Having your bus crash in the middle of the night right outside a spooky, abandoned town is never good.
But that’s the situation in which our protagonists find themselves in Little Hope, Supermassive Games’ latest instalment into the Dark Pictures Anthology series. In a group made up of four students – Andrew, Taylor, Daniel and Angela – and their professor, John, your time will be split between controlling each of them.
Like Man of Medan, the last game from the Anthology, each character has their own personality traits and quirks. The choices you make throughout your time with the game will alter each character’s personality somewhat; maybe you’ll end up making an anxious character even more fearful, or you’ll downplay another’s bravado.
There are a lot of choices to be made in Little Hope, and exactly how each one will affect the outcome of the story is not always clear. This isn’t a Telltale-style adventure, where every decision is clearly signposted. A small choice made right at the beginning of the game could come back to bite you at the end, and there’s no real way of knowing. That’s the delight of The Dark Pictures Anthology; if you play through more than once, you’ll likely notice subtle changes thanks to different choices you’ve made. Some of them may be inconsequential, while others may be the difference between life or death.
The setting of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is wonderfully haunting. You find yourself in the titular town of Little Hope, a settlement associated with witch trials in the 17th century. That’s important to note; despite being set in the modern day, you’ll frequently find yourself getting sucked into flashbacks of those witch trials taking place. But more on those later. You’re never quite sure what’s waiting for you around any corner and, set completely in the cover of night, there’s a constant foreboding atmosphere that perfectly sets the scene. Even when it’s not outright scary – and it has its moments – Little Hope is constantly unsettling.
The only time you’ll be taken out of the immersion brought about by Little Hope’s brooding fog-laden mood is with the odd duff line of dialogue. They’re far and few between, though. There’s the occasional half-hearted quip that doesn’t quite land, or doesn’t fit in with the tone of the scene, but for the most part, it’s easy to connect with each of the characters. Well, the majority of them. If you want to kill off Angela, the annoying mature student, early on, we won’t blame you.
Now: onto those witch trials. It’s clear all is not as it seems in Little Hope, but exactly what is going on won’t be apparent until the very end. Not only does the game open with a seemingly-unrelated scene of a family dying in a fire in the 1960s, we’re frequently taken back to 1692 to witness the witch trials taking place. The peculiar thing? The characters in each time period all look the same. Andrew (Will Poulter) in present day? He’s Anthony in the 1960s flashback. And Angela; she’s Amy in the witch trials.
It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that’ll have you scratching your head throughout the entirety of the game. Are you seeing their past lives? Do they have some strange, supernatural link to each other?
The reality, however, becomes apparent at the end of the game. As gripping as The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope‘s four-hour runtime is, its ending comes as a huge disappointment. We won’t say more as we don’t want to spoil the experience, but for us, that’s exactly what it did; it’s an underwhelming conclusion that undermines the narrative you’ve spent the entire playthrough becoming invested in.
Up until that point though, both the modern-day scenes and the witch trial flashbacks are enthralling. Based on fact, the witch trial scenes are incredibly unsettling as you see residents of Little Hope murdered under suspicion of witchcraft. But it’s the modern-day scenes where most of the game’s scares take place. You see, the group is constantly hounded by various ungodly apparitions; dark, nightmarish creatures that lurk in the shadows, waiting to grab them. You’ll often resort to quick-time events as you try to escape from them in gloriously over-the-top dramatic sequences.
The cinematography employed in Little Hope is certainly a step up from Man of Medan. At points you do feel like you’re engrossed in a movie, with cutscenes, transitions and camera angles feeling more cinematic than ever. It also helps that it’s a stunning looking game in terms of graphics; playing on PC (a mid-range gaming rig with an RTX 2070 and a Ryzen 5 3600) it looks phenomenal and plays beautifully at 1440p will all settings at max. Whether it’s a result of better performance or the fact they’ve just been improved, quick time events are much more responsive than Man of Medan too. There was no chance of us failing as a result of our input not being picked up – which is something that happened numerous times when we first played through Man of Medan.
On the whole, then, the second entry into The Dark Pictures Anthology is an improvement over the first. As much as we enjoyed Man of Medan, Little Hope ups the ante in just about every way. Its story is more engaging, it packs in some truly spine-tingling moments, its cinematography is greatly improved, and it looks and performs beautifully. It’s just a shame a duff ending – no matter what the outcome of your playthrough – leaves you feeling unfulfilled as the credits roll.