This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope.
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So you remember that Dark Pictures: Man of Medan thing that Supermassive Games burped wout, and how they were threatening to make it a full on horror anthology series? Well, apparently their demands weren’t met so they’ve been forced to inflict another one upon us. Supermassive Games should not be confused with Supergiant Games. I know they mean the same thing, but Supergiant Games makes interesting games that push the boundaries of the interactive storytelling medium, and Supermassive Games makes “interactive movies,” a phrase which for me remains almost as foreboding as “Hey, is your nuclear reactor supposed to be doing that?” And for some reason they always star one and only one TV actor who just barely enters the threshold of celebrity. Last time it was the dude from Quantum Break with the fat face. This time it’s… er… well, you know that meme? The four panel one where the dude at the end says “You guys are getting paid?” It’s that dude. What, the bloke with the face like a toddler who just smelled something weird? That’s the one! Anyway, the new Dark Pictures episode is called Little Hope, which funnily enough is also what Supermassive Games have for getting the promised eight game series out of this tosh before interest dries up.
The story begins with a vehicle on its way to a small American town crashing after it swerves to miss a mysterious dark-haired girl who appears in the middle of the road, whereupon the survivors of the crash go looking for someone who’s missing and end up in a weird foggy version of the town full of twisted monsters representing – wait a minute. This is just Silent Hill. Well, it’s Silent Hill if instead of exploration and combat and masterfully crafted atmosphere you just got tied to a length of rope and dragged through a linear sequence of events, and if instead of Silent Hill it was called “Five abrasive dipshits who never shut the fuck up” Hill. Still, I suppose I can’t fault them for their choice of influence, Man of Medan seemed to have been mainly influenced by Scooby Doo versus the Ghost Pirates. After the crash, we then go through a second prologue sequence set in the 70s in which a family with hilarious retro haircuts all die in a house fire. Well, undeniably hilarious as those retro haircuts were, game, why did you show me that? “Oh, no reason! Right, back to the bus crash and scary town.”
Well, I suppose now we know that just like Man of Medan there’s gonna be some reveal at the end of all this that ties everything together and just like Man of Medan it will probably make the whole game feel like a complete waste of fucking time. And without wishing to spoil just yet, that’s very much the case. But Man of Medan had a better sense of escalation. First you’re on a boat. Then you go diving. Then pirates show up. Then you go to the ghost ship. We start wanting to smack Shawn Ashmore’s character around the head with increasingly large and heavy blunt objects. It fell apart after you go on the ghost ship because it just becomes a sequence of disconnected set pieces as the characters randomly drift around on a wonderful jumpscare safari failing to advance the plot or any character arcs for about two hours. Little Hope’s main issue is that it starts at the ghost ship. Or ghost town, in this case. Almost every chapter is basically the same – our heroes blunder aimlessly through the fog, find some kind of building or location where something creepy happens, then blunder aimlessly out again. It’s like watching blind puppies searching for a nipple on a shagpile carpet. You could put the chapters in random order and have precisely the same sense of plot development, that is to say, fuck all.
And continuing the Supermassive games tradition, I hate all the characters. The facial animation is having serious problems finding the exit ramp from the uncanny valley, especially with young man who isn’t weird smell toddler face young man, who looks like he’s getting slapped in the mush with a trout every time the camera’s off him. Besides those two, the cast are rounded out by older professor man who thinks the best way to exert authority is to constantly do a Jack Nicholson impression; young student lady whose main role in the plot I think was to loudly disagree with whatever the previous speaker said, and older student lady who hasn’t even reset her splintered bones from the opening bus crash before she starts getting catty about young student lady. So even if you did direct them to the exit ramp from the uncanny valley, I feel like they’d just argue over what lane to be in until they crash into a concrete divider and then argue over whose intestines are whose. Mind you, it’s actually hard to get a feel for the characters, since as before the branching nature of the plot means their personalities change from one shot to the next.
As well as their emotional states and physical positions, and the fact that the one being controlled by the player keeps switching certainly exacerbates that. And the other reason its hard to judge their characterization is because 90% of the dialogue is some variation on the phrase “We have to find a way out of here.” Blunder through fog, find building, get inside, “Let’s find a way out of here.” THEN WHY DID YOU COME IN HERE, DIPSHITS? AT LEAST SIGN THE FUCKING GUESTBOOK. I think I’ve figured out my problem with this whole style of game, besides the terrible characters and bizarre editing; it’s that, despite being in control, I don’t feel like I’m contributing, if that makes sense. There’s this loose notion that our goal is either to keep everyone alive, or make them all dead, or keep only the ones you like alive and imagine them blowing things off to go party in Atlantic City or something, but whether or not our decisions will lead towards our chosen goal seems to be completely impossible to predict or intuit. And failing one of the action quick time events only seems to have consequences about half the time, as well.
I feel like I might as well’ve just lined everyone up and played Russian Roulette five times. Then take a long lunch and brush the dog. Well, I’m being unfair. The game does stumblingly create a certain amount of intrigue between mysterious flashbacks to the past and intense monster encounters, just a shame all of it gets squashed by the big reveal like kindergarten chairs under the arse of a morbidly obese parent. So let’s talk about the en – SPOILER WARNING – ding. Can I offer a suggestion, Supermassive? How about, for the third Dark Pictures episode, you make the plot twist something other than “It was all a hallucination?” Maybe don’t kill any desire I have to replay it after it turns out 90% of the characters we’re trying to keep alive aren’t fucking real? That Cryptkeeper narrator dude was being all like “Ah, but remember that the truth might not always be as it seems.” and I was like “Oh, fuck, it’s hallucinations again, isn’t it.” Maybe I’ve misunderstood. Maybe every episode will be hallucinations and the mystery is figuring out what’s causing them each time. In Man of Medan it was gas. In Little Hope it’s survivor’s guilt? And next time it’ll be, I dunno, someone drew penises all over the main character’s contact lenses.