I've always had a soft spot for The Dark Pictures Anthology. They seem to represent what we all thought the future of video games would be 15 years ago, but now so clearly isn't, and as a result they possess a unique charm… at least when they're not terrifying you so much you're thankful you wore your brown pants today. The Dark Pictures is led by Hollywood stars (Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley is perhaps the series' biggest get yet), acts as an interactive movie, and is directly driven by specific choices made by you. This is where we all thought video games would go. The Devil in Me though is making conscious efforts to feel more like an active video game, which will make it the most expansive Dark Pictures game yet, but also risks messing with the formula. From what I've seen so far, I'm cautiously optimistic.
I should note that, assuming all goes to plan, I will have interviewed the developers at Gamescom by the time you're reading this, but any insights I glean from them will come separately. All of this info comes from a hands-off gameplay preview featuring commentary from Tom Heaton, the game's director. As for The Devil in Me losing its identity as it tries to be more of a video game, I do have a personal stake in this. My wife loves horror films but hates any video game more complicated than Crash Bandicoot 3's first two warp rooms, yet she loves The Dark Pictures, taking control of several characters as we pass and play. Those are very specific reference points, but I think a lot of people have similar experiences. If you have a partner who's not really into video games but likes horror, The Dark Pictures is the best possible starting point. In appealing to more hardcore gamers, there's a chance it pushes this significant portion of its playerbase away.
Perhaps there is no need for such doubt. Despite the grisly deaths in The Devil in Me, the way Heaton talked about gameplay improvements was sweetly pure, and very cute. Characters can jump now! And run! And move boxes a little bit, maybe! These are not revolutions that try to reinvent the Circle button. In fact, when we were told we'd be able to jump and run in The Devil in Me, it took me a second to realise that those things weren't possible in previous instalments. I don't think the ability to move a box will put off my game-allergic wife, especially with me sat there passive aggressively telling her "you hold X to push, just like the last five times honey", so this extra gamification might be in the sweet spot.
With these extra features comes some other tweaks too. Clocking in at seven hours, The Devil in Me will be the longest in the series so far, and will act as the Season One finale, though what precisely that means will need to wait until my chat with the devs. It also has more twisting paths for you to explore, and gives you more tools at your disposal. As the cast are a film crew, your tools will be a business card to jimmy things, a camera, a pencil, an electric multimeter, and a microphone that hears through walls. All of these tools can break, be lost, or be given to different characters than the one they started with, so you will need to make smart choices not just in the moment, but as you prepare for each task too.
The reason the cast is a film crew is because they're making a documentary about H. H. Holmes, the real life inspiration for the game. America's first (and still one of the most 'successful', if you want to call it that) serial killer, Holmes built a hotel designed to kill its guests known as The Murder Castle. This is also the inspiration behind the Hotel Cortez in American Horror Story, with Evan Peters' James March the Holmes character. When Holmes was hanged, he asked to be buried in concrete so that his soul did not escape to kill again – he also told the court during his confession "I have the Devil in me," which is where the game gets its name.
Aside from the real life inspiration of Holmes, Heaton lists the game's inspirations as Saw, The Shining, Psycho, Halloween, and Friday the 13th, though he also claims Psycho is a "slasher", which I'm not sure I agree with, so what it pulls from Hitchcock's tale of suspense will be fascinating. These films all capture the "claustrophobia and quiet oppression" the game is going for. We saw (geddit?) a few different Saw contraptions in the preview, and from what I've seen I agree with Heaton's assertion that The Devil in Me has the "most gruesome, extravagant, over the top" kills the series as ever seen.
The Devil in Me seems like it’s growing what it means to be a Dark Pictures game sensibly, though it will need to be wary of what it leaves behind. These games stand alone in the medium, and I hope their growth doesn't cost them that. Also I'm gonna be so mad if Jessie Buckley dies on me.
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