‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope’ review: a barely interactive horror film

More akin to watching a documentary about witches than playing a fully realised video game

What’s it like to play through an interactive horror movie? Supermassive Games has done its best to explore this very topic, starting in 2015 with its PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn. The interactive survival horror game introduced players to the closest possible thing horror games had gotten to playing a movie, and it turned out to be a sleeper hit for the studio. However, Supermassive wasn’t done there.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan came next, a chilling exploration of hidden treasure that came with a stoic price tag: life or death. While it was nowhere near the quality or length (or even the challenge) that Until Dawn presented, it was an additional helping of the third-person survival horror Supermassive had demonstrated it knew so well.

Fast forward to 2020, we all know what to expect with Little Hope, the second instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology. But could it measure up to Man Of Medan, or even Until Dawn before it? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. Credit: Supermassive Games

Little Hope begins with a bang, but it sadly fails to maintain the momentum throughout the four- to five-hour adventure. Rather than following the tale of a cursed Indonesian ship or a chilling killer stalking a set of teenagers, this story follows a group of college students and their professor who find themselves stranded in the eponymous town after their bus crashes in the middle of nowhere.

The New England town, which is associated with witch hunting, has a dark secret that the group will soon come to know quite intimately. First, they meet their doppelgängers, a group of settlers who resemble them in everything but name and personality. And then they realise one important thing about their situation: they cannot leave Little Hope.

At first, it simply seems as though they’re having difficulty navigating the dimly-lit town. But then, eerie happenings begin occurring. Premonitions, such as seeing demonic little girls, terrifying monsters and flashbacks to the past start plaguing the group. If they’re to figure out what’s happening in Little Hope, they first have to figure out what’s going on with the New England settlers tied to the history of the town.

With that in mind, Little Hope spans multiple timelines; some segments take place in the present, while others happen in the past. The entirety of the narrative surrounds the concept of witchcraft, which can be an intriguing vehicle for storytelling, but that’s the first area where the threads of Little Hope begin to unravel.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. Credit: Supermassive Games

As the college students and their professor look to escape their predicament, the usual horror tropes apply: the “outspoken” character who believes themselves too good to remain with the group, the altruistic protagonist , the leader and so on. The group is a believable one, with dissenting viewpoints about what’s happening to them, why they continue to see visions and why they can’t escape the small town. Their mannerisms, character designs and interactions feel as though they were stripped right from a movie. There’s just one problem: the narrative is incredibly, absolutely, ridiculously dull.

But let’s back up a bit. What makes it that way? In a nutshell, everything that makes the other games from this developer exciting. Most of Little Hope revolves around either making decisions while in conversation with other characters as you switch viewpoints and take on new roles. You search the different areas for items or notable clues for a way out of your situation, while any decision that you make could mean the end of one character’s life when you least expect it.

That’s part of the fun, of course. Should you pick up that gun, and who should hold onto it? Is it a good idea to argue with that character when they’re in a certain mindset? Anyone can die at seemingly any moment, or at least that’s what Supermassive tends to have you believe throughout its games.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. Credit: Supermassive Games

You can keep track of “Life Bearings”, which categorise your choices and actions throughout the game, as well as the relationships forged between each character. There are a wide variety of secrets and items to collect as you make your way throughout each area as well. All of these things are designed to ensure you never have the same playthrough, at least for the first few times you move through it. Unfortunately, there’s no real imperative to want to see this story again. It feels so pedestrian and by the numbers compared to other works from Supermassive that there’s no real excitement that comes with sitting through the same decisions again, even if you plan on making different ones the next time around.

Both decisions and conversations made throughout the game feel increasingly less important the further the game stretches on. Most of the scares are typically relegated to flashes of an ash-coloured demon scrambling toward a character, which you need to frantically ward away by pressing the right buttons during a quick time event. This isn’t that bad the first few encounters – it’s what Supermassive has relied on with other titles in the past – but when that’s essentially all you do, time and time again, between walking in a straight line, the game starts to get more than a little stale.

In both Until Dawn and Man Of Medan, there were always engaging decisions to make. But Little Hope feels as though it watered down the tried-and-true formula even further in order to be an entry-level interactive horror game. It’s made even worse if you attempt to play with friends. Adding more rational people into the mix almost assures you’re likely going to get off scot-free when trying to avoid death.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. Credit: Supermassive Games

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the game. It’s made well. It contains high-quality voice acting, graphics and a concept that will no doubt resonate with many players. Unfortunately, it’s just not that exciting. It is, by far, the dullest instalment in Supermassive’s cadre. There’s also absolutely no reason for it to be, which is all the more frustrating.

Given the developer’s history and demonstrable prowess within the horror genre, it’s quite possible Little Hope is just a concept that didn’t end up working out. Hopefully the next instalment is exponentially more exciting – there’s an excellent formula here that players obviously gravitate to – but in this form, it’s more than a little disappointing and more akin to watching a documentary on the Salem Witch Trials than playing a fully-fledged video game.

‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope’ is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Our Verdict

For those looking for the same type of satisfying interactive horror adventure that Until Dawn delivered, you’re better off settling into The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan. Little Hope is a frustratingly bleak follow-up that’s barely interactive – not that the story is worth paying attention to anyway. While the framework is here for an exciting playable horror movie, but as it stands, Little Hope is a miss that players should skip for its predecessor.

Pros

  • Great-looking characters and animations
  • Excellent voice acting performances
  • Believable personalities

Cons

  • Hardly frightening when it’s supposed to be
  • Heavily reliant on jump scares
  • Very little actual gameplay
  • Extremely short

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