Spooky season is here, and while the actual game is going to miss Halloween by a two and a half weeks, it’s the perfect time to dive into The Devil In Me‘s preview, which spans 90 minutes towards the end of the first act.
The latest entry in the Dark Pictures franchise – and in point of fact, the final entry in what Supermassive Games is calling the “First Season”, which includes Man of Medan, Little Hope, and House of Ashes – The Devil In Me puts the player in control of a team of documentary filmmakers who’ve been lured to an island in Lake Michigan in the hopes of ‘classing up’ their unimpressive H.H. Holmes documentary by exploring a recreation of the killer’s famous ‘Murder Hotel’. While there, they also hope to interview the tourist trap’s owner, one Granthem Du Met, an H.H. Holmes super-fan. It doesn’t take a psychic to see just how badly this is going to go for everyone involved.
Right away, TDiM impresses with the main location’s set design. The hotel has a rich, lived-in look to it, with everything from carpets to light fixtures offering a satisfying level of worn grime. The demo gave me the chance to explore some hallways, offices, a crumbling library, and even some maintenance rooms, and every one of them was built and furnished with the same level of care. Every part of the hotel is designed to unnerve the player, and a combination of fantastic level design and stellar lighting ensures that the player can never feel safe for a moment – and that’s before we’ve started talking about the creepy animatronics with cameras in their eyes that populate a few of the rooms.
A good amount of the preview functions as an extended tutorial with the player swapping from one character to the next, thrown into situations that allow each one to use their special ability in turn.
Charlie can pick locks, Mark can find things in out-of-the-way places, Erin can hear through walls, and Jaime can use her electrical tools to solve puzzles. The only one who didn’t get a showcase moment is Kate, but since she’s the box-art star, I’m sure there will be plenty for her to do as the night marches on.
In addition to special talents, I encountered a few of the new environmental puzzles, which is a fancy way of saying that the Dark Pictures series is now adding some traditional adventure game elements to flesh out the interactive movie format. Players will be grabbing items to use elsewhere, searching for codes to unlock doors, and shifting large pieces of furniture around to open up new routes through areas. While the gameplay hasn’t shifted all the way into graphic adventure mode – players won’t find themselves digging through and testing a long list of items against a lock or anything like that – the developers have gone a long way towards giving the player a chance to interact with the environment, rather than just passing through it on the way to their next life-or-death decision.
The little slice of the story I saw did a fantastic job of setting the hook. Tensions arise between characters because the show they’re working on hasn’t been going particularly well, and everyone needs the career boost a viral hit could provide, to the point where even after their host mysteriously disappears, they still decide to press on and get the shots they need for their documentary. This, naturally, leads them into a series of harrowing encounters with at least one possible death that I encountered. A brutal one, at that!
With the killer being a mute cipher at this early point in the story, all of the mystery elements are delivered via genre-standard notes and audio files which combine to paint an intensely sinister picture.
It seems that the story of H.H. Holmes’ crimes has created a sort of meme that infects the minds of other would-be killers, prodding them to commit more brutal and numerous murders than they otherwise might have.
The game’s villain has run with it, building a hotel themed after Holmes and dressing up in a Holmes costume, right down to an eerie mask that features a painted-on moustache. While the subject of copycat serial killers is nothing new, The Devil In Me is embracing the concept with such aggressiveness and brutality that it become almost audacious. The demo ended with a cruel murder caused by a SAW-style trap, and I truly can’t wait to see what else the killer has in store once the full game is released just in time for the anniversary of the actual Holmes’ capture.
Apart from the standard sneak-peek flaws – some of the art obviously wasn’t final – I only ran into one major issue in the game and, oddly, it was related to audio, of all things.
Where most of TDiM lives up to Supermassive’s track record of making completely accessible titles – resizable subtitles, dyslexic-friendly fonts, QTEs that can be customized to suit any physical ability – one section was bafflingly inaccessible to the hearing-impaired. It’s a pity, too, since it’s one of the demo’s most eerie sequences.
Erin, the team’s audio technician, slowly creeps through the hotel’s hallways, listening to hidden speakers in the walls play clips of the killer’s previous victims, as well as a retelling of Holmes’ execution. Ideally the player will be so engrossed in finding one clue after another that they won’t even notice that the walls are moving around them – I sure didn’t. What’s the problem with this sequence? None of the audio that Erin detects is subtitled. So, unless players are able to hear, this will be the most baffling five minutes of the game as they’ll be doing nothing more than following a hot/cold indicator down some dark hallways, missing out on key background information and intensely creepy dialogue, not to mention harrowing screams! Hopefully this is a simple glitch and not an oversight, as one of those is much easier to fix than the other. All of the other dialogue was clearly subtitled.
Oh, and there was one other thing that I found utterly baffling – in one of the strangest sound design moves I’ve ever seen, the developers have arranged it so that the player can hear their characters’ breathing all the time. Not just when they’re panting after running for a while, or trapped in a cold location, but all the time.
Basically, if the player is controlling a character and nobody’s talking, there’s going to be oddly loud breathing noises playing constantly, to the point where it’s weirdly unrealistic.
It’s not like this is a first-person game and the developers are attempting some kind of radical verisimilitude – it’s a third-person horror title where characters are constantly panting. If this was used sparingly to heighten tension when they’re creeping around in darkness or being hunted by the killer, that would be one thing, but it’s all the time. Just like the lack of subtitles in the ‘noises in the walls’ sequence, I hope this is a glitch, because I can see it getting irritating very quickly.
Those qualms aside, this demo has accomplished everything it needed to – specifically, it’s gotten me incredibly excited to play the rest of The Devil In Me. The story is compelling, the characters are interesting, the setting is fantastic, and the new gameplay elements all work like a charm. Supermassive Games and Namco are taking a big swing with this one, as it’s purported to be nearly twice as big as the other three games, which each clock in at the 4-5 hour mark on a first playthrough. However, it’s as good a demo as I’ve seen from the series, so I don’t think we’ve got much to worry about as November 18th approaches.
The Dark Pictures: The Devil In Me will be available on PC, PS4/5, and XB1/SX – This preview was played on PC.