New release Review

Review – The Dark Pictures: The Devil In Me

The Curator is back!! The Devil In Me is the fourth game in The Dark Pictures Anthology, a series of interactive survival horror games developed by Supermassive Games, also known for “The Quarry” and “Until Dawn”, the latter sadly exclusive to a console which will not be named. Having played the three entries which came before, I am pleased to say that the final game in season one, The Devil In Me is one hell of a ride.

As with previous Dark Pictures entries, the game menu in presented in an interactive form, with each selection ushering the Curator, our host and narrator through the experience, to interact with different sections of the library.  The player has the option to Play Alone, which is the conventional single player experience. Don’t Play Alone is co-op mode, which gives us the option to select Movie Night; a two – five player couch co-op experience, or Shared Story, which is the online experience. Sadly, I don’t have any friends and was not able to play the Shared Story mode.

Outside of game modes, the main menu will let players see the collectibles they have earned across playthroughs, view bonus features, consisting of videos focusing on the facts behind the game as well as the making of the game, then lastly, the Diorama section. Dioramas are set pieces which can be unlocked with ‘Obals’ – the in-game currency, more on these later.

This review is based on a complete playthrough of the game. However, to avoid spoilers, I won’t mention any specific plot points beyond the end of Act one. I have outlined my experience playing alone and playing on the second of three difficulty settings, with each level of difficulty reducing the amount of time the player must react to/complete the games Quick Time Events (QTEs).

The year is 1893, we learn, as The Devil In Me opens in the US city of Chicago.The player is introduced to protagonists Jeff and Mary, newlyweds on their way to the World’s Fair. The lovebirds enter the lobby of the World’s Fair Hotel and are greeted by the receptionist/owner, one H. H. Holmes.

Immediately, the hackles on the back of this reviewer’s neck went up, as I thought to myself “could this be THE H. H. Holmes? Note that I knew NOTHING about this game before receiving the review code. H.H. Holmes is one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. Convicted of murdering nine, rumor has it that this number could be anywhere up to 200. H.H. is the forefather of American serial killers.

It didn’t take long for these suspicions to be confirmed. We are introduced to some of the games mechanics as we work our way up to our room to settle in. The classic Dark Pictures item interaction returns, where the player interacts with an object, rotating it until it hits the sweet spot where a secret unlocks. Secrets add flavor to the story and can impact future character interactions and decisions. The “Panic” mechanic also returns, where the player must press a button in time with the on-screen prompts. Fail and bad things will happen to the player.

I don’t want to spoil the details around our Jeff and Mary’s fate.  Suffice to say, YES, this is the H.H. Holmes and sadly, our newlyweds will never become oldlyweds as they meet the fate of most that check in to the “murder hotel”. The murder hotel itself is a fascinating thing with three floors of traps, false walls, and medieval-like torture chambers. Perfect place for a honeymoon, right?

We now meet or are reunited with the Curator as the player is treating to intro song “A Conversation With Death (” a cover by American doom metal band – Khemmis). The Curator is as vague as ever, giving us a brief intro before getting us on track to meet the cast.

The year is 2022. Here, the player gets to meet the crew of characters that will be controlled and interacted with throughout the rest of the game. The crew are in the business of making documentaries, in an unusual move for the franchise there are no known actors cast (none that I know, anyway) The crew are a contrary lot, each with their own distinct foibles.

We have the Director – Charlie, the oldest of the crew and the owner of the production company. Charlie loves a cigarette, which other members in the crew do not hesitate to chide him about.

The “face” of the crew, Kate. Kate is a cynic and has clear ideas about how “things could be done better”. Questioning most every decision Charlie makes.

Next up and my personal favorite – Mike. Mike is cameraman and, as we learn, ex-partner of Charlie. Mike is a nice bloke with a fear of heights.

Supporting the crews’ technical needs, we have Jamie. A no-nonsense young lady with a strong independent streak verging on selfishness.

Last but not least is the asthmatic Erin. Sound direction is Erin’s jam. As the newest member of the crew, Erin makes it a point to prove herself.

Initially, I found these characters unlikeable. However, the more I played, the more I warmed to them. By the end of my playthrough, I was genuinely attached to them and tried my best to keep them all alive.

Our crew have been given the exciting and rare opportunity to visit the murder castle, a re-creation of our dear friend H.H. Holmes World’s Fair Hotel and its owner – the mysterious Granthem Du Met.

The crew are collected up by a limousine complete with anonymous driver. The limo takes us to the docks, where we will be ferried across to the murder castle. Mobile phones are an obstacle to be overcome in horror movies, shows and games. How does The Devil In Me handle this? Simple, a hidden compartment in the limo opens and our protagonists are instructed (commanded?) to place devices within. It appears that they all acquiesce. Is it the most elegant way to handle it? No, probably not. But it’s preferable to “Oh, no reception here”.

I’ve not touched on the graphics thus far, but I’d be remiss not to make a note here. The limo is being driven to the ferry, which we watch from a bird’s eye view of the car driving down a long road, surrounded by trees. The limo looked like it was being driven by a person that had consumed 48 beers before getting behind the wheel, it was hard to watch as the car violently moved back and forth across the road. Note – the version of the game I played was a pre-release cut, one of the callouts being that bugs would be encountered. I assume that this was one such bug.

Back to the Crew. The game takes the opportunity to teach us more mechanics and to do some relationship building. Our director and cameraman go for a hike to a highpoint on the mainland, to get some shots of the island. On the way, we learn some more game mechanics, such as hiding, jogging (best feature), and something new to the series – equipable items. Each member of the crew can carry up to four items, many of which are unique to a certain character. Having varying uses, such as a camera, a lockpick and an extendable camera stand which can reach those hard-to-reach places, these items can be interacted with by pressing the corresponding direction on the D-pad. I can only imagine that as the player gets to later acts, it will be crucial for all characters to remain alive to be able to complete certain puzzles/interactions. I enjoy this as past Dark Pictures games have not really varied characters beyond having different personalities.

Speaking of personalities, the relationship mechanic remains the same as it has in previous games, where, during dialogue, the player is presented with their options. One is always “say nothing”, the other two options will either improve the player’s relationship with the other character or upset them.

Another fan favorite returns to the game – Premonitions. These are found by interacting with pictures (yes, dark pictures). Interacting will flash forward in time, allowing the player to see a negative outcome, often involving a character death. It’s up to the player to determine how they can prevent this bleak future from happening.

Currency – yes, The Devil In Me now has a currency, called “Obals”. Obals stack across playthroughs and can be exchanged for Dioramas. To collect Obals, it’s as simple as interacting with them as the players come across them, get 200 and there’s an achievement in it for you.

Back to the crew. We get the shots we need and see that the ferry is arriving. Cut to the dock and we meet the elusive and seemingly nervous Du Met. Mr. Du Met is all business, hurrying our protagonists to get aboard the ferry and to the island. The crew, naturally, have many questions for our host. All are deflected or outright ignored.

Arriving on the island, the game opens a bit more, giving us the opportunity to act as different characters, which does help flesh out some of the whys and hows of the current dynamic. Things are starting to feel increasingly ominous, as we explore the island. Which appears to be mostly deserted. I won’t go into further detail to avoid spoilers.

Our crew make it to The Castle, along the way I found Obals, a Fuse puzzle, and more secrets to paint a background on why the island is so empty of life.

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Well, if you haven’t, the game will bring players up to speed quick-smart. Achieved through creative camera angles, there is a sense that somebody or something is watching our protagonists. Often, the camera will cut away to a perspective from within the bushes or through a gap in a building wall. This really goes a long way to building the atmosphere.

Our Crew quickly split up into two groups. One group consisting of Charlie, Mike and Erin are led by Du Met towards the island interior. While Kate feigns an injury so that she and Jamie can do some snooping.  Acting now as Kate, we explore a generous portion of the island, observing that the place is in a state of disrepair. Buildings are run down and uncovering secrets reveals that previous maintenance crews abandoned the island as automation took over.

As we get closer to the murder castle, we glimpse our first humanoid figure, shrouded in a yellow rain slicker (think Georgie from IT) we see the figure lugging a cart around. The game makes this look very secretive, not revealing any features of said figure.

Before long, our parties are re-united. Kate and Jamie are rebuked by Du Met, who is getting more and more agitated the closer we get to the Murder Castle. We make it to the castle without any events of note. Our party enter the lobby of the hotel, which is an uncanny recreation of the originals from the prologue. Du-Met hurriedly checks our party in, having them record names in the guest register. Noting well that previous guests have also checked in, in parties of 5.

Our heroes leave the agitated Du Met and head to their rooms to settle in. Here we break off into a series of different interactions between the crew. Erin and Jamie spark a flame, Mike and Kate lament their failed relationship and explore potentially rekindling. Charlie wants a cigarette… but his have gone missing. He makes his way to the bar and meets the first of many creepy automatons that we will meet throughout the course of the game. This automaton is our bartender, well dressed in the style of the 1890s with parted hair, our bartender even speaks! Welcoming Charlie and eventually pointing him in the direction of a nearby cigarette machine with a sudden pivot that made me jump.

Charlie finds the machine, which of course needs exact change. Queue – breaking into the till behind the bar. One of Charlies equipable items is a card, one he uses to “pick” locks. This is done by moving the right stick from left to right until a prompt for RT appears. Pressing RT will yield a satisfying click and the opening of the drawer.

We find our change, apologise to the bartender, and quickly pay the machine. Surprising nobody, the pack of cigarettes gets stuck as it is being dispensed… Charlie is not a happy chicken, he shakes and hits the machine – to no avail. Charlie stomps off to find Du Met and rant at him.

Du Met is nowhere to be found and before we know it, it’s time for dinner. Our Crew gather in the dining hall with for a glass of wine (no food to be seen). This is a well-executed sequence which is revisited again later in the game for maximum creep-factor.

There are two ways this dinner can go (according to the achievements). One of which is the way mine went; Charlie reassured everyone, relationships improved across the board, and it all felt very warm and fuzzy. The other way presumedly is where Charlie unloads and tells everyone who’s boss. This also has an achievement tied to it, which I will get on my second playthrough.

There’s also a reveal made during the dinner that I won’t spoil, which explains some uncertainties from earlier in the act.

Each decision and action made in the game has a consequence. Often, these are not immediately apparent, only coming into play in the latter parts of the game. Some are minor but others can result in major game changes – up to and including character deaths, yes, I found this out firsthand.

From here, the game really picks up the creepiness factor, with the crew all unnerved from the dinner-table revelation, the feeling of being watched intensifies and creepy. It was at this point that I really started enjoying the game as the characters started to grow on me and the intrigue surrounding the murder castle with all its perilous secrets begged to be unveiled.

Is this game family friendly? No, no it’s not. There are a lot of disturbing visuals and images within, that are not suitable for kids. Given that the game is based on one of the most notorious serial killers of all-time, this should not come as a shock.

That said, the games movie mode is an option if players have a few friends over that want to play with. Movie mode allows players to each choose a character/characters that each player will act as throughout the course of the game, this mode is more fun with people of different opinions on how the crew should behave and interact with each other, leading to outcomes that the player would not necessarily find if playing alone. So, few games have couch co-op options these days, I genuinely do appreciate when a game includes this.

The Devil In Me is a solid entry in the franchise. Of all four of The Dark Pictures entries this is my favorite. The Devil In Me is somewhat of a slow burn. I highly recommend sticking with the game though, as once it hits its stride, it really shines.

I have briefly spoken about how rough the prologue graphics are. These improved as I proceeded through the game. Regardless, this did not detract from my experience or take me out of the game. Some of the scenes in the game are very graphically detailed and equally horrifying. Who knew so much could be achieved with automatons?

The relationships are what make these games. Building them up or tearing them down, they incentivize the player to keep the crew alive to follow see the conclusion of all the hard work. In my playthrough, I only kept two from five alive, leaving a lot unexplained and unfulfilled.

The sound direction in the game is solid, taking a less is more approach. Relying on occasional creepy sounds to keep the player on edge. There is an excellent cover of “A conversation with Death” that plays during the end credits which I enjoyed thoroughly.

I have spoken little about the antagonist of the game. That’s chiefly because he is such a mysterious character. The game gives players insights into the background story of our antagonist, some are blatant, delivered by video interview, others are less obvious being found in secrets hidden throughout the game. I’m eager to get my second playthrough started, as losing three characters means I’ve missed some good stuff.

I have few gripes about the game. One of which is the balance meter. The old chestnut of a character walking across a narrow beam or rock formation. The player must use the right stick to keep the character centered. I found this very imprecise as the game only really warns players that they are in danger of falling when it’s too late. I did lose a character this way and there was no “do-over” as the game auto-saves as soon as balance is lost.

Another is that when interacting with items, it is very easy to accidentally cancel the interaction, which can take several seconds to re-do. That said, those are the biggest complaints that I have.

Chè Austin

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