Darkest Before The Dawn

HIGH The ruined house fight.

LOW The inexplicably awful ending.

WTF Seeing the tchotchkes in The Curator’s library.

The term ‘Stick the Landing’ comes from the world of gymnastics. It refers to the end of a routine, where the gymnast dismounts from whatever piece of equipment they were using and hits the ground perfectly with both feet. Managing to complete a routine while still having the composure to land and stand ramrod-straight is the true test of an athlete’s ability. It doesn’t matter how great the routine is up until that point — if the gymnast stumbles on the landing, it can invalidate all of the work they did up until that point.

Sticking the landing is also a potent metaphor in the world of storytelling because a plot is only as good as its ending. One might enrapture the a huge chunk of the world for a decade with a tale of dragons and court intrigue, but if the ending is terrible, all of that goodwill can disappear in an instant.

It should be clear by this point why I’m using this framing to begin a review of Little Hope, the latest entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology of interactive horror movies from Supermassive Games. I can say this is the developers’ most mature, interesting, and technically accomplished title yet. Sadly, after getting 99% of the story right, Little Hope absolutely blows it in the last five minutes and crashes to the ground in a heap of bruised bones and damaged ligaments.

After a series-standard horrific opening, a group of students and their teacher survive a bus crash on the outskirts of the titular city, then find themselves trapped by a mysterious fog that blocks their exit. The only choice is to press on and discover the secrets that the town holds.

Little Hope controls like the rest of Supermassive’s third-person interactive movies, with a couple of notable improvements. Players are in charge of one character at a time while walking through environments and looking for glints of light that indicate clues that they can examine. When characters have to perform a physical task or evade danger, a button prompt will appear onscreen and they’ll have to complete a QTE to safely continue their journey.

The developers have gone above and beyond to make sure that Little Hope is accessible for players of any skill level. They know that QTEs have a bad rap, but they’ve adjusted the difficulty so that even the most dedicated hater should get through them with little trouble. Quick tapping-based inputs can be switched to ones where the button must be held down. Input variety can be winnowed down to the point where only a single button has to be pressed. Most importantly, players can turn of the fail timer so they can take as long as they want before pressing X to continue.

Even more importantly, it’s now almost impossible to accidentally move the story along before the player is ready. In previous entries, players could accidentally click on the wrong interactive element and move out of an area before they were finished searching. Now a visually distinct button prompt appears to signal continuing the story and moving to a new location, so players have to actively make the choice to be finished with an area.

Rather than being a solo horror experience, Little Hope is designed first and foremost for co-op, and on that front, it excels. Its predecessor Man of Medan toyed with the idea of separating players from time to time, but generally there would be two characters in each scene, each one controlled by a real player. While there’s still some of that in Little Hope, the game frequently splits teams up and has them running through parallel adventures. While one player investigates a ruined police station, the other explores a dilapidated grocery store. Then the two halves of the party meet up again and get the chance to fill one another in on what they’ve discovered about the town’s mysteries.

This co-op is a wonderful experience, and I have to recommend it as the best possible way to play. Everything still works in solo mode, of course, but since players have to see what everyone is up to in order to understand the story, it leads to some repetition. Characters will complete searching one area, and then Little Hope will cut to the other characters who have to perform the exact same kind of activity. Yes, it’s all necessary, but it simply doesn’t flow as naturally as the co-op version does.

This is especially true in the many action sequences. Unlike Medan, all of the action sequences here are multi-character affairs, and while they play perfectly in co-op, trying them solo forces the game to do a strange ‘pause and shift’ effect where the player constantly switches who they’re playing as from moment to moment. It’s functional and visually impressive, but it just doesn’t flow the way the co-op action scenes do.

Technically, Little Hope‘s presentation is excellent, and Supermassive’s best-looking work. Little Hope is an eerie, claustrophobic environment whether inside or out, and being able to shine a flashlight wherever they want won’t make players any more comfortable. All of the acting is solid, as is the writing — I can’t reveal anything about the story since figuring it out is the entire point of the adventure, but it’s their most interesting tale so far.

…Right up until that ending.

I can’t fully express how betrayed I felt by the way Little Hope wraps up. I can’t say it was impossible to see coming since there are plenty of clues which point in the direction it ends up taking, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s terrible. I don’t want to risk spoiling anything, but I can safely say that it’s one of the worst endings I’ve seen in ages, and an absolute betrayal of the audience. Many players complained about Man of Medan’s big reveal, and I suspect the audience will react even more harshly towards this one.

I truly wish I could just say ‘ending aside, this is an incredible game’, because it’s true. This is the best-paced interactive movie I’ve ever played, and the mysteries of Little Hope are both intriguing and satisfying to solve. However, that ending. I simply can’t overstate how atrocious it is, and I wish I could just erase the last five minutes of it. I can still recommend it as an excellent interactive movie, just be ready for love to become hate right before the credits roll.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Supermassive and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed multiple times. 4 hours were spent in online campaign co-op.

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated M and contains Blood, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. There’s extreme horror violence here, and it’s scary as hell. This is not safe for children by any means.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no audio cues to speak of. I was able to play the entire game with the sound off and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, and players can select the font size. Font colors can also be assigned to each speaker. The game also features a dyslexia-friendly font option. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls cannot be remapped. The left thumbstick controls movement, the right thumbstick is used to control the camera and make decisions. Face buttons and triggers are used to perform QTEs.

Daniel Weissenberger
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AJ Small
3 years ago

I don’t know if it is because the events preceding the ending felt correct, but I actually think the ending was really good.