With The Dark Pictures Anthology now at its fourth entry, you’d think Supermassive Games would’ve had more luck with recapturing the magic that made Until Dawn the lightning in a bottle success that it was. Despite the Dark Pictures games never quite sinking into bad or even mediocre territory by most reasonable standards, odds are, that’s good enough for you. But it’s no secret that Supermassive Games has tried to aim higher than that, as their marketing rhetoric tends to lean into insinuations that each of their upcoming titles are some sort of spiritual successor to their 2015 cult classic, and thus, are positioned to be on-par with it.
This type of chatter has been notably lessened in the lead up to their newest installment – The Devil in Me – and that seemed like a more appropriate decision the more I played it. The Devil in Me is, in some ways, a wonderful step forward for the Dark Pictures Anthology, but in other areas, can still feel weighed down by the cliches and inconsistencies that have kept Supermassive Games from repeating the success of the one game from seven years ago, with which most people still associate them.
“The Devil in Me is, in some ways, a wonderful step forward for the Dark Pictures Anthology, but in other areas, can still feel weighed down by the cliches and inconsistencies that have kept Supermassive Games from repeating the success of the one game from seven years ago, with which most people still associate them.”
If there’s anything that Supermassive’s lesser games have taught us it’s that an intriguing setting and compelling characters can make or break a game like this, so it’s equal parts relieving and disappointing that The Devil in Me’s setting of a trap-laden murder castle is one of their better backdrops, while the cast is, despite some bright spots, probably one of their worst. Here we have a down on their luck film crew in the final throes of cobbling together a documentary about H.H. Holmes. It’s not quite working out as they were hoping though, as they lack any real outstanding element to tie their project together, and also are clearly struggling with production fatigue.
Right on cue though, a special opportunity to get some great footage and introduce some real authenticity into their movie comes their way. While the situation they wind up in requiring them to relinquish their phones and put a body of water between them and any sort of help ultimately feels contrived as all hell, Supermassive’s writers do put just enough effort into justifying it to mitigate most of my eye-rolling.
This is a desperate group of filmmakers who really believe they’re onto something after all, and anybody who’s ever been through a college filmmaking class probably knows a few people who would have gladly done the same thing. Several of the characters tend to fall face first into a puddle of forgettable mediocrity when they are given any sort of focus. Still yet, I still found them, as an ensemble to be slightly more interesting after spending a few hours with them, despite some stiff gesturing here and there. Erin and Charlie are easily the two standouts, and I enjoyed sections involving them the most. In particular Erin’s shotgun mic she uses to create some legitimately harrowing moments.
There seems to be a nice synergy between how they were written and how they were performed that you don’t see in games all too often, let alone horror games, but it’s dragged down somewhat by the aforementioned woodenness of their movements and a series of predictable scenarios that just aren’t very scary. On the flipside, the tension that builds between climaxes can be palpable, and it’s nice to see a couple characters carrying some of the narrative load, and not just relegated to being villains or walk-on weirdos. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the worst cast in the genre. They do lean into flat delivery more than they should have, but if you couple them with a more interesting villain than usual for this series, a reasonably intriguing setting, and some of the best facial capture I’ve seen from any game in recent memory, then you have what I consider to be a solid package overall. I also enjoyed how much more grounded the story is here. While some of the death traps in the mansion are distractingly impractical, it’s nice to see the supernatural explanations dialed back to such a degree.
“This is not the worst cast in the genre. They do lean into flat delivery more than they should have, but if you couple them with a more interesting villain than usual for this series, a reasonably intriguing setting, and some of the best facial capture I’ve seen from any game in recent memory, then you have what I consider to be a solid package overall.”
Another area I was surprised to see some positive changes in was the exploration and general gameplay. This game still fits neatly into the interactive drama/adventure game hybrid that the previous Dark Pictures games have established with quick time events, light puzzles, and meticulous exploration making up the bulk of what you’ll be doing – but they also introduced a true jogging button – a welcome change from the nearly-imperceptible fast walk from previous games. With this is also some light climbing of certain surfaces, and even jumping across small gaps. It might not sound like much, but it does introduce some sorely-needed variety into the several hours of roaming around and investigating that these games necessitate.
You also have a real inventory to manage now. It’s nothing fancy with only a few slots and rarely making you do much with it, but it helps set each character apart, as their different items impact how they play and can introduce completely different types of suspense. Also, keeping track of what you have and what you don’t adds a splash of depth that make this entry feel more like a real mystery adventure game that builds on the interactive drama format of its predecessors, as opposed to just continuing to repeat it note for note. The strictly choreographed QTE’s haven’t gone anywhere though, and neither have the choice-based mechanics that shape the narrative, so don’t get too excited in thinking this entry reinvents the series – it doesn’t. Nor does it need to. But it did need to show that Supermassive can still take this formula in new and interesting directions, which I feel, it ultimately does.
Earlier I briefly mentioned that the character models and facial capture is quite good in The Devil in Me, and that’s not all they get right in the graphics department. The environments are also exceptionally detailed, well lit, and just fun to poke around in, while also being more varied and interesting than the tight corridors of Man of Medan or the cluttered cabins of The Quarry, Despite the game being almost entirely centered around a single piece of property, the variety of situations you find your characters in is more diverse than you might expect. With the legend of H.H. Holmes murder castle already being quite an embellishment of the true story, this game’s villain takes the creative liberties with that inspiration and goes even further with a mostly amusing set of scenarios to explore and get killed in, despite rarely being particular scary. I don’t want to say too much more about that though, as most of the joy of discovering the ins and outs of the murder castle are derived from discovering it yourself.
“The new ideas it introduces into the formula might ultimately be too few and far between to totally make up for some of the lingering issues that have held back these games since this anthology began, but it’s still a solid horror adventure for fans of the series and the genre.”
While some of The Devil in Me’s characterizations feel a bit too flat to really make the cast pop, and the more extreme moments of the story didn’t quite work for me, it’s hard to deny that this Dark Pictures entry has more going for it than not. The new ideas it introduces into the formula might ultimately be too few and far between to totally make up for some of the lingering issues that have held back these games since this anthology began, but it’s still a solid horror adventure for fans of the series and the genre.
This game was reviewed on PC.