When it comes to character-driven horror, Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology has quickly become one of my favorite series, consistently offering compelling, interactive, and spooky gameplay. Both Until Dawn and Man of Medan excelled at creating eerie, tense atmospheres, heart-pounding decisions, and intriguing characters that could be lost forever with one dire choice or a missed quick time event – sorry, Jess. Supermassive’s third horror adventure – the aptly titled Little Hope – follows the developer’s tried-and-tested formula with terrifying results.
Set to release right in time for Halloween, the second game in The Dark Pictures Anthology series moves from the claustrophobic, creaking ghost ship of Man of Medan to the eponymous New England town of Little Hope, which has a Salem-esque past replete with witches, executions, and mysterious dopplegangers.
Our short press demo of Little Hope begins in a deserted police station as Andrew (Will Poulter of Black Mirror and Midsommar fame) and his irritable professor, John, desperately search for a way to call for help. While I got the feeling that this wasn’t the actual beginning of the game, I was quickly immersed in the story and the urgency of the characters’ mission.
Almost immediately, we were given a choice of how to respond to the professor, and these choices eventually build into character traits – should you be impatient or stubborn? Thoughtful or suspicious? Shaping the personalities of the playable characters through choices is a critical component of Supermassive’s previous games, and Little Hope appears to be no different, even if our short demo didn’t allow us to see our choices’ potentially grisly consequences.
Exploring the police station yielded a few scattered clues and finally, a telephone – except the cord is missing. While just a small piece of the larger game, the police station encapsulates so much of what Supermassive Games does well: a foreboding atmosphere, hidden secrets that compel you to search deeper, and an overall feeling that things aren’t quite right. There’s an anxious sense that something lurks behind each corner, keeping your heart pounding as you hunt for the phone cord with just the light of your flashlight to guide you. Well, until the phone rings…
This is where things take an even more disturbing turn, as we’re transported into the past to witness a witch trial. The accused, Amy, who eerily resembles our friend Angela, seems to be the only person who can see us, as she pleads with John and Andrew for help. Whether or not she’s actually a witch is up for debate, particularly when we overhear the Reverend blackmailing Amy’s accuser in words straight from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Amy’s husband, Joseph, attempts to intervene on her behalf, and his resemblance to John is beyond uncanny. Filled with confusion and unable to affect the past (so far), we return to the present only to be quickly joined by the rest of our group: Daniel, Taylor, and Angela.
“Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.” – Abigail (The Crucible, Arthur Miller)
After leaving the police station, we get to wander through the outskirts of the titular Little Hope. The abandoned roads drenched in an unnaturally thick fog evoke the cursed Silent Hill – a feeling we hope will continue as we get to explore more of the ghoulish town’s spine-chilling structures. In this hopeless locale we find a postcard, an item that gifts us with a premonition of John’s death, similar to Until Dawn’s totems or Man of Medan’s paintings. It’s a dark glimpse into the near future, but it’s one we might be able to prevent.
How this possible future might play out isn’t clear until the culmination of our Little Hope preview: a haunting event set on a decrepit, crumbling bridge. After carefully tiptoeing their way across slippery pavements and treacherous gaps leading to certain death, John and Andrew are startlingly forced back into the past to watch Amy’s execution. Still unable to intervene, John and Andrew are helpless as Amy is bound by heavy chains and shoved into the water, unable to free herself.
Upon returning to the present, we get our first taste of true supernatural evil as Amy’s undead corpse rises from the water, pursuing us with the anxiety-inducing sound of her chains dragging against the beach. Playing as Andrew, we’re given a choice to help either Angela or John; the earlier premonition of John’s death, fresh in our mind, warns of the consequences of making the wrong decision. I’ve played through both choices and, in classic Supermassive Games’ fashion, there are ways of losing either character regardless of what you choose.
With our heroes facing an empty road that vanishes into the oppressive fog, the demo ends, and we’re left with so many questions. Are the eerie flashbacks we see linked to physical places, like The Prison to the Witch Trial Courthouse or The Bridge to The Pier? Why do these historical characters resemble our present day heroes? What the heck is the Witch Trail? When do we get to interact with The Curator?
To quote Andrew: “It’s all building toward something”, and I for one can’t wait to see what that is!
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope launches on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on October 30th. Check out the Little Hope trailer here.