Review: ‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me’ is the best in the series to date

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Gaming:
David James

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On November 17, 2022
Last modified:November 18, 2022

Summary:

'The Dark Pictures Anthology' season one ends on a high with 'The Devil in Me', Supermassive Games' scariest entry in the franchise yet. There are a couple of flaws, but given how much this franchise has improved since 2019's 'Man of Medan' we're more than ready to forgive them, and can't wait to see what Supermassive serves up in season two.

Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology is for everyone who’s ever yelled at a horror movie character: “No, you idiot, don’t run upstairs! You’ll be trapped!”. If you suspect you could do better when squaring off with a supernatural entity, ravenous monster, or axe-wielding maniac these games let you put your money where your mouth is.

This mini-genre of interactive horror has been gradually refined since 2015’s Until Dawn, through The Dark Pictures Anthology, and into The Quarry earlier this year. Each of these titles serves up a crew of motion-captured victims-to-be whose lives are at the mercy of your decisions, quick reflexes, observational skills, and desire for chaos or order. Outcomes range from every character surviving to them all being gruesomely wiped out, with every permutation in between.

I’ve eagerly devoured each of these titles at launch and, while all have been a fun ride, none of them has lived up to the potential of the genre. So I’m very pleased to report that the first season finale The Devil in Me is their best game yet.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
Screenshot via Supermassive Games

The genesis of The Devil in Me is real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes, famed for his legendary “Murder Castle”. Rumor has it that Holmes used the 1893 Chicago world’s fair to lure tourists into his hotel, which contained secret passages, gas vents into rooms, acid vats, a crematorium, and trapdoors over chutes that’d send victims tumbling into the basement to be dispatched and disposed of.

The Devil in Me opens with a brief prologue set in the 1890s before jumping to the modern day, where a small production studio is working on its latest sensationalist serial killer documentary. The project is in trouble, so the director jumps at an unexpected invitation for the crew to visit an isolated island where a mysterious individual has built an exact replica of the Murder Castle. It’s the perfect location shoot, though you’ll have to surrender your phones before you arrive and follow some very strict rules…

You can probably see where this is going. Mayhem soon arrives as the characters contend with the hotel’s many traps, its incomprehensible layout, grisly secrets, and the superintelligent homicidal mastermind pulling the strings. The cast of characters is likable and distinctive, with the highlights Game of Thrones‘ Paul Kaye as the frazzled, nicotine-deprived cockney, director, and Chernobyl‘s Jessie Buckley as the spiky yet determined host.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
Screenshot via Supermassive Games

I won’t spoil exactly what goes down, not least because everyone’s story will be different depending on which characters bite the dust, but as the credits rolled I was left more satisfied than any other game in the series.

Previous Dark Pictures games have stumbled by inadvertently exposing the illusion of player choice: if you save a character the story has earmarked for death they’ll get a brief respite before being ganked soon afterwards anyway. The Devil in Me doesn’t do that, with the story my choices built feeling so tightly constructed that it’s difficult to imagine it going down any other way (I will replay it to find out). Prior entries also had unnecessary last-minute twists that made everything that came before feel redundant, whereas The Devil in Me is a slow-burn reveal that feels cohesive even if you miss the occasional explanatory puzzle piece.

Also new to this entry is some light inventory management. Each character has a unique piece of equipment like a directional microphone, Zippo lighter, torch, or camera flashbulbs. The puzzles in this game aren’t at all taxing, though they (and a notable increase in sequences where you have direct control of characters) counter the argument that this isn’t just a CG movie you occasionally interact with.

There are a couple of flies in the ointment. At its best, Supermassive’s motion capture and rendering tech look almost photorealistic, though their hyper-realistic style has always teetered on the edge of the uncanny valley. The vast majority of The Devil in Me looks fantastic, though unfortunately, the introductory sequence looks notably worse than the rest of the game. The models look lower quality, the bright sunlight does them no favors, and I was left with unfortunate flashbacks to PlayStation 3’s Heavy Rain.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
Screenshot via Supermassive Games

Things improve once the core plot begins, with the game smartly camouflaging its flaws with atmospheric directional lighting. But even here you’ll catch the odd moment where a character’s features unnaturally snap between positions as the game cues up a line of contextual dialogue. Animation bugs like these are the price of doing business when aiming for photorealistic graphics, but they break the illusion and feel like the kind of thing that could be polished out with a teeny bit more development time.

Other minor flaws include entirely unnecessary traversal puzzles. Pushing around a crate to create a platform to get over a wall is from the first page of a Game Design 101 textbook and adds absolutely nothing to the experience. They’re so simple they’re barely even puzzles, but it’s difficult not to roll your eyes when you see a ledge and a suspiciously helpfully positioned wheeled box nearby.

And then there’s the game’s length. Supermassive has spent this whole series figuring out how to provide the best value for money for this type of game. By design, these can’t be 40-hour-long epics, with earlier entries Man of Medan and Little Hope criticized for being four to five hours long and priced at $40. Since then, the runtime has been gradually creeping up, with my The Devil in Me playthrough clocking in at around eight hours.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
Screenshot via Supermassive Games

There’s a narrative awkwardness here, as The Devil in Me tells a feature-film horror movie story stretched out four times longer than it should be. The most obvious consequence is that you get an hour or two of slow setup before the thrills arrive, but the extended playtime also hurts the multiplayer experience.

I’ve always held that the most fun way to play a Dark Pictures game is in couch co-op with each player being assigned their own character. That setup worked well in the four-hour Man of Medan and Little Hope, which could each be cleared in a single fun evening. But getting five players together (even online) for an eight-hour The Devil in Me playthrough is impractical. Sure, you could split that over multiple sessions, but getting the same group of five people together can feel like herding cats.

But I criticize because I care, and with the first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology now complete it’s been a scary, fun, and very memorable series of games. The Devil in Me is the cream of the crop of this season, just about pushing the bonkers Iraq War vampire story House of Ashes into second place. These games have no narrative connection to one another save the presence of Pip Torrens’ Tales from the Crypt-style presenter commenting on your choices, so if you’re curious, pick this one up and find out what all the fuss is about.

This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A code was provided for review by Supermassive Games.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
Great

'The Dark Pictures Anthology' season one ends on a high with 'The Devil in Me', Supermassive Games' scariest entry in the franchise yet. There are a couple of flaws, but given how much this franchise has improved since 2019's 'Man of Medan' we're more than ready to forgive them, and can't wait to see what Supermassive serves up in season two.