The Dark Pictures anthology series is one of the few examples of a game studio carving out its own niche in the gaming landscape. The success of Until Dawn allowed Supermassive Games to double down on the branching path survival horror games that they have been making ever since. Little Hope, the second entry into the anthology after 2019’s Man of Medan, fits perfectly into the unique slot that Supermassive has created, straying very little from the ideas that characterized its past two games. It doesn’t try to do anything new, and it doesn’t make any new mistakes. It’s the quintessential example of a game you will like if you enjoy the series, but it never outdoes the highest highs that Supermassive has hit in its past games.
Set across three unique time periods, Little Hope has easily the most intricate plot of any game Supermassive has released, intertwining three distinct time periods. For the most part, you control five present-day college students or professors whose bus crashes in the town of Little Hope, a town haunted by its past, specifically the late seventeenth century during its witch trials akin to those in Salem and the 1970’s during which a family was killed in a house fire. The present-day cohort realizes that they are trapped within Little Hope for the night and attempt to find their way out by traversing the city. Not far in, they realize that the time periods are even more directly linked. The present-day people are intermittently pulled back into the time of the witch trials to reveal that each of them has a so-called double. These doubles look the same – understandably, as they are played by the same actors – and are generally moral equals.
"Little Hope is the quintessential example of a game you will like if you enjoy the series, but it never outdoes the highest highs that Supermassive has hit in its past games."
To explain in more detail would spoil much of what makes the story interesting, but it’s certainly not the type of plot that will make full sense immediately. Even the Curator, the eerie man who interrupts every little while to give you an update on your progress and serves as the sole link among the anthology, confirms how confused you should be just a couple hours in. It’s only evident that the group is in danger; not until much later is it explained why or how the events are linked. In this way, the game increasingly builds tension over the course of its 4-hour runtime, as its mystery runs deeper, but it also feels too slow at the beginning for its fast-paced final hour. With such a twisted plot, it takes a long time to set up before it pays off, and it doesn’t quite stick the landing. There are stretches where very little happens, but it all speeds together with the final few scenes. Luckily, if you’ve been able to keep most or all characters alive, the ending is satisfying enough to make you understand the smaller moments, and everything makes sense in a way that feels understandable without ever being completely obvious.
Making up for the slow plot development in the first act is Little Hope’s survival-horror aspects, specifically its tension building and outright jump scares. While Little Hope is atmospherically more similar to Until Dawn with its abandoned town setting, its tension level is much more similar to Man of Medan and never reaches the heights of Until Dawn because it never quite matches its stakes. Part of this comes as a natural consequence of releasing a handful of games following a similar formula. Knowing the ways in which characters can die makes it a lot less frightening to encounter such a circumstance, and because Little Hope doesn’t stray from its predecessors, I could usually deduce when a character was actually in danger of death and when it was a fake out, especially early on. Because the stakes hinge on character deaths, having a good idea of when those deaths can occur makes potential scares less impactful.
That’s not to say, however, that Little Hope is devoid of scares. On the contrary, the town of Little Hope is dark and dreary and filled with unsettling beings and suspicious buildings, and the jump scares caught me off guard more often than not. While the game does fall back on many of the same jumps a few times, it’s never too many to make them lose their impact altogether. These are especially more noticeable as the game gets further along. When the stakes do become more tangible, every floor creak, unexplained noise, and camera shift leaves you a little anxious, and when there is actual danger, it usually packs a hard punch. While I didn’t find Little Hope’s version of enemies as frightening as Until Dawn’s wendigos, I came to appreciate them more because of the explanations behind them.
"While Little Hope is atmospherically more similar to Until Dawn with its abandoned town setting, its tension level is much more similar to Man of Medan and never reaches the heights of Until Dawn because it never quite matches its stakes."
On a character level, each of the five present-day leads are as diverse as Supermassive has created thus far. Played by some recognizable faces, they still follow high-level archetypes, but they’re all noticeably deeper than characters in previous games. Daniel, for instance, has traits of a college tough guy, but reveals his softer side later on. John, a college professor, puts on a façade of leadership and arrogance only to find more pressing internal issues. Each of the five has these types of internal dichotomies, and they’re all explored, some more so than others. The writing can be a little clunky, especially when it has to accommodate for your particular scenario, but it’s strong enough to convey character growth. Actions and dialogue choices have tangible impacts on relationships and character statuses, and they have legitimate consequences on late-game decisions and outcomes depending on which way you’ve played each character.
As has become the staple of this genre, Little Hope features ample opportunities for choosing your own path, and no two playthroughs will be exactly alike. Any character can live or die, and different choices beget different outcomes in the plot. Regarding character deaths, there are the usual deaths that come as a result of failed quick time events, but there are more that result directly from individual decisions, which is an appreciated addition that makes it more about the choices you make than about your button-pressing skills.
Other decisions run the gamut from dialogue choices to deciding between running and hiding from a monster or deciding between which of two people to help in an emergency. There seemed to be as many choices as ever in dialogue, and it actually feels like each choice has an impact on the story, rather than having just a handful of clear branching points like in past games. Some choices are obvious when they’re being made, such as those regarding who takes a certain path and who carries a weapon, but others are much more subtle, only understandable in impact when the consequences hit. While I would’ve liked to see a little more freedom in a few specific spots and there are some clear points where the game forces some circumstances to allow the plot to progress, there’s more replayability here than in Man of Medan, and I’m intrigued to continue trying to see every outcome.
"As has become the staple of this genre, Little Hope features ample opportunities for choosing your own path, and no two playthroughs will be exactly alike. Any character can live or die, and different choices beget different outcomes in the plot."
While the decision-making takes up the majority of the gameplay, the rest is almost identical to that of Little Hope’s predecessors. Between cutscenes, you explore designated areas to find everything from details about the town itself to pictures that give premonitions for potential future events. The most action-packed moments are those that involve the quick time events. Failing these is usually what leads to a character’s death, though it commonly takes multiple consecutive failures to get there. A couple of tweaks don’t separate this in any capacity from past games, though, as the actual experience of playing Little Hope is very similar to that of Man of Medan and Until Dawn.
I came out of my time with Little Hope further understanding what Supermassive Games is trying to do with its The Dark Pictures anthology. These games aren’t sequels, nor are they trying to build on each other from either a story or gameplay perspective. Like anthologies in literature or film, you don’t need to play the entire series to grasp what it’s going for, and if you don’t like the mechanics of one game, you won’t like them for any entry. However, as part of the anthology, Little Hope is another successful survival-horror experience. It’s clear that the formula for these games is starting to settle, and, while that may diminish some of the impact of future games’ reveals and scares, there are many things that work about it. Add onto that the interesting yet convoluted time-twisting plot and Little Hope is a positive experience for anyone who likes the genre. There’s a clear path that Supermassive Games is paving with Little Hope, but this entry is effectively scary and satisfyingly differentiated to be a worthwhile standalone experience.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Interesting time-bending story; Differentiated choices; Satisfying branching paths; Effective tension.
Formulaic scares; Uneven pacing.