Shaun Munro reviews The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me…
The Dark Pictures Anthology wraps up its first season of interactive horror with The Devil in Me, which with the presence of Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley in the lead role – easily the series’ biggest Hollywood get to date – offers hope that Supermassive might finally deliver an entry worthy of franchise originator Until Dawn. But after the previous game, House of Ashes, seemed to steer the frustratingly inconsistent series in the right direction, this season finale is something of an over-egged, undercooked disappointment.
The Devil in Me is the first Dark Pictures game to eschew supernatural horror for something more grounded – and in fact, inspired by true events. An 1893-set prologue introduces us to serial killer H.H. Holmes, who slaughters the guests staying at his World’s Fair Hotel, using secret rooms and moveable walls to carry out his operation unimpeded.
In the modern day, a film crew led by director Charlie Lonnit (Paul Kaye) and reporter Kate Wilder (Jessie Buckley) are producing an episode of their docu-series about Holmes, and are invited to stay at the remote estate of an apparent Holmes fanatic, whose abode is in fact a replica of the World’s Fair Hotel. After the crew settles in, it isn’t long before they find themselves being stalked by a Holmes copycat intent on using the house’s high-tech setup to pick them off one by one.
This is without question the best-premised of all the Dark Pictures games to date. The idea of fighting to survive in a labyrinthine house packed with dangerous traps is extremely fun, and early nods to a diverse bevy of horror films – The Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Wax, and Saw – provide further promise that this will be both genre-literate and genuinely terrifying.
Yet bar a few inspired set-pieces – such as one character using a directional microphone to track unsettling sounds in the house, and a skin-crawling run-in with an animatronic barbershop quartet – The Devil in Me fails to muster much beyond mild, periodic eeriness. With an overreliance on jump scares, a fleet of obvious red herrings, and a lack of any major climactic plot twist, it feels rather underdeveloped on both a narrative and atmospheric level.
Gameplay is largely standard fare for the series – moving around looking for the nearest prompt – though a few refinements have been made. The long-requested run button has finally been included, yet because basic movement still feels so fundamentally clunky due to poor collision detection and floaty controls, it’s something of a mixed blessing.
There’s also a tepid attempt at an inventory system, as players will sometimes pick up items and need to use them later, such as lockpicks, keys, and so on. These items can even be used occasionally during cutscenes, yet their use is poorly telegraphed visually, meaning that one of my characters ended up dying in a pivotal late-game moment because I didn’t understand what the game was asking me to do during the half-second window I had to react.
You’re additionally able to interact with moveable objects in order to climb to higher areas, and can shimmy across perilous walkways and squeeze through gaps, yet these superficial new gameplay elements really just add more rote, tedious mechanics into a game already overflowing with them.
By throwing more generic contextual gameplay into the mix, Supermassive has only drawn greater attention to how bolted-together the core loop feels. Even basic aspects of traversal require you to be perfectly positioned for a button prompt when it should probably just be a free-flowing aspect of gameplay.
The new features furthermore only enhance how patently silly it is that our five able-bodied central characters apparently can’t break windows or knock down doors, instead forcing players on momentum-obliterating fetch quests for keys.
The rest of the game is defined by the usual Dark Pictures shtick; solving hilariously simple puzzles – which feel especially repetitive in this entry, namely one involving fuse boxes – and QTE sequences sure to punish anyone who dares to yawn or take a sip of their drink at an inopportune moment.
There’s also the expected collectible gumpth for obsessives, with coin-like obols strewn throughout the game allowing players to unlock models in the diorama shop. Despite offering more to do than its predecessors, The Devil in Me still feels about as aggressively on-rails as ever, and once again due to some cheaply designed decisions, the choice aspect feels more illusory than you might hope for.
This latest entry is also markedly longer than the prior ones, clocking in at a full six hours, giving it a 60-90 minute edge on what came before. That might not sound offensive by any metric, yet considering how long the game takes to get going, and how blatantly bloated out it is with monotonous objectives, it absolutely fails to sustain interest to the finish line.
By the time you’re walking through a dark, dusty building with a flashlight for the dozenth time within a few hours, it’s hard to remain enthusiastic or even basically unnerved. The abundance of crusty relationship drama between several central characters doesn’t help, either.
It’s easy to suspect that Supermassive opted to give the canvas a modest expansion in an attempt to combat long-standing complaints about the value of these bite-sized horror experiences, but The Devil in Me would’ve almost certainly been a tighter outing were it between four and five hours.
The cast tries, at least, though Jessie Buckley sadly isn’t give much in the way of stellar material to work with, making it easy to argue that she was basically squandered in this role. The easy MVP of the ensemble, then, is Paul Kaye, so perfectly cast as the shady director with some major nicotine cravings. And we’d be remiss not to single out Pip Torrens, who once again gives a deliciously velvet-voiced performance as the mysterious Curator, who shows up occasionally to offer hints for the upcoming chapters and comment on the player’s performance so far.
Yet the bulk of the characters sadly aren’t terribly interesting, and you’ll be hard-pressed to remember their names by the time it’s over. Though several of them have their own skill-specific minigames – sound engineer Erin can use a microphone, cameraman Mark has a camera flash for visibility, and Kate has… an amethyst crystal to keep calm – they’re deployed surprisingly sparsely and typically with little invention.
But like its predecessors, The Devil in Me is at least a looker in the visuals department – to a point, anyway. The ornate interiors of the central house look regularly spectacular, and lighting and particle effects are effective in generating something of a mood even when the story can’t. Visual direction is strong throughout cutscenes, yet gameplay is frequently undermined by a frustratingly imprecise camera.
As with the other Dark Pictures games, the representation of human beings is something of a mixed bag; though close-ups often look startlingly photoreal, this illusion is regularly shattered when characters speak. There’s a dead-eyed non-quality to the faces – ironically resembling the creepy animatronics placed throughout the house – and they often open their mouths far too wide for the words they’re actually saying, not to ignore the generally inconsistent lip sync. The voice acting itself is uniformly decent despite the wonky dialogue, though, and Jason Graves’ solid score again does a lot of the heavy lifting.
The Devil in Me is largely more of the same for the series; a middling horror romp that isn’t especially scary and bogs itself down in painfully unimaginative gameplay. Four games in, the formula feels incredibly played-out, and one can only hope that the next game – teased at the end as an out-there shift into a different horror subgenre – might finally evolve it somewhat. It probably won’t, though.
There’s a “there’s no such thing as bad pizza” quality to these games that ensures a baseline level of enjoyment if you’re a horror fan, but between the talent involved and inspired concept, this one can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. If touting the strongest premise of any Dark Pictures title to date, The Devil In Me’s expanded play-time and larger suite of gameplay features ultimately only make the experience more tedious.
+ It’s got the best premise of any Dark Pictures game.
+ Lighting and environments look fantastic.
+ Solid musical score.
+ Decent voice acting.
– Clunky, tedious central gameplay.
– Some terrible dialogue.
– Jessie Buckley’s talents are wasted.
– Bloated, overlong play-time.
– Inconsistent human likenesses.
– Lack of compelling twists.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S).
A retail copy was played for review.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling, or e-mail me here.