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Thursday, October 29, 2020

[Review] ‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope’ Isn’t as Bewitching as It Could Be

I used to love flipping through cable channels on Halloween as a kid looking for spooky flicks. Be it teens fleeing from hockey-masked bogeymen in the woods or suburban families exorcising demons from their home—I craved films that caused a hasty retreat under the covers. Idiots getting sliced from stem to stern was fine too, though. Part of the fun of horror is if it’s not scary, you can at least laugh at the unintentional absurdity.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope isn’t quite appealing in either sense. This narrative-focused cliché mill is full of choices with meaningful consequences, but they often result in a tonal whiplash. Little Hope can’t decide if it’s a deathly-serious ghost story or a hat-tip to 80s camp, undermining itself by disguising the former as something clever.

Little Hope is the second installment in Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology. You won’t have to play last year’s Man Of Medan to understand what’s going on here, though, as it’s a stand-alone story. There are no rusty warships on high seas this time, just the titular Little Hope—a dilapidated ghost town where former residents were gung-ho for witch-burnings once upon a time. Unfortunately for the group of college students that stumble into town after a bus crash, current occupants are of the monsters-eager-to-disembowel variety. Worst of all, their fate is left entirely in your hands. Fail a quick-time-event (QTE) or make poor choices in a life-or-death situation, and any of them can eat dirt.

“I’m just going to say it,” Taylor, the group’s designated sassy-girl says early on. “This is exactly what happens in horror movies.” As if to overenthusiastically wink at the audience, partially taking ownership of how trite the plot is. Moments like this happen sporadically throughout Little Hope‘s five-hour runtime, and they never get less groan-worthy. See, I don’t mind that the story is rife with Alessa Gillespie-like creepy little ghost girls or witch-burning flashbacks cribbed from a certain Robert Eggers film, but what does irk me is how Little Hope plays itself straight. Throwing in meta lines like this while still committing to a bunch of tropes isn’t smart; it’s just openly admitting that your story sucks. 

Fortunately, you can spice up the plot thanks to an enormous amount of branching paths available. Early on, I decided everyone in the group should act like huge assholes to each other for maximum hilarity. The cast is utterly devoid of personality most of the time, so pitting them against each other was the only way I could enjoy their lifeless back-and-forth conversations. You’ll continuously swap between each character, so policing the tone is easy. For example, John, the overbearing professor, tends to think he’s always in the right. At one moment, he had a stand-off with Taylor over which path they should take next. I made John insist that they should chase after an apparition, while Taylor wanted to head into the woods by other means. Slowly, I ramped up their argument by consistently choosing the cattiest responses to the point that both stormed off in a fit when all was said and done. Being a devious instigator was the most fun I’d had with Little Hope, mainly when everyone was fleeing from gangly beasts. 

Monster tussles test the group’s resolve just as vigorously as your reaction time. I don’t mind an old-fashioned QTE-fest, especially since Little Hope‘s anyone-can-die stipulation is delightfully intense. For example, Daniel, the himbo of the group, had to save Taylor from a monster. Fumbling a QTE as Taylor meant I had to make up for it as Daniel, be it swiping the nearest log to bash over the beasties’ head or just yanking Taylor out of harm’s way. Conversely, if I screwed up Daniel’s actions, it could result in a Taylor-kebab with a spear freshly planted in her torso. It’s quite impressive just how many different ways the cast can die in Little Hope.

Those frantic fight-or-flight scenarios are only that much more entertaining in Movie Night, a local co-op mode that forces you and some pals to pass the controller around when the perspective swaps from one character to another. My roommate and I got a kick out of accidentally getting the cast killed due to us fumbling about with a controller during a manic toss. If you have the option to play Little Hope with a friend, I implore you to do so.

Though with everyone being able to meet a grisly demise, I became even more irritated with how seriously Little Hope takes itself. With all the murder-potential, you’d think the kills would be entertaining. In the vein of Jason Voorhees’ sleeping bag kills or punching a boxer’s head clean off. Sure, it’s a bit morbid to enjoy that kind of thing, but watching annoying characters get waxed is stupid fun. In Little Hope, though, the kills are rather mundane—lots of quick impalements or roasts in a fire. I get the impression it’s because the game doesn’t want to draw comparisons to low-brow horror, but the narrative is so by-the-numbers with a cast that’s not in the least bit compelling that I have no idea what’s so shameful about embracing a campy theme. Not to mention aggressively irritating jump scare pops-up constantly (no, really the same one every time), which kind of further shows Little Hope isn’t against popular tropes. I’d rather horror be honest with itself and the audience rather than pretend it’s high-brow despite the clichés mounting up higher than the body count ever does.

Little Hope‘s utter lack of tonal cohesion hindered my enjoyment from beginning to end. Yes, the malleable plot threads are fun to toy around with, particularly in co-op. However, it’s not enough to overcome the persistent identity crisis that’s thoroughly woven into every fiber of Little Hope‘s being. Rather than yield a shriek or belly laugh, Little Hope just made me begrudgingly sigh.

Little Hope review code for PC provided by the publisher.

The Dark Pictures: Little Hope is out October 30 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3639190/review-dark-pictures-anthology-little-hope-isnt-bewitching/

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