November 18, 2022
The danger with doing a series such as The Dark Pictures Anthology is that there’s a chance things could feel stale by the time the fourth installment, The Devil in Me arrives. Now that people have had a chance to experience what the branching narrative titles from Supermassive Games are all about, it now becomes less about meeting expectations, and needs to be more about exceeding, and maybe even subverting them. The Devil in Me certainly feels unique for a variety of reasons, but does it do enough to drive the Anthology forward?
Our band of five protagonists this time around are documentary filmmakers, that make up the small Lonnit Entertainment company. You have Charlie Lonnit, the owner and director, Mark the cameraman, Jamie in charge of lighting, Erin deals with audio and Kate is the leading presenter in front of the camera. The group is currently working on the season one finale of their Architects of Murder series, digging into famous killer cases. For the finale, they’ve chosen USA’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, who killed his victims in his Murder Castle – a hotel he ran full of traps and moving corridors – to hone his kills.
With the group at a loss in terms of direction for the episode, they get a phone call out of the blue from a man called Granthem Du’Met who claims to have recently inherited a replica hotel of the famous Murder Castle and invites them to use it for their episode. Charlie, blinded by ambition accepts, and they travel to this remote island and begin exploring, looking for shots and considering scripts. As you can imagine it doesn’t take long before things unravel for our crew, and they’re fighting for their lives.
The Devil in Me | New tricks
So as we all collectively roll our eyes for our heroes, and think we’ve been here before, it’s worth noting what new additions The Devil in Me is bringing to the table. A new movement overhaul means you’ll be shimmying through gaps, vaulting over obstacles, climbing, moving objects, balancing on beams, and even, yes, running if you so want for the first time. This added fluidity makes the environments more interesting to explore and I found each action worked well as intended. But, in reality, they never go further than that. No chase scene requiring mastery of these new moves for example. They simply act as traversal mechanics, and this is totally fine. And perhaps The Devil in Me is potentially laying the groundwork for what we can expect in future titles.
And this sense of “foundation-laying” is true in the new inventory system too. This time around each character can find items, and sometimes even give them to others. Some items are purely functional: they help to see in the dark or unlock locked doors or drawers. Others though serve other purposes in the story and can assist in keeping characters alive. But again, it feels like Supermassive could have gone further. Sure not having certain items or using them at certain times can lead to death. But through multiple playthroughs, some where I kept everyone alive, others where everyone died, and variations in between, I rarely discovered something new about the items I found and their impact. Most were “nice to have” rather than consequential when it really mattered.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, maybe my expectations were too high for these new mechanics. And I understand that they’re new, and to be clear they all work well and have their place. And maybe having everything impact everything else would create a narrative web too difficult to weave into a coherent story. But for future games I’d like to see more integration of these additions into decisions and their impact, and I look forward to how season two of The Dark Pictures achieves that.
What is undeniable though, is that The Devil in Me is the best horror experience from the series to date. When you strip away the approach to horror in the previous games a lot of it relied on jump scares, creating peaks of tension that then dissipate. Now, whilst The Devil in Me does still embrace jump scares, it doesn’t rely on them. Instead its setting almost seems like an amalgamation of what has come before to create an unnerving whole.
As you explore the Murder Hotel, with its narrow corridors you invoke similar feelings to the exploration of Man of Medan, with you never quite knowing what’s around the next corner. The nods to the creepy past bring up feelings akin to Little Hope. And then there’s our antagonist. He’s constantly watching you, learning about you, like the enemy in House of Ashes. But it’s more than that. You’re not just being monitored, you’re being manipulated, tested, and required to make horrible choices.
And The Devil in Me makes it clear early on that you are being observed, and that keeps you on edge constantly. Then as things progress, you’ll literally be running away from your killer continuously. You are never safe, there’s no downtime, and your heart and lungs know it. In previous games there were clear quieter moments, heck even in Resident Evil 2, Mr. X can’t get you in the safe rooms. But in The Devil in Me, there is no respite, he controls where you go, and what you do, and he could be round the next corner, weapon in hand, ready to kill you. It sounds intense, because frankly it is, and it’s to be celebrated that a series aiming at being horror manages to make you scared, tense, and anxious for the duration.
The story variation – and whether it lands – is always a key measure for The Dark Pictures. On reflection, The Devil in Me is perhaps slightly more on the linear side, given the set pieces it wants you to experience. That said, there’s definitely scope to kill people early on, and different deaths can impact the narrative a bit too. Plus there is an entirely missable ending section to the game, that gives a completely different spin on what happens after the credits roll and pays off clues you may have seen during your playthrough. So there’s definitely variation to be had here, but it’s perhaps less obvious to discover than in previous games.
As The Dark Pictures Anthology wraps on its first season, The Devil in Me feels like a fitting moment to reflect. There’s clear progression since we first embarked with Man of Medan back in 2019, and The Devil in Me gives us a taster of where the gameplay could go in the future. The new additions do enhance the experience but perhaps fall short of the revolution they could be moving forward. But putting that aside, there’s no doubt that The Devil in Me is a horror game that is tense and scary throughout, with enough choices and death potential to give fans of the Anthology an enjoyable finale to the season.
Interesting new mechanics
Keeps you on edge throughout
Story is a little more linear
With its creepy setting and constant threat, The Devil in Me provides a satisfying horror experience for fans of the series.