.
The problem, however, is that in subsequent playthroughs, I wanted to experience the options that were opposite of the choices I made in my first. Because I was playing the same scenes as different characters, I felt like I had less agency for making certain choices. There were multiple times when I wanted to see what would happen if I had done the opposite of what I did in my first playthrough, but now that I was playing as a different character, I didn’t get to make that choice and the NPC chose the option I chose the first time.
To me, part of the reason I want to replay these types of games is to see what happens if I made a different decision, but by playing the Curator’s Cut or if I were playing online, I didn’t always get to see those options which meant that I would have to do another playthrough on my own if I really wanted to see everything.
There definitely is replayability for Little Hope, but in my experience with choice-based games, you start to realize how little your choices actually matter in the end. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are huge in terms of consequence, but not everything is as far-reaching as the game might make it appear.
Clocking in between four and five hours, the short length of the game encourages players to, as the Curator reminds them, try again for different outcomes. It’s the perfect length for that sort of thing, but if you truly want a different experience, I’d recommend skipping the online modes and just trying to make your own opposite choices.
The biggest problem that Dark Pictures: Little Hope has is that there’s no way for it to avoid being compared to Until Dawn, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad game, just not quite as solid as Supermassive’s first entry in the genre.
There are certain things that don’t quite connect and a handful of plot holes that stick out, but Dark Pictures: Little Hope is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of the genre or liked Until Dawn and were disappointed with Man of Medan. It’s a game that’s best enjoyed when being played with a group of people to shout out which decisions to make and pass the controller around. At its best, Little Hope is chilling and gripping and creates an internal conflict in the player between wanting to press on and being too scared to see what lies behind the next door.