Earlier this generation, Supermassive Games made one of the best horror games out there: Until Dawn. This relatively star-studded cast turned a fun, campy teen horror movie into a super compelling game. It was funny, scary, and exciting. Supermassive’s newest game, The Dark Pictures: Little Hope, has none of that.
The Dark Pictures: Little Hope follows a group of characters stranded after a bus crashes in a small town called Little Hope. They quickly realize things are amiss after seeing a strange little girl, noticing a fog with weird traits, and more. It’s basically the town of Silent Hill. As they attempt to escape, they learn of the town’s haunting history of witch trails which led to its downfall.
I don’t want to tear into this game too hard, so I’ll start with what I enjoyed about it. The Dark Pictures: Little Hope does some interesting things with how they explain witchcraft. I don’t want to give anything away but there’s a lot of timelines colliding to do some really weird stuff. Sometimes one present day character’s actions leads to a character in the past getting accused of witchcraft. They’re then subjected to a painful demise at the hands of the town and in a way, it’s your fault.
That’s pretty much my one significant positive. There’s also the fact that Little Hope has a branching narrative but we’ve come to expect that not just from Supermassive in general but this series as a whole. It’s fairly well done, though I still have some problems.
The biggest issue I had was when I was tricked into killing a character. I found a gun earlier in the game and much later, I had the option of using it after hearing a noise in the woods. All of the characters were able to see an outline of what was approaching them but the game wouldn’t allow me to see that. It just centered the camera on their faces reacting to the shadow. The shadow was unmistakably one of the other characters we had gotten split up from.
Since I had made the choice to use the gun without being able to see what I was actually shooting at, I killed one of my playable characters. This was meant to be some shocking moment but it felt cheap. The game didn’t allow me the perspective of the character that I was making a choice for. I was given two options based on some noises we heard. I was disconnected from the character who was making this choice. It felt deceptive and unfair.
For a game that revolves around multiple playable characters, none of them are remotely compelling. They’re unlikable, dull, and often times, oddly contradictive. At one point, a character says “This is just like a horror movie!”. Moments later, someone else argues against splitting up because it usually ends up going poorly in horror movies. That character from the previous scene that referenced horror movies replies with “those movies are dumb”.
It would be great if there was at least one character I could be drawn to but there’s not. By the end of the game, I found myself not making much effort to save them from their deaths. Many of them met their tragic demise and I actually felt more relief than anything else. Does this make me a bad person? Probably!
We’ve also come to expect pretty high fidelity from these “interactive movie” games. They pack lots of star power and try to make good use of the facial performances of those actors. The animations in Little Hope remind me of LA Noire, which was great for the time but has quickly become dated. The eyes are lifeless, all of their facial features seem to be operating independently of each other, and it all leads to really weird facial expressions.
It’s off-putting and gets even weirder when you look at their stiff body movements. Sometimes it seems like they only captured their faces and their actual full body movement was poorly hand-animated. Everyone moves slowly and like they’re attached to a stick on their back. I can’t connect to these people because they barely feel like real people.
Another large part of the detachment to the characters of Little Hope comes from the stakes. As is the norm for most of these kinds of games, characters can die at any given moment and they stay dead. That’s great, those are definitely stakes. That said, the moments where those stakes arise are underwhelming.
A lot of the dreaded moments that decide someone’s fate are so similar. The characters usually find themselves trapped in the fog or split apart from someone. They then try to run or poorly fight the monster. It becomes so repetitive and uninteresting that it removes any fear or dread. One of the most egregious sections is this wildly drawn out foot chase.
Two characters are chased by a monster and you have to swap back and forth between each one. Every time it does this, it does a slow motion zoom on the character you swap to. It also feels the need to tell you their name, the location and time. It does this probably 5 times in the span of a few minutes.
On top of that, it’s just not fun to play. The QTEs feel very minimal and too simple, resulting in just the most boring chase that feels way too long. Little Hope feels like it doesn’t know how to keep you engaged in its setpieces via QTEs. It feels like you’re watching far more than playing, something QTEs catch a lot of flack for.
The Dark Pictures: Little Hope very clearly wants to be an interactive movie but it’s not a good one. It fails at both the interactive part and the movie part. Since there are so many variables thanks to the branching narrative, there are a lot of different takes on a single scene. There could be missing characters, relationships could be different, and much more.
That’s a lot to keep track of but Little Hope doesn’t do it very well. Characters will often have a different tone of voice or sharp contrasts in behavior within the same scene. It makes everyone feel bipolar. Sometimes characters will even be standing in different positions than they were seconds prior. Little Hope just feels like it has numerous continuity errors through its weirdly sporadic editing.
The Dark Pictures: Little Hope is just a frustratingly dull horror game. The characters are unlikable, the story is poorly strung together, it feels dated, and much more. I have very few positive things to say about it. Little Hope isn’t a game I want to dislike because I wanted a good horror game for October but it failed to deliver.