This might well be a first: a truly layered interactive movie. Dave E didn't get it at first, but when he replayed it, it all fell into place...Little Hope
How do you like your horror? Are you a big fan of those macabre creatures created by Clive Barker? Or are creepy little girls with demons who whisper in their ears more your cup of tea? Well, never fear if you can't make your mind up because Little Hope, the latest in the Dark Pictures Anthology from Supermassive Games, is here just in time for Halloween 2020. And, as you might expect, it's another one of those 'decision making' games in which you choose to respond to situations by furiously mashing your PS4's control buttons or choosing to reply to questions with one of two possible answers.
So first there was the big budget Until Dawn, which is now several years old, but a game which pretty much spawned this particular new genre. Then there was Man Of Medan this time last year which was, clearly, not as epic a production but managed to be reasonably enjoyable. Little Hope is the sequel to Man Of Medan, and features the same 'slightly camp but eerily menacing' curator. In fact, the game starts the same way, with a prologue followed by the curator striding purposefully down the darkened corridors to the strains of a sombre rendition of "Death Spare Me Another Year" (or something). It's nothing short of a ringing pronouncement to all that Supermassive knows the formula inside-out by now, and it's happy enough to keep on delivering its horror stories in that format, at least for another year.
Little Hope is a town. It's largely abandoned and the game begins with a bus driver being ordered by a friendly State Trooper to take a short diversion through it due to an accident making the highway impassable. Unfortunately, an event occurs (That's me trying not to give too much away!) and the bus ends up on its side. Travelling inside the bus were four students and a professor on a geography field trip, and it is these people who you, as the player of Little Hope, must now control. As with all games of this type, the aim is to keep them alive until the credits roll.
Yes, he's back.
I have to say I quite like the idea of a new episode in the Dark Pictures Anthology rolling out like clockwork every halloween, much like the Saw movies did for many years. I also quite like the idea of separate adventures set in the same universe, with all of the little Easter Eggs and story arcs that they are then allowed to introduce. It does, however, present a reviewer with something of a problem because reviews have to approach the games in the manner of a film review. Just as no-one wants the ending of a movie they haven't yet seen spoiled by a colleague blurting it out, anyone whose interest may be piqued by Little Hope is probably going to want to come to it mostly blind. Personally, I avoided even reading the back of the box before I slapped the disc in my PS4. If it's a horror game with jump scares, I'm already sold.
And yet, well, the criticisms of these games are all so predictable, aren't they? When the only real interaction that you have with a game is through its 'quicktime' events (just another way of saying the ability to react to a triangle or a square flashing up on-screen by pressing the appropriate button), the player is hardly glued to his controller. By my reckoning, Little Hope is the least interactive of these type of games that I've ever played. You have so little to do within the first 45 minutes of this game that you could comfortably eat a three course meal while it introduces the characters and their interpersonal relationships and attributes. At least in the earlier Supermassive Games, there was a modicum of walking around and choosing who to talk to, or what objects to examine. Little Hope felt to me as if there had been intended to be more interaction, but somehow it had not made it to the final release.
There was also a terrifying boredom associated with the beginning of my first playthrough. I nodded off during walking simulator Dear Esther but I thought that could only have been as a result of that game being literally lifeless. But the problem with Little Hope is that it's initially very confusing, and it's very confusing very fast. To give the obvious example, after all the party has dusted themselves down, they find themselves in the middle of a dirt road, with a bus flipped over, and some disagreement as to what to do next. Taylor, a headstrong student, takes a sage approach to the situation. She states, quite simply, that, because the State Trooper is sending all traffic that way, all the party needs to do is stay put until another vehicle follows them. In fact, she is very adamant that she is staying with the bus, no matter what the rest of them may choose to do. The conversation plays out over a good few minutes, and the player can take control of Taylor, and can vehemently restate her position several times over.
How disappointing it is, therefore, that no matter what, Taylor does not stay with the bus. All of these protestations are, it seems, a complete waste of time, as a few seconds later she forgets all about them and wanders down the dirt road towards Little Hope with the other four passengers. As if that isn't annoying enough, the characters then get into another fight about going back to the bus on at least two subsequent occasions. But if you set off toward it, a fog descends, envelopes your characters and turns him/her around so that it is unreachable.
Much of Little Hope, and decidedly more than Until Dawn and Man Of Medan, takes place in almost total darkness. Your characters bowl flashlights around but it's very difficult to see where they're going, or even to aim the flashlight in the direction of travel. Apparently there are clues just off the beaten track in a lot of the scenes. The curator, who interrupts your story at regular intervals, also gets very upset with you if he feels you are not exploring every nook and cranny. But it's not all that simple when you've strolled past a lot of the objects you might discover because they're masked by the darkness. And, despite the curator's protestations that there are an "infinite number of possible options" for story progression, I felt Little Hope was a most linear decision-making adventure game. In fact, it seemed to be so linear that my failure to find certain items made for some quite bewildering jumps in plot progression.
I could never really work out where I was in the town of Little Hope because the characters didn't seem to proceed through it with any sense of direction. One minute they were in a cemetery, the next they were breaking into houses for no particular reason, then they were in the middle of the woods, then back on the road, then in an abandoned museum, then a derelict police station... Well, you get the idea. At the same time, they wittered on to each other like raving loonies, one moment having their minds only on their current plight (finding a phone and getting a lift back to civilisation) and the other being propelled into strange 'other-worldly' witch trials of the past. As if that wasn't all confusing enough, all the characters bore a striking resemblance to each other, and to the family members all seen being brutally offed in the prologue.
I have to say that all the time-travelling, missing things, location-hopping and lack of interaction with the PS4 controller left me feeling like I was watching a really slow, and really bad horror movie. The quicktime events, when they did come, were the very definition of 'fastest finger first'. I like to think I have pretty fast reactions, but many of them call for superhuman speed and probably the only way to be assured of completing certain challenges is to learn them by heart. There are also some moments when you must tap a button in rhythm with a pulse shown on-screen and, frankly, these were a pain in the arse to pass. I couldn't even understand a lot of the story, with the grotesque minions of Little Hope's underworld rising from the earth to snap characters' necks on a whim seeming altogether incongruent with the witch trials said to have taken place in Little Hope back in the sixteenth century.
Needless to say, I wasn't particularly good at keeping my posse alive. When it was all over, and the curator was rather glibly telling me "That's it, game over, you've killed everyone, you stupid bastard" (or something), I was disappointed. Little Hope was frankly, a lot more rubbish than those games that Supermassive had previously delivered. It was over far too quickly, it was incomprehensible and most of what happened and why was never explained. Alright, it wasn't quite as bad as The Inpatient, but heck, it was pretty damned close. About the only thing I'd enjoyed was the ending.
However, it left me with a weird sort of feeling. The feeling that, somehow, I hadn't quite "got it". I decided not to box it up again and see if I could blag a full refund from my local retailer; instead I went back to the menu and selected the "Don't Play Alone" (Multi-player option) rather than "Play Alone" (single player option) and fired it up again .One of the reasons I did that was that those who posted hints and tips pertaining to the first instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology stated that the "Play Alone" option dropped quite a number of scenes. The general consensus for that game was that the scenes dropped only made for a "Director's Cut" of the game and didn't really advance the action. However, I'd found this second instalment virtually incomprehensible. Perhaps there were more scenes in the "Don't Play Alone" version, and perhaps their inclusion might make the story make a lot more sense...
And, what do you know? I enjoyed my second playthrough much more than my first. This time I did "get it". There were indeed extra scenes, and more character development, and I was able to keep more of my gang of five alive, not to mention appreciate how clever the game actually is. You see, Little Hope is layered. It's just like one of those movies that has a twist allowing you to re-watch the movie afterwards from a different vantage point. If you like The Sixth Sense, Identity or Fight Club, then you'll notice Little Hope's nods in their direction. And all those somewhat baffling failures to act in common-sense ways actually begin to make sense in retrospect. Hell, there's even a few Mulholland Drive-style moments when you really look for them, and that movie remains one of my all-time favourites. I even discovered a new-found appreciation for the quicktime events too. In previous releases, some quicktime events have been prompted for without much warning. In Little Hope, you get a visual and vibratory cue that one of them is coming. It takes a bit of getting used to for sure, and it may even take a whole playthrough to get used to it, but actually if you concentrate on the icons and not the action behind them, you can beat the timer almost every time.
That doesn't mean Little Hope is by any means a classic PS4 game. It's still too dark, with not enough interaction (particularly in the early scenes) and a lot of the things you discover in it are completely irrelevant. But actually no matter how it plays out, it does work as a coherent whole story. Until Dawn and Man Of Medan had some significant plot-holes but Little Hope has none. "Really?" I hear you cry. "But these diverse butterfly effect storylines always result in dialogue or scenes that don't quite fit a coherent whole story! How is that possible?" Well, as I've chosen to review Little Hope without giving away many spoilers, I can't tell you. What I can do is reiterate that it does work, and it makes Little Hope quite a mature horror title. In fact from playthrough one to playthrough two, it went from being one of the crumbiest to most stimulating Choose Your Own Adventures I've yet played. So overall I would recommend it. Just make sure you keep yourself topped up on energy drinks during those early scenes to ward off that other demon - sleep!