The Dark Pictures Anthology, from the creators of Until Dawn, is an ongoing series of interactive horror games, packed full of chills and thrills. The first title, Man of Medan, was ambitious and promising. But the follow-up Little Hope utterly fails, thanks to a last-minute ending that sours the rest of the four-hour narrative.
Little Hope is a series of cinematics, linked together by choices, and occasionally interrupted by a quick-time prompt. Four students (Andrew, Angela, Daniel, and Taylor) and their professor, John, are trapped in a Silent Hill-style Salem Witch horror scenario. The player chooses how they interact with the other characters, how they escape, and whether or not they survive.
Little Hope can be played single-player, or cooperatively. Polygon reporter Austen Goslin and I were playing a Shared Story run, which each gives each player a “cut” of the story. Sometimes, the narratives diverge, and sometimes they converge, and one player’s choices affect another.
Both of us enjoyed Man of Medan, and we were excited to encounter the game’s witches, demons, and secrets.
[Warning: The rest of this article is full of major spoilers for Little Hope, including all endings.]
At first, Little Hope didn’t disappoint. The story begins in the 1970s, with a little girl named Megan, clearly haunted by a malicious devil, burning down her family home. One character, Anthony, watches in horror as his entire family dies in the house fire, and runs in himself.
Cut to the present day, where a bus driver transports Angela, Andrew, Daniel, Taylor, and John through the town of Little Hope. Oddly enough, our new protagonists have the same faces, and similar names, as the family in the ‘70s. For example, Andrew looks just like Anthony, but with a fresh new style.
The bus crashes, the driver goes missing, and the five protagonists are pushed further into the town by a supernatural fog. This kicks off about four hours of a schlocky-but-fun horror story, where the players are occasionally thrust into a Salem Witch Trial reality, starring yet another group of people bearing their faces. There’s even a spooky little ghost girl: Megan, who also appears during the Salem era as “Mary.”
The protagonists seem to have been reborn multiple times, including during the first World War, according to hints scattered throughout the game. The Salem-era scenes introduce an antagonistic priest named Reverend Carver, and it’s suggested he has reincarnated alongside the family. Perhaps even the town of Little Hope itself is cursed to be eternally reborn; there are old stories of shutdowns, foreclosures, and abandonment multiple times in the past.
No matter how your story ends, what you chose, or who survived, few of the questions the game poses are answered. There was a lot to chew on, and it’d be fun to ponder on these things later. But then the story ends with one final twist: The survivors of Little Hope fade away, and only Andrew is left. But Andrew was never really Andrew… you are Anthony, from the opening fire. Anthony was the bus driver, and he hallucinated the entire story.
Anthony survived the fire, but he was badly burned in the process, and he seemingly let the trauma sit for decades. When the bus was coincidentally diverted into Little Hope due to a traffic accident, he hallucinated his little sister, crashed, and concussed himself.
It was after this revelation that Austen and I just started yelling at our screens in pure frustration.
“Little Hope has the most frustrating kind of ending, because the reveal is really just that you wasted your time,” Austen says. “It’s like the game shouting, ‘tada, nothing ever mattered at all.’ What’s worse is that everything up to that point was good enough that if you just remove the last few minutes the story would have still worked.”
There was a lot to love: Alex Ivanovici’s performance as overbearing Professor John, the monster design, the creepy hints of a sun cult sprinkled throughout the tale are all great. The plot twist invalidates everything, and makes the good scenes make less sense, because they foreshadow and hint at things that never happened or existed.
For instance, it’s heavily implied through the Salem-era scenes that Megan’s double ‘Mary’ was being groomed by the antagonistic Reverend Carver. In the ‘70s intro, Megan is clearly troubled, and has been kept after school for weeks in a row by a ‘Reverend Carson.’ But the ‘70s house fire clearly shows us supernatural events, including a ladder shaking on its own, and a door locking and closing without Megan touching it.
Because of these weird discrepancies, the intro ends up being the perfect example of the problem with Little Hope. Is this the story of a man coming to terms with the fact that his little sister was victimized in the past, and learning to forgive her and himself for the house fire that killed her and their family? If so, why are we going through a schlocky romp with screamy jump scares and freaky demons?
That’s the most frustrating part of the story. Any objection can be brushed away with “Ah! But Anthony’s hallucinating.” But a story-driven experience should be extra careful to convey a solid theme and consistent narrative.
Little Hope also fails to capture the Shared Story magic that the previous game in the Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan, managed to pull off. In Man of Medan, I was seeing a different reality from my co-op partner, and we could share a scene without knowing it. We could even kill each other without realizing it! But with Little Hope, Austen and I mostly just updated each other on the pieces of the plot we collected.
My trusty co-op partner Austen is equally dissatisfied. “It’s extremely hard to ruin something for me,” he says. “I still love Star Wars even though every single one of its endings has been awful. Game of Thrones ending on a monologue that actively mocks its viewers didn’t stop me from watching the entire show again this year. I even liked the Lost ending. But Little Hope’s ending ruined the game for me. It invalidates everything that came before it so thoroughly that I can’t help but feel like it was probably a waste of time.”
Little Hope ends with a trailer for the next installment, House of Ashes, which looks like it’s an Iraq desert story where soldiers face down horrors of Sumerian myth. But Austen and I were immediately skeptical. We bitterly joked that maybe House of Ashes is just another hallucination. The Dark Pictures Anthology is meant to deliver a series of wild and wicked tales, but the series feels weaker overall, knowing that among the Curator’s collection of dusty books there is a story that is essentially just a middle-aged man wandering around a small town, yelling at himself.