With the release of The Devil in Me, the first season of Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology is complete. The horror franchise was built on the solid foundations of 2015’s Until Dawn, which delivered a horror movie where you decide who lives and dies. Dark Pictures works from the same template, delivering a photogenic crew of victims-to-be, placing them in a terrifying situation, and making you responsible for who makes it through to the credits.
All these games have malleable narratives, with the best ending seeing everyone make it out alive and the worst a smörgåsbord of death as your characters are decapitated, immolated, crushed, drowned, or devoured. Nobody else is providing horror games with these visuals in this style, and Dark Pictures has amassed a fanbase eager for their annual dose of interactive terror.
With a neat bow now on the first season, let’s rank the four Dark Pictures games. Incidentally, we’re leaving 2022’s The Quarry off this list as, despite the obvious similarities, it’s not a Dark Pictures game, but it is also very much worth playing.
4. Little Hope (2020)
The sophomore entry in the series is also by far the worst. After their bus crashes, four college students and their professor find themselves trapped in the titular town of Little Hope. This has a bloody history inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, while also presenting a mysterious 1970s-set prologue about a house fire.
Despite boasting a decent lead performance from Midsommar and future Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 star Wil Poulter, this has by far the worst plot of the series, concluding with a ludicrous twist that not only doesn’t make sense but renders all the decisions you’ve made up to that point irrelevant. This series sells itself on your choices guiding the narrative, so undercutting that at the last minute wasn’t a smart move.
If you skip one of these games, skip Little Hope.
3. Man of Medan (2019)
The debut of the series is undercooked by the standards of later games, but this Ghost Ship-inspired caper has more than enough strange stuff going on below decks to make it worthwhile. The story kicks off just after World War II with soldiers menaced by a deadly supernatural force that wipes out a ship. Cut to the modern day, and a group of privileged thrill-seekers are on the open sea on a diving expedition.
Soon they’re all trapped aboard the ghost ship being menaced not only by monsters and ghosts but also a group of ruthless pirates seeking the mysterious “Manchurian Gold.” Like Little Hope, Man of Medan also delivers a late-game twist that recontextualizes everything you’ve been through, though this time it’s possible to put the pieces together ahead of time and act accordingly. There’s one moment in particular that, if you correctly surmise what’s really happening aboard the ship, makes you feel very smart.
The ending of the game comes too abruptly, but this first entry is a great start to the franchise and convinced many that this was a series to watch.
2. House of Ashes
After two games following rich kids thrown into a gloomy supernatural peril, the third entry, House of Ashes, radically changed the script. It’s set during the Iraq War and follows a gung-ho group of American soldiers, CIA agents, and an Iraqi as they’re plunged into an ancient Akkadian underground temple swarming with monsters. House of Ashes feels like a mashup of Aliens and The Descent, showing how combat training and high-powered weaponry are no match for the nightmares lurking deep underground.
It’s an atmospheric and imaginative tale, eventually going to some truly bonkers locations that push out the boundaries of what Dark Pictures could be. It’s also straightforward to read that this is a thinly veiled condemnation of the Iraq War, taking the time to show the effect it had on the Iraqi people. The vampiric threat is a nice metaphor for the unpredictable forces unleashed by the poorly planned and overconfident invasion of Iraq.
Up until now, House of Ashes was the cream of the crop when it came to Dark Pictures, but…
1. The Devil in Me
Season one of Dark Pictures is going out on a high with The Devil in Me (read our full review here). Inspired by the famous story of 1890s serial killer H.H. Holmes, this finds an unsuspecting film crew trapped in a hotel full of death traps with a homicidal mastermind pulling the strings from behind the scenes. There’s a sprinkling of inspiration from Saw and The Shining and an attempt to push back against criticism that these games are just interactive movies with very little input from the player.
The Devil in Me is easily the scariest game in the series to date, with its central hotel setting genuinely unnerving as walls silently shift around you, an omnipresent surveillance system monitors everything you do, and the characters’ phobias, addictions, and medical issues are exploited to put them in unwinnable situations. The addition of a true crime element over the supernatural and fantasy aspects also helps ground the story, and there’s no last-minute rug pull that retroactively ruins the story
While some of the new additions are more window-dressing than transformative, it’s a big step in the right direction for the franchise, and we can’t wait to see what’s coming in the second season.
While none of these games has been a smash hit they’ve been enough of a success to warrant a second season and spinoffs. The Devil in Me ends with a teaser trailer for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Directive 8020, a sci-fi horror that seems to be taking inspiration from Alien and Event Horizon with a tale of a spaceship crew hunting for a new planet for humanity to terraform and finding something unknowable and hellish lurking in deep space.
Beyond that, we know the PSVR2 will launch with spinoff The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR, a rail shooter set in locations from the series in the vein of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. Supermassive Games have also filed Dark Pictures-related trademarks for future games titled “The Craven Man,” “Intercession,” “Winterfold,” “Switchback,” and “O Death.” It remains to be seen which of these will comprise the second season, but one thing’s for sure. The future is looking…terrifying.