There’s a lot of elements that a keen horror fan can recognize in the trailer for Little Hope, the newest entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology. There are Blair Witch-style constructs, Silent Hill foggy locales, and the very familiar American imagery of witches and inquisitors.
Supermassive got its start in this genre with the sleeper horror hit Until Dawn, which put known actors in a cinematic horror scenario. Little Hope follows up on the debut Dark Pictures game, Man of Medan, and developer Supermassive recognizes that the first entry was polarizing. The story was a slow burn, and different game modes gave very different experiences. When my colleague Austen Goslin played the game, he found the choices to lack effective payoff and the conclusion unsatisfying. When I tried the two-person simultaneous Shared Story mode with a group of friends, I had an absolute blast, and it was my favorite co-op experience of the year.
Many people found the game compelling, but it was undeniably clunky. The follow-up, Little Hope, is the result of Supermassive tuning up the experience. Dark Pictures games, due to the sheer amount of branching choices, will always differ from person to person. (Austen had one character be a complete ass to the rest of the cast across multiple playthroughs, and on my run, he was a polite angel due to my choices.) With Little Hope, Supermassive wants to capture that shifting, uncertain narrative, but ground it in more solid game design.
What’s a Dark Picture, anyways?
The Dark Pictures Anthology is a set of horror games. Eight are currently planned, and the idea is to have two releases per year. These small, focused experiences marry the branching narrative of a Choose Your Own Adventure book with the tense moments and atmosphere of a survival horror game. These games are linked by a mysterious Curator, who is telling the audience these stories, and occasionally guiding them along the way.
Man of Medan took place in modern day, on an abandoned ghost ship. Little Hope, the second title, is far more out there. Unlike the vacation story gone wrong of Man of Medan, the second Dark Pictures game involves multiple time periods, hideous monsters, and the legacy of witch burning.
“With Man of Medan, we showed that we’re not afraid to have the format of ‘man is the monster,’” says director Pete Samuels in an interview with Polygon. “But we don’t want any one theme to dominate, so it’ll be quite a mix of supernatural monster movies, with devils and demons.”
Spooky Salem-style suspense
When it comes to witch-burning, there’s a lot of real-world history to draw on, some of it gender-specific and stomach-turning. Supermassive says it’s being careful on what it draws from.
“What we’re interested in about that period is the root causes — the greed, paranoia, and fear of God that conspired to create that situation where people did terrible things to other people,” says Samuels.
This kind of scenario is fertile ground for this specific anthology. “It resonated with us as an anchor for the plot, because the games we make are first and foremost about people and relationships between people,” says Samuels. “We use horror to put incredible stress on those relationships, so that people do things they wouldn’t normally do.”
The team pulled from fiction like the Silent Hill games and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to create something that has just enough texture from life to feel real, without getting too mired in the nitty gritty of historical details. Unlike the previous game, Little Hope cranks the “supernatural terror” lever to 11.
Cleaning up the cracks
Supermassive was able to look at post-game stats for a random sample of over 800 players, and found that the average Man of Medan player worked through the story 4.6 times — a small core played “many, many more than that.”
Dark Pictures games are meant to be replayable; with Man of Medan, Austen and I each saw massive sections of the game the other hadn’t witnessed. The idea is to create a flexible story that, while shorter than a horror game like Resident Evil 2, branches off dramatically. That’s a perk that can only be discovered if a player goes through multiple times.
Little Hope makes it easier to navigate the game. A lot of small quality-of-life issues, like camera perspectives and transitions, have been cleaned up in the name of speed and convenience. These are the kind of tweaks that add up, as the tank-style controls of the first game made exploring claustrophobic environments difficult and frustrating.
If people weren’t entirely sold on the anthology series by the first game, Samuels urges them to give Little Hope a shot. When more of the games are out, the intent is for the library to feel like exploring the ouvre of a director. You may not enjoy every Raimi or Lynch film, but you wouldn’t write off everything they’ve done based off just one title. Many horror franchises bank hard on one angle, like the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise. Little Hope shows a very different take on the genre than Man of Medan, and I’m eager for the Dark Pictures anthology to continue onward into new and horrifying tales.
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