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The Devil in Me Review

The fourth installment of Supermassive GamesThe Dark Pictures Anthology concludes an entertaining first season. In Man of Medan, Little Hope, and House of Ashes, supernatural threats took center stage. This time, it’s the turn of a human murderer obsessed with H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers. Personally, that interests me more than supernatural powers, but does it make the game better than its predecessors?

The Devil in Me puts the fate of 5 crew members of Lonnit Entertainment in your hands. Lonnit Entertainment, founded by Charles “Charlie” Lonnit, is producing the documentary film “Architects of Murder.” Charlie is awaiting his big breakthrough and is thrilled when a unique opportunity arises. The crew receives an invitation to visit and film a modern-day replica of H.H. Holmes’ “Murder Castle” (but imagine a creepy hotel).

We, followers of Supermassive Games, are not naïve, so we know that accepting this invitation is probably not the best idea. They, too, should quickly realize this. The ominous hotel is located on a remote island, and upon arrival, everyone must hand over their mobile phones. Upon arrival, hotel owner and invitation sender Granthem Du’Met is nervous, cautious, and emphasizes to the crew that they must follow him and not stray for a moment. That would be acceptable to some extent, but the fact that this stay and the recordings are entirely free of costs is what is truly suspicious. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There’s undoubtedly something fishy about the whole story.

The Setting Is Perfect for a Horror Adventure

A booby-trapped hotel filled with bloodthirsty death traps and a stalking, maniacal serial killer hot on your heels, capable of manipulating the hotel’s layout? Yes, please! What more could a horror fan ask for? The traps, which can often lead to extremely gory deaths, occasionally brought to mind the Saw films, and in my opinion, that’s a definite plus. Sometimes I was just waiting for that “I want to play a game” voice recording.

But especially due to this strong setting, it became even clearer to me in this installment that Supermassive Games’ chosen method is too limiting and overlooks the potential for genuinely spine-chilling gameplay.

The games’ predecessor, House of Ashes, was praised for its level design, particularly the narrow passages of the tomb that invoked anxious, claustrophobic feelings. The Devil in Me builds on this, as a hotel setting offers plenty of narrow passages. Submerge them in darkness, and you’re well on your way up the creepy meter. Additionally, mannequins and creepy animatronics, pieced together by the murderer, can be found throughout the hotel. Ever since playing ‘Condemned: Criminal Origins,’ I want nothing to do with anything remotely resembling a mannequin, so in my eyes, the setting leaves nothing lacking in the horror department.

But especially due to this strong setting, it became even clearer to me in this installment that Supermassive Games’ chosen method is too limiting and overlooks the potential for genuinely spine-chilling gameplay. So many times, I’ve thought: imagine if the murderer suddenly appeared at the end of this hallway. Or: what if something is hidden under these white sheets? Imagine if they suddenly spring to life and jump at me.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but unpredictability is one of the key factors in creating a genuinely frightening horror game. Towards the end of last year, Alan Wake II delivered brilliantly with its intense, creepy atmosphere where something could emerge at any given moment. It was even unsettling when nothing appeared. If you would like to read more about that, you can do so in my Alan Wake 2 review.

Unfortunately (but fortunately for my heart), such spontaneous events can’t really occur in the Dark Pictures Anthology or other creations by Supermassive Games. When you’re navigating outside cutscenes, the environment remains almost static. It’s only when you perform specific actions, such as inspecting items or squeezing through a narrow entrance, that something might happen. Consequently, nine times out of ten, you know exactly when to be on guard (granted, even though I was mentally prepared, my heart still leaped several times during these moments).

The Five Protagonists

House of Ashes presented us with the most mature group of protagonists who also underwent significant character development. The Devil in Me takes a step back in this regard. Protagonists Mark, Kate, Charlie, Jamie, and Erin are fine. They fulfill their roles, but that’s pretty much all there is to say. Previous installments included more irritating, less likable characters, but in The Devil in Me, I could tolerate everyone quite well. I couldn’t catch anyone undergoing significant character development, though. Real internal conflicts, like those in House of Ashes, were absent, making the overall experience feel somewhat flatter and less emotional this time.

The characters primarily stand out in terms of gameplay. For instance, the smoker Charlie uses a lighter as a light source, and cameraman Mark relies on flashes from his camera. Other examples include Jamie’s ability to fix fuse boxes, Kate’s skill in uncovering erased text from notes, and Erin’s capability to pinpoint the source of sound.

New Gameplay Mechanics Add Too Little

The Devil in Me may be a tried-and-true formula, but that doesn’t mean there’s no innovation in terms of gameplay. For the first time in the Dark Pictures Anthology, protagonists now have an inventory system. Keys can be found and certain items can be utilized. For instance, Charlie has a pass that allows him to open drawers, and Erin, who suffers from asthma, can choose to use her inhaler at given moments.

You can now also move certain objects around for the first time to reach new places, like pushing a container against a wall to be able to climb to a certain height.

Last but not least, there’s now real-time hiding, surprisingly enough outside of a cutscene. At certain moments, you receive a prompt to hide when the murderer is nearby. You then have to walk to a specific point and hold down a button to hide until the murderer continues with his unsettling activities.

When these new mechanics were introduced, I thought they could really add something to the experience. Unfortunately, they fell kind of short of what I hoped and expected. The inventory system is mainly used to grab your flashlight, other than that you need it very sporadically. Whether I open a drawer with Charlie’s pass from the inventory or just press an extra button, it makes little difference in terms of gameplay.

Dragging objects around adds a bit more variety to the levels. Sometimes, I had to search a bit longer to figure out how to proceed, indicating that the addition certainly has potential. However, the instances where I had to use this functionality were few and far between, and didn’t have a significant impact on the game.

When the ‘hide’ prompt first appeared, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought I’d need to be more vigilant, and perhaps this would inject more spontaneous action into the actual gameplay (outside of cutscenes). But too often, the hiding place was just three steps away from me, and I had plenty of time to reach it safely. It would have added more if there were multiple hiding spots to choose from, and the time margin to reach them was shorter. If the gameplay offered more freedom, the prompt could even be omitted altogether. You would then have to listen carefully for approaching threats and hide in time.

It’s evident that Supermassive Games continues its efforts to develop a new mechanic for each installment, but it’s hindered by the limits of their chosen game model.

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy myself more than adequately with these games. They often score stable sevens (darn, now I’ve given away my rating already). The games play smoothly and fulfill their purpose of killing about 10 hours (and possibly a few protagonists along the way). Thanks to this model, a new installment is released practically annually, and I always look forward to it. But there’s much more potential waiting to be tapped, and Supermassive Games’ hands are tied. The upside is that we can anticipate a second season that will undoubtedly offer enough sevens, but the downside is that it probably won’t be the cream of the crop, like Until Dawn was (which will get a movie adaptation, by the way. Read how I feel about that here).

The Lore Leaves a Taste for More. Hey, that rhymes

As always, there are secrets to uncover in the game. You can inspect various objects to learn more about the location itself, and those involved. I found the lore of The Devil in Me very intriguing to read, arguably the most captivating of the series so far. I must admit that my fascination with serial killers probably contributes to this. Maybe I should open a Murder Castle too?

Investigating the lore sometimes feels like watching a Netflix documentary about infamous murderers like Dahmer and Ted Bundy. You hear explanations and confessions from other killers, entirely in the grim style you would recognize from such documentaries.

But despite uncovering almost every secret, I still felt like I was left with many loose ends. In my opinion, the lore could have come together even more, and there was plenty of room for that in the setting. Unfortunately, the environment is also filled with useless coins that you can collect, which you can use in the menu to unlock certain special features. My heart doesn’t exactly race for that. I would have preferred these coins to be replaced by more interesting items and documents that would have told us even more about the perpetrator, his background, and motivation.

Conclusion

With The Devil in Me, the Dark Pictures Anthology once again offers around 10 hours of thrilling entertainment. The Murder Castle is an intriguing location that lends itself excellently to a new series of horrors. The cast has less depth than its predecessor but is likable enough to want to prevent them from falling victim to the extremely bloody, Saw-like death traps.

The human antagonist is a welcome departure from the supernatural threats we are accustomed to from Supermassive Games. The background story interested me to such an extent that I would have liked to discover even more lore in the world.

It became clear to me in this installment that Supermassive Games is too constrained by the chosen format of quicker releases for lower-budget games. The world and the theme are ideal for much more tension, but the fact that unpredictable events almost exclusively occur during cutscenes is detrimental to the horror factor.

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