Supermassive Games rounds off the first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology with The Devil in Me, a sinister tale set in a hotel based on the crimes of America’s first serial killer.
Like an interactive TV show, season one of The Dark Pictures Anthology has had us exploring a creepy ghost ship, revisiting the witch trials, and running from vampires in a subterranean vault. Each bite-sized game has players guiding characters and interacting with an ensemble cast trying to get them all out alive. Decisions not only affect each character’s fate but also how they react to one another. The result is an edge-of-seat experience that is different with every playthrough.
I’ve always enjoyed the idea of a game presented as a movie or TV show. I loved Alan Wake with each episode starting with a “previously on Alan Wake” sequence. After an interactive TV-style tease, each episode of The Dark Pictures Anthology starts with a credit sequence leading to an introduction by the slightly sinister Curator. Like Hitchcock at the beginning of each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the Curator sets the scene but also interjects during the game, offering players hints and an ominous reminder that the lives of the cast of characters are very much in their hands. Look closely and you may even spot the enigmatic host observing in the background during pivotal moments.
The Devil in Me starts with two ill-fated newlyweds checking into the World’s Fair Hotel, Chicago in 1893. This sets the scene offering players a very graphic introduction to H. H. Holmes, America’s first and perhaps most prolific serial killer.
Sensationalised reports had Holmes constructing a hotel for visitors of the Chicago World’s Fair. This “murder castle” was allegedly full of secret rooms with corridors laid out like mazes, doors opening to brick walls, and staircases going nowhere. Holmes would lure his victims, guests at the hotel, to their doom, or so the stories say. The truth is likely much more mundane, with Holmes’ victims in fact being known to him. The hotel was gutted by fire after Holmes’ arrest in 1895 and torn down in 1938. Holmes was executed by hanging on May 7th, 1896.
This instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology delves into the myth of H. H. Holmes having a TV crew receiving a mysterious invite to a preview of a hotel themed after the murderer’s infamous Chicago murder castle. What could possibly go wrong?
The game is a bit slow to start as it introduces the characters to the player. The relationships between each character are an important part of the game that the player needs to understand to make the life-or-death decisions required later on.
For this outing, I didn’t find the cast to be particularly likeable. This made it difficult to relate to them in a meaningful way that made their individual demises particularly impactful. The director, Charlie is mildly obnoxious with a sprinkling of arrogance. Kate, the presenter, seems cold and self-focused. Cameraman Mark is a bit of a drip. Jamie, the lighting engineer, seemed to be the only one in the group with her head screwed on properly. The innocent and asthmatic intern, Erin, for me seemed destined for an early grave.
After handing their mobile phones to the chauffeur of their limo the team is driven to the misty shore of Lake Michigan. Here a very nervous man introduces himself as Granthem Du’Met, the proprietor of the themed hotel. Du’Met pilots a ferry to continue the journey to the island on which the hotel is sited. Using a ruse, Kate and Jamie, split up from the others to investigate the ground on the way to the main hotel building.
After unpacking, the team meets for dinner only to discover that their apparent host has left the island, seemingly in a hurry. For here things take a nasty turn within the mazelike confines of the hotel.
The game environments do a very good job of creating a dilapidated estate. The visuals have an almost photoreal look to them.
Players switch between characters as they start to investigate the hotel. Moving walls and animatronic contraptions unnerve both the hapless TV crew as well as the player as the deadly situation begins to reveal itself.
The characters are very well acted with a cast of real-life thespians bringing their A-game to the production. The animations are sometimes a little off in their movement but are otherwise quite expressive and realistic.
There are clues foreshadowing future events and building a picture of the backstory littered around the very detailed locations. This is a game that encourages players to check every nook and cranny. The game does, however, seem to lead players on a carefully constructed and somewhat liner path, for example: forcing you to open the only locked door- your fate is almost predetermined at times.
As well as exploring, this instalment seems to incorporate more platform-style gameplay elements with characters climbing, jumping, shimmying, and dragging crates like in an Uncharted game. There are also puzzles, switches, and hidden rooms that reminded me of the Resident Evil games.
Instead of just relying on a spooky plot, The Devil in Me takes inspiration from the Saw films in placing the cast in all manner of gruesome situations. This is probably the most disturbing of all the games that Supermassive has made, and the one most likely to give you nightmares afterward.
Each character has a method of illuminating the darkness when the lights go out, from the flicking flame of Charlie’s cigarette lighter to the flash of Mark’s camera. Whilst the intent is to create atmosphere, the screen was often a little darker than I’d liked and the characters’ torches were too dim to really see much.
The game had me on the edge of my seat more than I remember with the anthology’s previous games. This was exacerbated by the proceedings being quite unforgiving at times. Whether a character lives or dies can depend on a single button press. All it takes is a fumble with the controller and that’s it, curtains. It doesn’t always seem fair, but I’m not sure that keeping the characters alive is actually the aim of the game, to be honest.
Some suspension of disbelief is required, with the characters occasionally acting in a completely unbelievable manner. There are areas blocked by impenetrable barriers of detritus that, if it was a matter of life and death, you would transverse with relative ease. One of the characters also walked past an arrangement of pokers, in the full knowledge that they are dealing with a murderer, without thinking to pick one up as a weapon.
Its slasher movie inspiration makes The Devil in Me not for the squeamish. Jump scares aside this is a story featuring a murderer that likes to play with his victims before and after their demise. Some of the imagery and the methods used by the killer are nothing short of grotesque.
With multiple threads to the story depending on the player’s decisions, the game invites multiple playthroughs. I found I’d missed whole chunks of the story due to the premature demise of characters the first time around. Being able to play the game with friends in both the local “Movie Night” couch co-op mode and the online “Shared Story” mode is another reason to return to the game.
I enjoyed my time with the game. The chilling Saw-like murders and the embodiment of Friday the Thirteenth’s Jason in the murderous pursuer, for me, made it the strongest of the series, if not the most technically accomplished. Whilst it has some glaring narrative faults, as a tense horror The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me hits the ball out of the park. Here’s to season 2.
Rating: Very Good