We don't need to tell you what game The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope will immediately be compared to, so let's get it over and done with straight away. The second instalment in Supermassive Games' compendium series is the closest it has come to replicating the success of Until Dawn. It finally feels like the Guildford-based developer is back on the right track after wasting its time with PlayStation VR titles Bravo Team and The Inpatient. The game isn't without its own set of problems, but there's definitely something here. Something good.
If you played last year's Man of Medan, this spookfest will feel incredibly familiar. The narrative is once again the main reason to play as the choices you make have a dramatic impact on the course of events, shaping the ending and fates of controllable characters. Sprinkle some quick-time events and timed button presses on top and gameplay remains more of a means to an end rather than the justification for a second playthrough. That's no bad thing though because it's still enjoyable in the moment. Exploring the town of Little Hope in a linear fashion is continually interesting and so too are the collectibles that flesh its backstory out. Serviceable but gratifying is how we would put it.
How has another group of teens and their teacher wound up in danger, then? Following a bus crash on the way home from a school trip, students Andrew, Taylor, Daniel, and Angela decide to head into the supposedly deserted town of Little Hope alongside tutor John. They quickly realise that a heavy fog is stopping them from turning back and so cutting a route through the place in search of help becomes their only option. In typical fashion, however, the quest to find aid rapidly escalates as the creatures haunting the town make themselves known.
Running alongside their attempted escape is a second storyline dating back to the witch trials that took place in Little Hope. A little girl named Mary is repeatedly accused of being in cahoots with the devil, which in turn sees her accusers sentenced to death. It becomes increasingly clear that the two timelines are linked as the fivesome are transported back to the late 1600s where their actions and choices leave a lasting impact in the present day. In order to leave the town and find rescue, they must embrace every supernatural event the dwelling has to throw at them.
The plot will always be what you make it as decisions leave a lasting impression, but no matter which way it is taken, Little Hope will always provide a captivating six-hour adventure. Narrative hooks that are set in stone result in crescendos and scenarios both powerful in the moment as well as tantalizing. How would this scene have played out if Taylor wasn't present? What would happen if Daniel died an hour earlier? The mind wanders, almost forcing you into repeated playthroughs as the credits roll.
Andrew, played by Midsommar and The Revenant actor Will Poulter, is the star of the show. Immediately likeable and relatable, you feel for him as he tries to marry a pre-existing relationship between Taylor and Daniel with the awkward conversations of students and teachers outside school grounds. Or you could become a real nuisance, start arguments, and leave members of the group for dead. The choice really is yours.
Performances fuelling Taylor, Daniel, Angela, and David aren't quite as strong, but each character will have their chance in the limelight. Daniel's stand-offish attitude can be quickly rescued and Taylor can even be turned into a genuinely nice person. We promise. David, meanwhile, becomes the fatherly figure of the group while Angela plays the inconvenient role of being far too old to connect with her peers but also treading carefully with her teacher of a similar age. The Curator also returns in-between scenes to provide vague hints at what's to come and commentary on your actions so far — he's surely going to play some role in the overarching narrative of The Dark Pictures Anthology sooner or later.
You're likely to develop a soft spot for each and every one of them, heightening the weight of the more important choices in the process. Which character will you choose to save in the moment, potentially leaving the other for dead or fracturing your relationship with them at the very least? Should Daniel or Taylor carry the knife? Is it a good idea for Andrew to wield a gun? These sorts of quick-fire decisions form the basis of Little Hope and leave a lasting impact on who's still breathing by the end of it all. It could be everyone, it could be no one, and it could be any number in-between. Where the game succeeds is disguising some of its most important choices as throwaway moments, lending weight and meaning to everything you do.
The problem is that a lot of this build-up is scuppered by an unbelievably frustrating ending. Little Hope doesn't stick the landing as characters make bafflingly stupid decisions of their own accord, thwarting you of the control you've come to expect. How the closing moments play out depend largely on the personality traits unlocked for each character, and despite feeling like we'd done a good job of assembling a strong and confident crew, apparently, that wasn't enough. What's more, the final revelation almost makes the entire journey feel like it was for nothing.
It's also not really that scary. Jump scares are sure to catch you off-guard here and there while the distant glow of street lights create a tense atmosphere outdoors. However, the introduction of ghostly spirits and monsters taking a physical form are clearly telegraphed so there's never really any tension once they give pursuit. If you're an ace at quick-time events, little harm will come your way.
At least the title fares so much better than Man of Medan technically. While its predecessor suffered from all manner of minor issues, Little Hope runs smoothly on PlayStation 4 Pro without any hiccups whatsoever — that includes bugs and glitches. Our only gripe would be the load times, which while aren't particularly long, are frequent enough to break your immersion with the experience. Returning features include Shared Story and Movie Night to allow multiple players to engage with the story at once and they're just as good as ever for those who need them. Halloween may have passed by now, but the game is still perfect for a night in with your mates.
They may even be wowed by the game's visuals. Supermassive Games must have some seriously impressive tech running under the hood as character models, in particular, look outstanding while environments are atmospheric and begging to be rummaged through. It's not The Last of Us: Part II, but it's good. Really, really good.
All The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope wants to be is the popcorn flick of the horror genre. And despite an ending that robs some merit from the experience and intruding load screens, the game achieves that. An interesting cast of characters lends weight and impact to your decisions while the story itself intrigues and surprises. Perfect for an unsettling night in? You got that right.