A Little Hope is Slightly Hopeless

A little over a year ago, I played the first game in the Dark Pictures Anthology – Man of Medan. (You can view my review of that game here.) The sequel, Little Hope, was scheduled to come out in February of 2020.  My understanding is that, based on a number of negative reviews of Man of Medan, Supermassive had to make some massive changes to the gameplay. Little Hope came out October 30, 2020. My roommate and I took the day off of work to play it.

Title Screen - Little Hope

There’s no way to really talk about Little Hope without spoiling the game, so after I say this, proceed at your own risk: Little Hope was pretty good… until the end, at which point it died a horrible death. Even so, it will never match Until Dawn, Supermassive’s first offering of this type.

Now: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Normally, I split these reviews up into segments: the gameplay, the story, etc.  I’m not going to do that here because, frankly, so much of it is intertwined for me that it’s hard to separate them out cleanly.

The game starts out with a prologue, like most games do – a tutorial level to let you get the hang of the controls and how the gameplay system works. You are one of four foster children in the ’70s, living in a home with your two foster parents. I won’t get into the details, but the upshot of it is that you have no control over the actual end of this prologue. There’s only one small detail that you can change – and it does change the rest of the game, but not particularly meaningfully.

One of the things that Supermassive changed about the control scheme of this game is the way the controls work. This avoids some of the issues that I complained about in Man of Medan, where the camera perspective would shift and you’d suddenly be walking the opposite of the way you were originally traveling. However, they weren’t as precise about fixing the smoothness of the characters’ movements or the interactivity of objects. There were still occasions when I would go to pick up an item and it wouldn’t be interactable until I moved the character some fiddly way.

The secrets (three types), relationships, and “bearings” all appear to work the same way as they did in Man of Medan and Until Dawn, with the exception of a lock symbol that can appear on a character’s personality traits. I guess if you choose a particular personality trait’s responses often enough during the game it locks them in? I’m not sure, and it wasn’t really explained very intuitively to me. And of course, the premonitions are also there – this time they’re postcards, not paintings. They’re still equally cryptic, though.

So the basic premise is that a group of five people are passengers on a bus that crashes and they’re forced to look for help in the ghost town of Little Hope. Along the way they keep seeing a little girl out of the corner of their eye, and each time they seem to flash back and forth through time into the past. Who is that little girl? The bus driver disappears after the crash – did he go for help? Was he thrown from the bus and killed instantly? Did he live and the five characters died?  You won’t know until the end, but people bring him up periodically throughout the game.

Including the Curator, who makes another appearance. He continues to be mostly useless, quoting poetry and Shakespeare and fussing that he’s not allowed to interfere. Of course, he’ll give you a hint or two as well. And he’ll judge your decisions up to the point of his appearance as well.

Would you tell me if there was though? Probably not.

So here’s the interesting part: the six family members from the prologue, the five main characters of Little Hope (and one little girl that keeps appearing around them), and six of the individuals you meet as you flash into Little Hope of 1692 all have the same faces. So you spend the majority of the game A) trying to get your five modern-day protagonists out of Little Hope and B) trying to figure out what the hell is happening with these flashbacks.

Supermassive has done some wonderful things with Little Hope. They’ve upped its accessibility by slowing down QuickTime events, and inserting a signal onto the screen so you know a QTE is about to happen. However, the signaling takes up part of the screen and there isn’t a great tutorial about those mechanics and the distinction between them and the heartbeat stealth section. I failed a couple of events because a button would pop up on screen and I’d immediately hit it. I think the greater accessibility is wonderful, but it would be nice if the signaling was more clearly set out.

Second up is the atmosphere, which is both a blessing and a curse. Little Hope is an incredibly detailed, lovingly rendered environment. It is very obviously an almost completely abandoned ghost town. Every location makes this abundantly clear.

Just look at the detail on the inside of this derelict church. Gorgeous.

There are a number of separate environments, each with their own distinct contents and atmospheres.

I wanted one of these mannequins to grab my character SO BAD.

Along the way, we learn that in 1692 Little Hope had witch trials just like Salem did. And it all starts with a poppet – a handmade doll.

Hello, my name is Creepy and I want to be your friend.

We watch as the analogues of four of our characters are accused of witchcraft, tried, condemned, and sentenced to death at the hands of a particular priest and the analogue of the little girl.

Jerk.

To a certain extent, the characters can interact with things in the past. Or rather, you can make a choice to have them interact, and then they talk to people or do things. Generally, they can’t be seen by anyone other than their past selves though, which leads to some hilarity (and tragedy, if this is your first playthrough).

Not pictured: My character trying to hoist him back up.

It becomes clear that each time a character’s “past self” is killed as a witch, that death spawns a monster that begins to hunt that character in the present. And man, I have to give it to Supermassive, they did a great job building dread with these monsters.

GEE, ANGELA, LET ME CONSULT MY GUIDEBOOK AND SEE

They use Dutch angles to give us only glimpses of them.

They show the monsters behind us, lurking, hunting.

Creeper, no creeping!

And occasionally we see them closer up.

It’s 100% phenomenal. I have no dings to assign for the monsters in Little Hope.

I’ll save the major downside (and spoiler) for last, and address some of the other issues.

Little Hope’s characters were generated with motion capture. This works great for the bodies, but the faces kind of end up in the Uncanny Valley. It did destroy my suspension of belief a little bit – especially around the little girl, who seemed to catch the worst of it.

In addition, for a game that’s supposed to be branching and full of possibilities, this game was really railroady. The fog that wreaths Little Hope is reminiscent of Silent Hill, but it performs a more practical (and irritating) function.

John can’t see anything through the fog. Neither can I, including items to be picked up or potential paths. And if you walk past a path and recognize it too late, too bad! It’s covered by fog now, and you can’t get back to it. You can’t turn around. For the potential sandbox that a small, abandoned town could be, there are very few travel options in Little Hope.

Little Hope is startlingly linear in more than one way. Although you can make choices for the character you are playing and change their personality and their words, it doesn’t feel like Supermassive scripted enough to accommodate that. For example, Taylor says that what’s happening is the same thing that happens in horror movies. But if you choose a moment later to antagonize John, another character, you get this exchange:

That makes no sense. She just referred to horror movies herself. Why would she say that? Little Hope is full of these kinds of discrepancies.

Then there’s the question of who lives and who dies.  It’s possible to end the game with all five characters alive. It’s also possible to kill all five. Or you can be like me on my first playthrough and end up somewhere in between. (I walked away with two out of five. Not great odds.) But I couldn’t tell you exactly what determined who lived and who died. Was it my choices? Personality traits I encouraged? I have no idea. Once or twice I got a trophy notification that I had “saved” someone, but I don’t know exactly what triggered it. It could have been a particular choice or culmination of choices. Maybe it was a choice plus personality traits. It could even have been the positioning of the stars, as far as I know.

Apparently yelling “Get up and walk it off” at the screen doesn’t work.

Obviously you can die through missing QTEs as well, though I didn’t do that my first time through. Regardless of the QTEs, the story didn’t really show me goals for keeping each character alive.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Finally, let’s talk about plot and the characters themselves. I was down for the whole “maybe it’s past lives” thing. I could have gotten behind “someone cursed us to relive the paranoia and trauma.” But nothing seemed to link all three time periods cleanly.

We’ll start with the characters. First is Angela, who in the ’70s was Anne, the foster mother, and in 1962 was Amy.  In the ’70s, she was taking a bath when the house caught fire and she was locked in the bathroom, so she suffocated to death. In 1692, she was wrapped in chains and tossed in a river to drown after the little girl, Mary, accused her of being a witch. Those don’t link up – suffocation and drowning are not the same. We have no sense of her personality in the ’70s other than she was frustrated with her alcoholic husband, upset that her youngest foster daughter (Megan) kept being held behind after Sunday School, unhappy that she had to hold the whole family together, and she just wanted a little bit of peace (hence the bath). In the modern day, she is a mature student who starts out as abrasive, aggressive, nosy, and self-centered. (My roommate and I were both a little offended by her initial characterization – she actually said, “This is a woman who was written by a man.”)

Second is Taylor, who in the ’70s was Tanya, the older foster sister, and in 1962 was Tabitha. Her death depends on the choices you make in the prologue. In the ’70s, Tanya can either burn to death in the house or accidentally hang herself trying to shimmy down the drainpipe. Depending on your choice, Tabitha is either hanged or burned at the stake, and this affects the look of her “monster” as well. In the ’70s Tanya was friendly but kind of snarky and cynical. In the modern day she is a student who starts out as disagreeable, argumentative, and deceptive.

Then there’s John, who in the ’70s was James, the foster father, and in 1692 was Joseph. In both the ’70s and in 1692 he was married to Angela’s analogue. He died in the ’70s when the burning house collapsed on him. In 1692 he was pressed to death – he was laid under a board and heavy stones piled on him until he was crushed. He was a flat-out alcoholic in the ’70s, terrified of losing his job at the factory, resentful of his family, and basically all-around unhappy. In the modern day he is a professor and recovering alcoholic who is self-important, pompous, and bossy.

Fourth is Daniel, who in the ’70s was Dennis, one of the foster brothers, and in 1692 was David. He fell off of the roof of the house in the ’70s trying to escape the fire and was skewered on the pointed tines of the fence. In 1692, he was pushed off the belfry of the church tower and, predictably, skewered on the pointed tines of the fence. Dennis was a giant jerk in the ’70s – pretty much every character acknowledged that. In modern day, Daniel is actually pretty affable, although he can get opinionated. He’s also dating Taylor, which we’ll talk about later.

Fifth is Andrew, who in the ’70s was Anthony, one of the foster brothers, and in 1692 was Abraham. In the ’70s, Anthony actually lived. And so did Abraham in 1692. We never see a monster for him, which is kind of a hint. In all three time periods, the character is indecisive and wishy-washy but ultimately helpful.

Although never a playable character, the list wouldn’t be complete without the little girl, who has no name in modern times, was Megan in the ’70s, and was Mary in 1692. In the ’70s, she burned to death in the house. In 1692, she was the one who accused the others of witchcraft (or at least Amy and Tabitha). Another note: in the ’70s, we see her talking to herself, or occasionally to a shadowy figure. Her doll, set next to the open flame on the gas cooktop where coffee was brewing, started the house fire.

So what’s the connection between all of them? Obviously Angela’s character has the largest distinctions between time periods but none of them line up directly, at least in terms of personality. So what links these two past time periods to the present? What is causing these monsters, and how can the characters escape? Will killing Mary, or somehow stopping the execution of their past selves in the witch trials, stop these monsters?

Well, it turns out that that’s a moot point. Why? Because literally nothing that we went through in Little Hope actually happened. The whole thing is a giant post-traumatic psychotic episode that Andrew, who is Anthony, is experiencing based on his survivor’s guilt after the fire in the ’70s. Surprise, ha ha! The only thing you actually did was walk through this deserted town where you used to live!

(We were incredibly angry after that cutscene.)

This was an absolutely terrible twist. If a character’s death upset you, oh well! They were already dead! If you spent a lot of time building up the romantic relationship between Taylor and Daniel, surprise! INCEST. And also they’re both already dead. Necrophiliac incest? (Either way, ew.) All that saving the characters (including sparing Mary) does is save Andrew/Anthony. Kill some of them and he may still make it; kill all of them (including Mary) and he won’t. With this plot point Supermassive has basically rendered all of the fear and suspense (and a bunch of your decisions) completely meaningless.

Don’t worry, I’m just a figment of your imagination.

This is complicated by the “secrets” you’re supposed to collect. There are three categories: witchcraft secrets, Little Hope secrets, and family secrets. The Little Hope secrets basically just chronicle the town’s decay. The family secrets are things like Tanya’s boyfriend being into New Age hippie witchcraft, the pastor who was counseling Megan being vehemently anti-occult (probably a precursor to the Satanic Panic that swept the US in the ’80s), the foster parents attempting to discipline their kids, etc. The witchcraft secrets are the historical facts of the Little Hope witch trials, including the fact that the reverend who led the hunts was actually engaging in occult practices himself and that Mary recanted her accusations and later died an outcast. Some of them link up: the corruption between the priests in both 1692 and the ’70s. The land grabs, first by the priest in 1692 and later by a particular family in the ’70s that sold some land, leading to the closure of Little Hope’s main factory and the eventual demise of the town. And all of that is interesting, but the setup makes them seem more important than they actually are. Beacuse in reality, this is just stuff that Andrew/Anthony knows that is forming the basis for his delusion.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Man of Medan’s twist, but at least in that game when a character died they actually DIED. They weren’t already dead. The game had some stakes, as it were. That is absent in Little Hope and it actively works against any replayability.

Hey, this is totally meaningless!

I paid $30 for this game and that actively annoys me. I will replay it, to get all the endings and all the trophies, because by all that is holy I will get my money’s worth out of it. But I am so disappointed. This could have been SO GOOD and they just…tripped at the finish line.

If you also wish to be disappointed, you can get this game on the Playstation Network, or someplace like Target. But I really don’t recommend it.

Seriously, though, Supermassive, if you’re listening? If your next game doesn’t have ACTUAL MONSTERS in it, I will LOSE MY SHIT. And quite possibly stop purchasing your games.

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