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.