The creators of Until Dawn and The Quarry present the latest, and possibly greatest, entry in their ongoing survival horror anthology.
Maybe we missed the memo, but the first time we heard of The Dark Pictures Anthology having a season one, was in the run-up to the release of this fourth entry in the series and the leaks about what will follow. All the entries are essentially standalone stories, so it doesn’t really matter one way or the other, but it certainly is nice to play a franchise where the last entry – for now – is the best one.
If the previous game, House Of Ashes, felt vaguely inspired by Tomb Raider, albeit with the horror quotient ramped up, it’s possible to discern subtle tributes to games like Alone In The Dark and the first Resident Evil in The Devil In Me – even if its core subject matter is very much serial killers rather than zombies.
The story kicks off with a prologue set in Chicago in 1893, in which a newlywed couple check into the World’s Fair Hotel. Unfortunately for them, this was designed, built, and run by the moustachioed H. H. Holmes, who turns out to be one of America’s first serial killers. Holmes is caught and hanged and we flash-forward to the modern day, in which a hapless camera crew is attempting to make a TV programme about the story.
In classic Dark Pictures style, the TV crew represents the cast of characters that you must attempt to keep alive until the end of the game. This time around, they are pretty well conceived and portrayed: somewhat neurotic sound engineer and general factotum Erin; feisty lighting engineer Jamie; earnest and overly loyal cameraman Mark; sparky presenter Kate; and director Charlie who, to put no finer point on it, is a total ass.
Charlie is the lone Brit among the Americans and turns out to be the star of the show, unsurprisingly given that he is played by the genius Paul Kaye, on this occasion mainly (but, mercifully, not completely) reining in his comic chops.
Recent events have seen the crew losing confidence in Charlie, but their bickering is suspended when a reclusive billionaire obsessed with Holmes invites them to his private island, where he has built a replica of Holmes’ hotel, dubbed the Murder Castle, and stuffed it full of H. H. Holmes artefacts (Holmes was a real person, if you’ve never heard of him before).
The crew think they have hit the motherlode but, naturally, proceedings turn dark and murderous: the Murder Castle has a seemingly endless ability to reconfigure itself and they find themselves stalked by their not-so-genial host, resplendent in an H. H. Holmes mask.
It’s a great setup, and happily, The Devil In Me makes more of it than any of its predecessors. Supermassive has clearly worked on honing its craft during the course of The Dark Pictures Anthology series and pretty much every element of The Devil In Me is superior to the previous entries. The script, acting, motion capture, animation, and characterisation are all vastly improved, as well as the level design.
But perhaps more importantly than that, the gameplay is also noticeably better. It’s still a cross between Until Dawn and a Telltale adventure, though, so be warned that it will leave you cold if you’re seek fast-paced action. There are also a number of familiar sequences in which you must nail the buttons flashed up on screen during quick time events or play a heartbeat timed mini-game when hiding.
But the characters are much more mobile this time round; they can climb and run, and if two are together give each other a leg-up. And there are quite a few puzzles to solve, some of which are moderately challenging, which is unusual for a Telltale game let alone the other Dark Pictures titles.
As with previous entries, you can play The Devil In Me solo, with someone else online, or with up to five others via couch co-op, taking control of a character or a pair of characters and handing the controller around. Which is a fun exercise if you happen to have a set of horror enthusiasts back home, even if it’s not necessarily the world’s most engaging party game.
The horror aspect of The Devil In Me is also admirable. Admittedly, it does indulge in quite a few cheap jump scares, but there are plenty of moments which are so genuinely chilling that they evoke memories of games like Silent Hill. Intertwined amongst your efforts to keep the crew alive are a set of artefacts that tell the story of another serial killer inspired by Holmes, and the mental disintegration of the FBI officer who captured him.
In comparison with previous Dark Pictures games, The Devil In Me gives you way more to do, and also makes you feel more in control of the characters, who, as the game progresses, start to fight back against their tormentor. Even the previously annoying Curator, who periodically pops up to assess your progress, is less smug and portentous this time around, at last exhibiting a modicum of playfulness.
The Dark Pictures games are very much an acquired taste – games whose often clunky gameplay isn’t the point so much as creating an ambience of horror. But if you enjoyed any of the previous ones, you’ll love The Devil In Me. It’s much more playable, and has probably the best premise of the lot, including the best script and acting.
At the same time, if you’ve been put off previous entries because of their lack of scares and limited gameplay The Devil In Me is just about interactive enough to change your mind. It’s the best thing Supermassive has done since Until Dawn, including spiritual sequel The Quarry, and would make a pretty decent horror movie in its own right.
Importantly, it’s also interesting enough to have you looking forward to another season of Dark Pictures games, which is not something we would have anticipated saying after playing the first two.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me review summary
In Short: Easily the best of The Dark Pictures anthology series, with a horror story that is deliciously chilling, surprisingly well acted, and far more interesting to play than its predecessors.
Pros: Great script and good acting, with plenty of hair-raising moments. Effective meditations on what makes a serial killer. Some decent puzzles and gameplay is less clunky than its predecessors.
Cons: Some puzzles are too obvious and the quick time events can still frustrate. Not the longest game, even if it’s more expansive than previous entries.
Follow Metro Gaming on Twitter and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.