Until Dawn was a tough act to follow, a masterpiece in interactive horror story telling that really put the player in the middle of a story where every decision they made had a consequence both good and bad. The follow up to that bench mark title was The Dark Pictures Anthology, a collection of games serving as chapters hoping to recreate the Until Dawn experience in an almost episodic fashion but for me, the opening chapter in Man of Medan failed to come anywhere close to what Until Dawn achieved as a player experience. Now we finally have Chapter 2 in ‘Little Hope’ which released right on Halloween weekend for extra weekend spookiness. But could Little Hope get the formula right this time?
Little Hope had a lot to do quite frankly to win me over following a rather dull let down experience with Man of Medan and the prologue gave me a lot of hope which felt like a very early on “ok we listened to what you all said, look we fixed stuff”. By that I mean we very quickly jump to the action in the prologue compared to the slow rather slow lethargic pace of Man of Medan. The story opens with a bus driver setting off on his route before the image of a young girl in the middle of the road forced him to swerve leading to the bus flipping and ending up on its side. The action then jumps to what appears to be a family home in the 70’s where kids are discussing their parents having another fight but this time over the youngest daughter. A chain of events is triggered when the youngest daughter, Megan, seemingly taken instruction from a shadowy figure with creepy hands, sets her doll on fire which then starts a house fire trapping various family member across the house.
The prologue as you would expect is a very good tutorial into how the gameplay mechanics work from the now traditional player choice that comes in the form of dialogue choices between the characters as well as decisions on which can determine an outcome where life or death could depend on making a decision or not making one. In setting up the story this way the game also takes the opportunity to let the player know just how gruesome the game can get as each death is incredibly detailed and animated in the most brutal of fashion, even compared to Man of Medan and Until Dawn, the violent deaths in the prologue is enough to put anyone on the back foot.
The quicker pace of getting to the more horror focused elements of Little Hope certainly enable getting to the action much faster than Man of Medan which for me, took far too long setting up the cast of unlikeable characters than getting to anything really spooky and horror. Little Hope uses a variety of tricks to keep the player guessing as to what the hell is going on from dropping little teases such as books on Witches and the Witch Trials to the setting of this small American town that for some reason is enveloped in traditional “fog”. Even the introductions to the characters is much faster than in Man of Medan, allowing the player or players depending on the mode you choose, to make a quick assessment for each one as understanding a character is key to making the right choice for them as the story goes on.
I actually really liked the performance for each character and really enjoyed them far more than the ensemble in Man of Medan. I felt my choices in terms of choosing dialogue options for each of them when I was in control felt a lot more natural though there are still times when the narrative seemingly ignored my choices for them but overall, my decisions felt I was crafting character relationships when given the opportunity to do so. The writing did fall into the same trope trapping of Man of Medan with your stereo typical roles but they are very believable as characters as they all try to piece together what is happening whilst reacting to the craziness of it all. It definitely felt more in tone with how Until Dawn used its own cast of characters and so worked much better this time around than the wooden and single dimensional cast of Man of Medan.
Even the story setting just felt more fitting, moving away from the urban legend of a “ghost ship” in Man of Medan to the Witch Trials with clever twists as the characters from the modern day suddenly encounter their doppelgangers with strange events both confusing and scaring them all equally as events unfold. The way the characters react to each other and events is bolstered by the decisions you as the player or players if in co-op make for them, again forming the relationships that could lead to their survival or their deaths depending on the very choices you make. Switching between the characters feels more fluid and the tension of trying to keep all of them alive is still a powerful tool to drive the narrative as the story will adapt to the success or failure to do so.
Improvements over Man of Medan has helped give the sense of more control with visual queues before a QTE (Quick Time Event) so it less of a shock when you suddenly have to react quickly to an event that might lead to the loss of one of the characters which makes it feel a lot fairer than it did in Man of Medan. The horror aspect works far better this time as well with a focus on keeping the tension and mystery of what is happening throughout which failed in the last game for me. The three ways of playing either fully solo, passing the controller style co-op or the shared experience where two players view different aspects of the story as they play different characters still adds that level of replayability. The Curator is still that little element of magic and continuity for The Dark Pictures after each act, he will assess your performance with little hints depending on how well you did and possible clues that might give an insight into what is happening next.
Which is why I enjoyed Little Hope far more than Man of Medan but this series has yet to match the brilliance of Until Dawn and after two attempts, Until Dawn still remains the best example of this style of gameplay. Refinements were made and this series is back on a more positive note for me and left me interested for the third chapter due out in 2021.
Little Hope managed to actually give me some hope for this series after Man of Medan ultimately failed to deliver anything other than a lacklustre experience.