The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope ReviewNovember 1, 2020
Horror can be hard to get right in an interactive story. When you have the freedom to make your own decisions it can inadvertently interrupt the building moods and provocative themes the genre is built on, but developer Supermassive has proven before that it can still tell a (mostly) cohesive story no matter what players decide to do. It’s such a shame then that Little Hope, the latest in its Dark Pictures Anthology, feels like a step backward compared to the studio’s previous games. It’s an odd, anemic thriller that I struggled to get invested in, and its choice and consequence system feels strangely superficial.
Little Hope’s story about a group of college students stranded in the abandoned, eponymous New England town after a bus accident lacks the overt love of the horror genre woven through the DNA of Supermassive’s 2015 gem Until Dawn. Nor does it have the sense of glee that came from slicing and dicing the characters in 2019’s first Dark Pictures game, Man of Medan. In fact, when you’re not actively running from monsters, it’s…kinda dull.
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You spend most of your time in Little Hope wandering around town trying to figure out what to do. Ultimately, your goal is to find the missing bus driver, but that’s broken into smaller, more mundane tasks, like ‘find a phone,’ or ‘find something to break this window.’ This would be fine if there was a ratcheting sense of needing to survive, but there’s not much tension to speak of within its first two hours. Little Hope’s characters spend the majority of this time freaking out or bickering at one another, with rarely any levity to balance out its ubiquitous sense of dismalness – barring the occasional supernatural time jump to the past where an ongoing storyline about the 1692 witch trials briefly distracts them from their misery.
It doesn’t help that they’re not a very interesting bunch – which is weird considering they’re meant to be part of a creative writing class! – even when you try and choose dialogue or relationship options that might introduce more depth. They have little to no backstory; John, the 40-something class teacher, is a recovering alcoholic, apparently, but there’s no meaningful exploration of that beyond the ability to test his will with a glass of whiskey. At one point you’re told that 20-year-old Andrew has known 50-something-year old Angela for years, yet they had no notable dynamic to justify the line in either of my two differing playthroughs. There simply doesn’t seem to be much to any of Little Hope’s characters, so I quickly stopped caring who I was in control of.
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Some life could have been injected through incidental dialogue while you explore, but what’s here is wooden, and the actors delivering it feel divorced from the material and each other. As characters wander through Silent Hill-inspired fog, they utter dead-eyed quips like: “I have a bad feeling about this” and “I don’t like the sound of that.” At one point, as he entered a museum, John revealingly proclaimed “this place is a museum of some kind.” It’s rough.
You can affect the relationships between characters with your decisions, but rarely does it result in any particularly noteworthy action. No matter how much of an asshole to one particular character I was, for example, he tended to react the same way in both playthroughs. There could very well be more subtle differences at play here, but there were few moments where it felt like my choices actually had a tangible impact.
The town of Little Hope itself is much more interesting and gorgeous to wander around in. Interiors are lovingly crafted and feel genuinely lived in, and I found joy in exploring the corners of old houses and abandoned trappings of what was once a struggling tourist region. With this in mind, I wish its secrets, scattered throughout Little Hope to offer up ‘premonitions’ of what might happen were you to make a certain fateful decision, were more thoughtfully hidden and designed. There’s little excitement in finding a ‘secret’ that’s right in front of you on the main path.
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As you explore, you’re pursued by a plethora of nasties who appear in scripted sequences designed for jump scares, and they’re mostly effective. Like in all of Supermassive’s previous work, a series of quick-time events is all that lies between you and certain death, though Little Hope has dialed the previously punishing timing those games required just a little too far toward ‘easy.’ You get a very generous amount of time to get your bearings and hit the right button. This is not to say that being chased and prompted to hit a very specific button on the controller to escape doesn’t incite panic – and a lot of these sequences had me extremely stressed – but it’s now much harder to fail. On my first playthrough, all of my characters survived even though I wasn’t trying very hard to keep them alive.
This would be understandable if I felt like my decision-making had real, impactful results elsewhere, but I didn’t. Unlike Man of Medan or Until Dawn, I didn’t experience any really significant divergence in the storyline throughout my two playthroughs, each taking roughly four hours to complete, despite playing them quite differently. There were small anomalies, certainly, like when I decided to pick up a gun in my second playthrough, or I handed a knife to another character in my first. But nothing big or dramatic enough to encourage me to play it through a third time in an attempt to unfurl more of its secrets.
Like its predecessor, Little Hope is still best played with a friend in co-op. You can either play online in Shared Story mode, where you’re each controlling characters experiencing the same story from different perspectives, or Movie Night mode, where you can pass the controller back and forth locally. Sharing the experience is always more delightful than playing alone, as you and your co-op companion may choose to play through Little Hope very differently and that conflict can result in some more natural feeling twists (though it can’t make the writing any better no matter how you and your partner get along).