During the late summer of last year, I reviewed Man of Medan, the first piece in Supermassive's horror collection The Dark Pictures, and I was not particularly impressed. It was an okay horror game that encouraged several replays to see what turns the story took, but to embark on the adventure again was a bit of a pain, considering how boring the exploration and search for new clues was when the same corridors were to be searched through, over and over and over and over again. A year later, Supermassive is now back.
The story begins with a bus driving off the road and crashing just outside the small village Little Hope. Five playable characters climb out of the metal wreck and these are:
• Andrew, a young college student and the protagonist of the story
• John, middle-aged teacher
• Daniel, apparently a sportier and more popular college guy who is in love with Taylor
• Taylor, a stubborn, young girl, who in turn is in love with Daniel
• Angela, an old grumpy aunt
Initially, the goal is to get help, maybe call the authorities and ask for assistance with the bus crash. It turns out, however, that Little Hope is an abandoned city and a thick fog is behind the five-man gang in such a way that they can not really choose in which direction they want to go. They are forced into the central parts of the city and as time goes on (of course) strange, supernatural things start to happen. It's up to me to piece together the details and squeeze out an explanation of what's going on, which has been harder than I first thought.
The tension quickly subsides as soon as I get control of Andrew. With John, Angela, Taylor and Daniel at a reasonably safe distance behind me, we start strolling along a country road. Little Hope was hit by 17th-century widespread witchcraft allegations, and a buried conspiracy screams for solution so loud that the gang gradually becomes more interested in the city's tragic past than continuing their bus journey.
A flashing light out there in the black tells me that there is an object to be examined and often hides there a clue, a newspaper article for example, which I ponder and analyse, right down to the consonant level. Cutscenes are pleasant. Pacing is good. The tempo is better here than in Man of Medan which suffered from a really lousy middle section. My first replay of Little Hope was pleasant, filled with mood and atmosphere, but also frustrating as I did not manage to point the story in the direction I wanted.
So, after a completed adventure that I guess lasted for around five hours, I was off again, having one more go trying to do things differently. I wanted to change a couple of dialogue choices, find the last secrets.
Just like in Man of Medan, it's never fun to go through the same sections, over and over again. The hunt for clues is exciting the first time, but when you know what scenes and promenades are waiting and when you feel confident that there is probably nothing more to find, the spark disappears. There are definitely things I missed, despite four replays, and restarted chapters, but on a general level, far too few things change and I want to state that Little Hope does not grow as a game title because you play through it several times.
This game boasts a good atmosphere, a number of cheap but also nice jump scares, and above all deliciously designed monsters. In a Walking Simulator, it never gets as terrifying as when you're being chased in Outlast or Alien Isolation, so I'm still moderately happy with the scares offered given the game mechanics. However, the action parts themselves have annoyed me. In the climax, there are often two characters to be saved via "Quick Time Events" and in Little Hope I am tossed between controlling these, back and forth, and the result is unfortunately that the accelerating game tempo crashes and the tension level is lowered immediately.
Furthermore, I do not understand how various horror movies and now even Little Hope insist on making monsters so ridiculously slow. They can be half-killed, maimed, unable to do more than drag themselves on their bedsores and yet they pose a threat to the almost 20-year-old youth who can reasonably make a silly walk á la John Cleese and still yet escape the danger by pretty substantial margins. It does not apply to all monsters, but still enough for me to be lifted out of the horror mood and even downplay entire sequences.
All in all, Supermassive has nevertheless put together an interesting "layer-on-layer" saga with a good mix of action, horror, and choice that at least gives the appearance of bringing the story to a specific place. The acting is good, especially from Pip Torrens and Will Poulter, and the facial animations is superb. However, I can not close my eyes because the plot does not vary much according to my choices. The consequence of a murdered character is usually that they are missing in the scenes, with the solution that someone else gets to draw their lines and I feel cheated after playing through the adventure four times without encountering any drastically changed course of events.
Of course, there is a risk that I have missed something, which for others was totally obvious... I don't think so, though, and choose to stop at this; Little Hope is a perfectly okay horror game that will invite you to a reasonably nasty November night. Nothing more. Nothing less.