On August 30th of 2019, the Dark Pictures Anthology hit the scene with Man of Medan. Overall, that game wasn’t a complete disaster, but it was rather underwhelming. Supermassive Games would spend the next few years with Little Hope and then House of Ashes, with the latter overall proving much more successful. Just under a month ago at the time of writing, the first season of the anthology came to a close with The Devil In Me. Today’s piece will address the season finale.
I had the pleasure of exploring the entirety of this game’s unique multiplayer functionality with fellow gamer Megan “KeybladerMeg” Mashak, who will be joining me in reviewing the game. Rather than the usual “here’s what’s good, and here’s what isn’t so good,” this piece will instead evaluate five important aspects of the game and will critique them accordingly. A spoiler-free synopsis will precede each topic.
A group of media personalities working under Lonnit Entertainment are captained by Charlie Lonnit (Paul Kaye) onto a remote island, where the estate of a strange man apparently is home to a number of different ‘artifacts’ that are of interest. The media group had been running a series on serial killers, and the items of interest pertained to real world American murderer Henry Howard Holmes. This island and the estate make up the setting for the majority of the game. It follows up on a short prequel, where a couple rents a room at the World’s Fair Hotel in 1893 only to eventually be butchered by the aforementioned killer.
Andrew: The last three entries into the Dark Pictures series have been entirely fictitious, so adapting a real world setting into the game’s universe was an interesting idea. Unfortunately, actual gameplay never really makes any strong connection to H.H Holmes himself outside of the prologue. He could’ve been replaced with a generic, unnamed murderer and the story wouldn’t have had to change one bit.
Despite issues in misusing a real world name, this was arguably the best instance of actual horror Supermassive Games has trotted out since Until Dawn. It leans heavily on fear of the unknown, as it quickly becomes apparent that the Lonnit Entertainment group has been lured into a trap early in the game. Plot twists, such as Charlie’s long term ambitions for the group, a potential surprise romantic fling and some inter-group drama do a great job distracting the player from the real threat, making it more shocking when climactic scenes suddenly appear in the player’s face. The killer repeatedly appears out of nowhere, but this isn’t as annoying as it otherwise could’ve been because he does a remarkably good job at ‘playing with his food’ and instilling terror that way. He has numerous opportunities where killing off a character would be easy, yet he offers the player(s) a very specific way to safely escape, or to escape injured rather than dead. As well, the building he resides in is somewhat of a trap house, with moving walls that can trap characters in certain parts of the building, potentially isolating them with the killer or forcing them away from their friends.
A fair enough narrative and a solid horror experience gave this story some wings.
Megan: I thought the story was great, although it wasn’t too well fleshed out. Making use of a real life serial killer and trying to connect this game to real world history should have been a slam dunk. Reflecting on our playthrough, details of the storyline seemed unclear at times as well.
Like other games from the series, gameplay is quite simple. This one expands on parkour ever so slightly, occasionally forcing the player to use the control stick to balance their character walking in a precarious spot. We also see the return of undergoing a button mashing or tapping QuickTime Event, or using a button or control stick to simply make a dialogue choice. Interestingly, each character has one gimmick the player will have to use to advance the story in some cases. Storytelling is unsurprisingly king here, so all gameplay had to do was just not get in the way as per usual.
Andrew: For the most part, each characters’ individual gimmick is pretty inoffensive. Charlie uniquely being able to pick locks with his credit card is cool, just as Erin’s ability to hear voices through walls or Jamie’s engineering background allowing her to fix electrical panels. This isn’t used enough to have made a significant impact on the game. Notably, these abilities are mainly used when the player is by themselves; it would’ve been better to have had instances of these abilities being used during multiplayer sequences, as this would’ve placed some weight into who was playing what character a good deal more.
Megan: Gameplay has significantly improved over the last few games, with mechanics that previous entries into the Dark Pictures Anthology have lacked. Each character has one personal trait exclusive to themselves which can be used to escape certain scenarios. Charlie can pick locks with his credit card and Jamie can repair electrical panels. My personal favorite was Mark with a camera, one he could use to briefly light the way when in particularly dark areas. This one really increased the fear factor of playing Mark, since it was the flash from the camera being used to see. This game also lets characters jump or move over large objects, which made it more interactive.
Cast of Characters
Per usual, the voice acting crew also offered their likenesses to represent their own characters. The game’s main character is Kate Wilder (Jessie Buckley) whose ex-boyfriend Mark (Fehinti Balogun) works with her under the head of Lonnit Entertainment, Charlie Lonnit (Paul Kaye). The trio are rounded off by Erin (Nikki Patel) and Jamie (Gloria Obianyo). From moment one, the deadly killer in H. H Holmes (John Dagleish) hunts the group, and as always, the Curator (Pip Torrens) is back to react to the events of the story as well as occasionally offer deliberately cryptic advice at various points of the game.
Andrew: One thing which should be commended about these characters, more so than preceding games in the series, is sheerly how malleable everyone is. Charlie can either turn into a brave and courageous leader, or a miserly old man who can’t spout enough vulgarities at his underlings and make them hate him even more. Erin can either be the group scaredy cat, or have an admirable coming-of-age character arc that witnesses her become bold and fearless as the game reaches its climax. Finally, there are two character pairings in this game that can either become romantic, or have the two involved hate each other to the core. It was a really nice step in the right direction for character development, and although the cast overall isn’t as memorable as what we got in House of Ashes, it was a very strong follow up.
Megan: This cast of characters became much more enjoyable than I’d expected them to be. This likely has to do with the story writing in this game, compared to previous entries in the series. Dialogue either between characters or alone was both funny and realistic. There was a bit of a ‘cringe factor’ surrounding a little bit of the cast dialogue, mainly Erin and her ‘scary song’, but the majority of the game stood out very positively regardless.
How does it compare to other games in the series?
Andrew: While The Devil In Me may not ‘wow’ with the graphical quality of Man of Medan, and the cast of characters falls just short of the stand out House of Ashes crew, this game stands on its own legs for doing a fair job encapsulating both in its own way, with a bit of a twist. This game offers arguably the best sheer horror of the series, rivaling that of Little Hope while having a significantly better cast of characters and, more importantly, being nowhere near as slow paced and generally monotonous. Overall, it doesn’t stand out from the others in a terribly strong way, but it lacks many of their shortcomings.
Megan: When it comes to choices that the player makes while going through the game, The Devil In Me made them noticeably more impactful than previous installments into the Dark Pictures Anthology. To give an example, one scene in the game offers guaranteed death to a character unless two very specific choices were made beforehand. Unfortunately, the premonitions mechanic in this game did not help in any significant way, not as much as previous games in the series. They were extremely vague, and did not directly connect with any actions the player could take.
Unlike other games in the series, with the exception of Little Hope, the scare factor in this game was incredible. After playing through the game with Andrew, I watched someone play the game by themselves, which included portions of gameplay I wasn’t able to experience before. Not only were the characters being directly hunted by H.H Holmes, they were also being viewed by overhead cameras, secretly listened to, they were being toyed with mentally with the estate having a lot of traps, and the building itself was able to change its structure.
The Dark Pictures Anthology has become well known for uniquely offering multiplayer in their interactive story telling games, with the exception of Until Dawn. This stands out amongst other titans in the industry, such as Skybound Games, the late Telltale Games, and even Sony. This trend continued here, as The Devil In Me can be played multiplayer. This is how today’s guest writer, Megan Mashak and myself experienced the game for the first time.
Andrew: Multiplayer unfortunately hasn’t changed a whole lot since the series began. However, this game did take a couple of simple steps, mostly by allowing just a little bit more engagement between the two players involved, even when their characters weren’t close to each other. As it happens, Megan and I would’ve witnessed Erin die a gruesome death were it not for the fact that Megan was able to warn me, playing as Erin as she played someone else in a different setting, to take an action I might not have otherwise done that ultimately saved Erin. Unfortunately, these interactions were quite rare, and there is still a good deal of time where both players are off doing their own thing. When together, there’s just a lot of aimless walking in a congested area.
Megan: Sadly, the multiplayer in this game doesn’t stand out in any way. It has been slightly improved coming over from previous games in the series, but the series hasn’t mastered the idea of giving both players the same experience when playing together online. With the other player sometimes being in a completely different setting, you miss a lot of information that can be very important to the game and story. This can be quite confusing and creates a lack of closure for the entire story.
Andrew: The game isn’t overall offensive or unenjoyable, but for a game as sheerly interactive with so many endings, there is little reason to return for repeat playthroughs barring trophy hunting. Decent enough horror, decent enough of a story and fair but unremarkable characters make for a decent enough, fair but unremarkable final assessment. I’d give this game a grade of a C+
Megan: Overall, I’d give this game a B+.
This article’s guest writer, Megan “KeybladerMeg” Mashak, is a large Kingdom Hearts fan, and also has a substantial amount of playtime on Smite and Dead by Daylight, her favorite multiplayer video game. She is a Direct Support Professional working with special needs youth.
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