Bandai Namco has shared a wealth of new detail and showcased to us media types a good chunk of footage for the upcoming The Devil In Me. This is the fourth of Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology, and it’s also the end of season one. Whether that means the entire project will be drawn to a close depends on the overall success of the tetralogy, I guess, but at least it looks like it’ll go out with a bang either way.
There were a couple of things that Supermassive Games wanted to make clear about this new title:
- It’s bigger than the previous games. Despite taking place in a single, relatively small hotel, it will take around seven hours to complete, when previous titles were five. Given I thought the previous games were exactly as long as they needed to be, it will be interesting to see if this new game justifies its length.
- Exploration is a greater focus this time. There are all kinds of environmental objects that you’ll be able to better interact with in this game, whether that be shimming across ledges, creeping through gaps in the wall, and jumping across floorboards when there are gaps. I’m not entirely sure what this will add to the point-and-click adventure quality of the previous titles, but from the gameplay footage it did look like you’re given plenty of time to explore a creepy and labyrinthine hotel.
- This game is somehow inspired by the Saw series, the Shining and 80s slasher horror films.
It’s point three that bothers me a bit. The only way you could combine Saw, The Shining, and Friday The 13th & Halloween is if you ignore the core of what makes those respective horror films so compelling and instead focus on their superficial elements. The moral nuance of Saw doesn’t really pair with the psychological terror of The Shining, and neither of those was analogous to a fear of sex like those slashers were. Friday and Halloween are built around the idea that hot people that get their clothes off get a knife between the ribs. That’s an essential quality of that genre. Saw, however, is more about questioning how much a person values life and whether the extreme experience they’re going through can act as a kind of flagellation that can purge their sins. These two these things are completely incompatible so I have to wonder if the development team’s analysis of the two led them to think that the extent of Saw was in explicit, horrible deaths, and slashers were just a different flavour of horrible deaths. In that way the genres are comparable, but it’s also kind of missing the point.
Indeed, this cuts right to the heart of my general concern with the whole series. The concept of The Dark Pictures is excellent; each of the games would depict a different kind of horror, and seek to do something thematically authentic to that form of horror. In practice, though, whether it has been a ghost ship, the town of Salem, or ruins buried for millennia, I’ve yet to see the developers understand the genres that they’re looking to portray. That is to say, these games have all been much more akin to horror-themed point-and-click games that essentially tread the same themes and structures.
That is a pity because horror is a genre of extreme experiences and extreme insights through them. The general point of horror is to transgress in some way or another, and each of the subgenres that Supermassive Games claim to follow is differentiated in the way that they transgress. Based on what I’ve played of the series, I’m not sure they understand that. Rather, they seem to think that you’ve got a different kind of horror so long as you have a different setting and kind of “monster” to deal with. As fun as they are (and I do like them), thematically this has all been a missed opportunity to date, and I see no reason to believe that The Devil In Me will be different.
Now, with that said, I do think The Devil In Me will be a lot of pulpy fun, because, as far as that “monster” goes, this one’s cracking good. The developers have basically taken the story of the notorious serial killer, H. H. Holmes, and his “Murder Castle,” and used this concept as a playground to throw grotesque deaths at the players. As with previous Dark Picture games, it is technically possible to save all the characters, but part of the fun of it will be watching the way they die. That is something that is almost certainly going to happen the first couple of times you play.
Those death traps are where the Saw references come in, and they do seem like a creative and nasty bunch that get the aesthetics of Saw spot on. From the section of footage that was demoed to the media, there’s a slow burn between each of them (which also makes sense when you consider there are only five characters and the game needs to run for seven hours – you can’t kill them too quickly), but when they hit, they hit hard.
Another interesting addition to this title – and one that has solid implications for the adventure game theme, is the fact that each of the characters has their own unique piece of equipment, related to their “skills” and personalities. They can also trade these items between one another, which opens up a wealth of possible puzzles to solve along the way, and unravelling the combinations of actions you’ll need to take to save everyone from this nightmare should be a fun task for the completionists. I personally like leaving The Dark Pictures titles on a single play-through, as those that survive and/or die then become my “canon”, but I do like the replay value these games offer to others.
I’m very much looking forward to The Devil In Me, since the setting looks like an absolute delight, and haunted hotels are one of my favourite locations for horror. It’s good that the series has become reliable, fun comfort food, however, I do hope that a season two, if it should occur, finds the team paying a little more attention to the thematic differences between horror sub-genres, rather than their aesthetics. With that being said, don’t let my philosophical griping point sway you, because I’ve got no doubt I’ll be giving this one a very positive score, comparable to my previous outings in The Dark Pictures Anthology.