The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope Review: Small-Town Tensions, Big-Time Consequences

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is a tricky sort of game because you always feel like you’re doing the wrong thing, always second-guessing your actions. Sometimes those reservations are unfounded while other times you’re absolutely right – you shouldn’t have done that and you’re going to pay for it sooner or later. Mix those internal struggles with a campy horror setup where you’ll constantly feel the urge to yell at your characters for whatever they did even though you’re the one controlling the interactions and you’ve got an engaging, albeit not very spooky, experience.

Little Hope revels in its campiness much like Until Dawn (I skipped Man of Medan, so it’s impossible to add that Dark Pictures Anthology kickoff to the comparisons). A decision-driven series of cinematic trials where players’ choices have profound consequences for the characters taking direction, Little Hope isn’t your typical horror game experience even if it takes cues from some key horror stereotypes. It takes place in a town called “Little Hope” where remnants of centuries-old witch trials and disasters between those and modern times persist in ominous ways.

Archetypal characters with traits assigned to them like the hero, the skeptic, the leader, and the whiny one gives you some foundation to guide their actions if you want to play that way. You can also go totally off-script and make them do whatever you want them to, though consequences await regardless of your decisions. Characters, at times, even reference horror movies and ideas like splitting up which they, of course, should never do, but if you’ve seen enough horror movies to call upon that well of knowledge, you know how these kinds of things play out.

The ghost town setting offered in Little Hope does wonders to expand players’ exploratory opportunities. Every glimmer on the side of the road begs to be investigated, and branching paths will leave you backtracking to make sure you didn’t miss anything. In turning to this playground of foggy roads and dilapidated structures, however, Little Hope does make tradeoffs regarding the horror experience. It’s got jump scares, to be sure, but the open setting makes it more difficult to pull those off. Instead, it focuses more on dread and tension, the feelings you’d find in a slasher where malevolent beings are not abrupt but are instead inevitable. You may get used to the jump scares, but those cutscenes with numerous quick-time sequences will always leave you on edge.

Those quick-time events are mostly fair, with frustrations only few and far between, but when things go wrong, it’s a rough feeling to be directed down a path due to a careless mistake. During events in cutscenes, players are introduced to tapping the right button, aiming your cursor in a reticule and pulling the trigger, and things like tapping along with a character’s heartbeat to control breathing. The only instance of these events borderlining on “unfair” I’ve experienced so far in Little Dawn was accidentally pressing the control stick in a direction ever so lightly when the challenge was not to aim the cursor, but rather to press a button at the right time. Any slightest input other than the one prompted is an instant failure, but that’s at least a mistake you won’t make twice.

Dark Pictures Anthology Little Hope
(Photo: Bandai Namco)

Being a game on rails with differing paths to take, it’s an odd experience to be both totally in control of what a character does yet still feel like you’re unable to save them from a ghastly outcome. No matter how fast you close the application to try and walk back your decision – and try to walk back I did, at times – your choices are final. But even though each individual choice is final in the sense that it can’t be taken back, with Little Hope feeling more forgiving than something like Until Dawn.

I often felt like the game gave me multiple chances to save a character so that, even if I missed a vital item previously or erred in judgement otherwise, one bad decision isn’t a death sentence. Like a horror trivia night centered around a game you’ve never played or a movie you’ve never watched, Little Hope feels best when you try to get in the heads of the characters and imagine what they’d do and how others would respond. There are characters that’ll make you swear in the beginning that you don’t care what happens to them, and you may even root for their downfall, but you’ll be cheering them on by the end.

I only lost two characters on my first playthrough, which didn’t exactly feel like a success, but it wasn’t particularly bad either. Consequences and replayability are intertwined in Little Hope, and after you get the first playthrough out of the way, there’s a freeing sensation unlocked almost like a bonus feature.

You did your best, and now it’s time to see what else you can do. Make the worst decisions possible to condemn everyone to an eternity in Little Hope, try and game the system so only your favorites live, or go for a perfect score to see your protagonists peak. Little Hope offers what feels like a dizzying number of choices and storylines, and the brief nature of the game frees you up to pursue those grim and gratifying outcomes as often as you’d like.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a review code provided by the publisher.