The Dark Pictures: The Devil in Me feels very familiar, for better or worse
With launch looming, we've been hands-on with the next chapter in Supermassive Games' horror anthology.
While we're well and truly into the spooky season right now, for the first time since the series debuted, the next The Dark Pictures instalment won't actually arrive in time for Halloween. Supermassive Games is instead set to launch The Dark Pictures: The Devil in Me on November 18, and with it now being less than a month until that game arrives, we've had the chance to go hands-on once again, to get a taste of what this horror title will be offering.
First and foremost, let me just state that if you've played any The Dark Pictures title beforehand, you probably already have a very good idea as to what The Devil in Me is like. We get a cast of interesting and unique individuals, with many portrayed and brought to life by some familiar faces from movies and TV, including Jessie Buckley, Paul Kaye, and of course, Pip Torrens as The Curator once more. To add to this, the gameplay asks you to piece together a mystery, while surviving some kind of terrifying and seemingly supernatural horror, all while making choices with the quick-time event system that determines and affects the story and its outcomes. It's very familiar, but thanks to a new crew of characters, new setting, and new story, it feels fresh enough to entertain.
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This preview build I had the opportunity to explore allowed me to dive into over an hour of gameplay, picking up from the end of the first act, and here we see the characters arriving at the modernised take on serial killer, H.H. Holmes' Murder Castle. The crew have come to this immediately foreboding and foreshadowed building to film a documentary revolving around the 19th-century killer, and within a few minutes of roaming around and settling in, it becomes very, very clear that there is something desperately wrong with the house. As for what that is, following a few jump scares and spooky moments that see a character in immediate danger, we come across the main antagonist for this title - a killer that is inspired by Holmes.
We don't get to see much else about the killer from this preview build, but we get an idea about the way it operates, which is different to the bloodthirsty creatures of House of Ashes, as this is more of a psychological villain that uses fear to break down its victims before landing a killing blow. This could include trapping them in locked, pitch-black rooms, scaring them with spine-chilling animatronics, or even forcing them into Saw-like situations, where they have to decide between causing someone else harm or being harmed themselves.
During my time with the game, I was never really terrified or overcome with fear, even if an occasional jump scare did raise my heart rate. Rather, I was more intrigued by the story and motivations behind the killer. It almost felt like watching a serial killer documentary in a sense, as I didn't really connect with the primal fear that the cast/victims were conveying, and instead was more interested in piecing together the mystery at the narrative's core. But that's not to say that there weren't some seriously unsettling moments.
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Between facing down the killer and having to make split-second decisions, all to wandering around the manor house's corridors during a power outage while listening to faint cries in the distance and the creaking of the house's walls and floors, the ambience is very impressive. And it's bolstered by what each character can bring to the table. For example, Erin, the crew's sound engineer, can use a directional microphone to pick up audio through walls, meaning you can hear other cast members talking several rooms away, or more likely follow haunting sounds that often lead to premonitions about a character's future. It can be freaky at times, but never quite as thoroughly frightening as you'd hope a heavy story-based horror experience like this would be.
While the horror elements have yet to blow me away, one part of The Devil in Me that is very impressive is the way that the characters are presented. They are incredibly detailed figures, who are brought to life by brilliant performances by each respective actor. The animations are top-notch, and the graphics are at a similar level, even if Supermassive still hasn't quite nailed down how eyes are portrayed on a character, as they look spacey and unusual all the time. Granted, this is a preview build, so there's still plenty of time for Supermassive to iron out any remaining problems, including this and any other remaining bugs (I also came across a strange persisting audio bug and a brief invisible character model).
Even though the characters are shaping up to be great, I will say that the exploration and movement left a little to be desired. The gameplay and pacing is generally steady, as expected, and while this often fits the ambience, during environmental puzzle sections, you can't help but wish the characters would get a bit of a move on. A slightly faster pace would help significantly to offset the sluggish feeling of movement that is clearly present.
But generally speaking, aside from a new narrative to chew through and pick apart, and a new cast of characters to connect with, The Devil in Me feels very similar to prior The Dark Pictures games, for better or worse. I'm still looking forward to experiencing the full story, to see how the cast escape the horrors of the Murder Castle, and what drives this new creepy killer, but I can't say I'm blown away by what I've seen so far from a horror perspective.