The Devil In Me scared the shit out of me. The latest in The Dark Pictures Anthology, The Devil In Me has everything you would expect: the performances are brilliant, the world is fascinating and the tension just keeps ratcheting with every clue you find, with the player having context the characters don’t.
I was so spooked by the demo that I’m not sure I ever want to go back to it, but the universe it sets out and the characters within it are so rich that I’m sure I want to find out more about it, even though I’m only going to be able to play it myself if I find a friend willing to play co-op with me, and also sing ABBA‘s greatest hits whenever the going gets tough.
Yes, I’m bad at horror games. Worse, somehow I have spent the entire month attending previews and writing about them – but The Devil In Me is the first that’s made me actively not want to play it. It all comes from a sequence involving a directional microphone and a dark corridor.
The Devil In Me plays out like a serial killer mystery, with you controlling members of a small production crew filming a true crime documentary series that has run out of money. Tensions are high, the crew are at each other’s throats, and there’s the hope that if they can film one cracking episode they might be able to sell the show and make enough money to keep the lights on. So, when a mysterious benefactor gets in touch and offers the team a chance to skulk around a replica of real-life serial killer H. H. Holmes’ infamous Murder Castle, they jump at the chance and find themselves trapped in a spooky hotel as a more modern killer picks them off one by one.
A lot of the scares really work, and although the few hours of the game I played had very few moments of actual peril, the real fear comes from the palpable sense of what’s coming next, the missed clues as your characters idly read over a hotel guestbook where the guest sign in with their own handwriting and all leave together, signed out by a robotic uniform scrawl. It’s abundantly clear something here stinks, but the characters are the last to know, finding out how much trouble they are in with a gory reveal moments from the end of the preview section.
Buried in the middle of this is a horror sequence that comes out of nowhere, as the characters decide they want to get out of the hotel and the twisted island hosting it. Then the breakers pop, plunging the hotel into darkness. Taking control of nervous intern and wannabe sound editor Erin, you have to navigate a darkened hotel with a directional mic. The headphones come on, the intensity steps up and you’re pacing through the darkness trying to orientate yourself only by the sound of someone opening and closing unseen doors, and ominous crying from within a sealed-off hotel room.
To better hear the microphone, Erin puts on her noise-cancelling headphones, quietening the rest of the game’s audio to focus on the rustling and shuffling she can hear in the darkness, like some sort of murder ASMR. It makes the section much more intense, but also because you can barely hear anything else, there’s the feeling that something could come up behind you at any moment.
The microphone is the best of The Devil In Me’s new items, which gives each character a special ability. Some of these are naff: Mark has a monopod that he can use to reach high objects, while Charles has a business card he can use to jimmy locks and a lighter for lighting things up. By far the most impressive of these is Erin’s direction microphone, which will transport you to the terror realm with just one tap of a button.
I can’t be clear enough that I have never wanted to explore a darkened corridor less. It’s easy to talk about the craft of these games, and the way the developers promised this would have a more substantial runtime, or even the way that Paul Kaye – of Dennis Pennis fame – absolutely kills it as self-styled company patriarch Charles Lonnit. But at the end of the day, horror games are about fear, and I can’t think of anything this year that has scared me this much, and if developer Supermassive Games can keep the aura of unpleasantness that hangs around The Devil In Me and sustain it for the entire game, this is going to be a spooky must-play.