Review – The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me
The Dark Pictures Anthology have been providing us scares since Man of Medan back in 2019. While Man of Medan wasn’t able to quite capture the magic of Until Dawn, it was still a fun romp through B-movie territory. The Dark Pictures Anthology then took a hit with the underwhelming Little Hope, which aside from the improved controls and QTEs, featured and overreliance on jumpscares and a somewhat recycled twist from an earlier title. Thankfully, the team at Supermassive listened to their fans and took their criticisms to heart, knocking it out of the park with their next entry, House of Ashes. Things continued to improve for Supermassive with their following game, The Quarry, although that title isn’t a part of their Dark Pictures Anthology. Still, things were definitely heading in the right direction for Supermassive, so when The Devil in Me was announced, a game about a serial killer doing weird experiments with animatronics, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me takes its inspiration from America’s first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Holmes was known for committing several murders within his hotel in Chicago, Illinois in the late 1800s. Much of what transpired has been sensationalized over the years, turning Holmes’ hotel murder site into an elaborate “Murder Castle”. While we know now that the circumstances surrounding Holmes’ murderous reign were greatly embellished, it still makes for a compelling concept, especially for a horror game. Unsurprisingly, this is what The Devil in Me has decided to steer into; the idea of a murderous psychopath who used his demented genius to design his own building, filled with death traps.
At least, that’s how it starts. We begin The Devil in Me with an introduction to the infamous H.H. Holmes, but after the prologue we pick up during present day. It’s here that we’re introduced to a documentary crew who are doing a piece on the notorious serial killer. When they receive a mysterious call from someone claiming to have a real-life replica of the famous “Murder Castle”, they know it’s an offer they can’t pass up. Unfortunately for our protagonists, it’s not long before they’re hunted by a deranged killer, who stalks them, tricks them, and places them in various death traps within his mansion.
Unlike most of the other entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology series, the characters in The Devil in Me aren’t overly sympathetic or personable. This is probably the first time in the series (or within Supermassive as whole, Bravo Team aside), that the main characters didn’t really have much chemistry or camaraderie with one another. There are two crew members that have a potential romance budding, but we aren’t really given any context into their relationship before we’re thrust into trying to decide if we want to attempt to put the moves on one another. Likewise, there’s another couple in the crew who have broken up before the events of the game, but even though their relationship seems to have the most depth, it’s still about as shallow as a puddle. Then you have the angry boss man, who only has eyes for his coveted pack of cigarettes. Riveting.
Right away, this poses a big problem for The Devil in Me. If you don’t really care about the main characters, then you won’t necessarily be affected if and when they perish. For a while I wondered why I wasn’t connecting to this group of characters as much as I had in other installments. Then, it finally dawned on me: there are hardly any dialogue options or serious choices to make in The Devil in Me.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the first three sections (not counting the prologue) will have you only making about five dialogue choices. Not five per section, five total. At first I honestly thought I had accidentally selected the wrong gameplay mode or something, one that has you watching the events unfold rather than playing them, but that wasn’t the case. Apparently, there’s just a drastic reduction in meaningful decisions and dialogue choices in The Devil in Me. Which is a shame considering that’s pretty much the whole draw to these games.
Speaking of gameplay modes, there are several options to choose from. You have the Theatrical Cut, which is your standard single-player mode. There’s the Curator’s Cut, which was offered as a pre-order bonus or will unlock four months after The Devil in Me‘s initial release. The Curator’s Cut is also a single-player mode, but it allows you to control different protagonists, and opens up new dialogue options and scenes.
There are also two multiplayer modes: Shared Story and Movie Night. Shared Story allows two players to play The Devil in Me while online. It splits up the group of protagonists between the two players, dividing the experience into a blend of the Theatrical Cut and the Curator’s Cut. With Movie Night, between two to five players can play offline, each passing the controller to one another when controlling the characters assigned to them.
Playing with friends makes for a unique experience, since decisions that can greatly impact the fate of others rests solely on whomever is controlling that character. I highly recommend this gameplay choice, since it helps to liven up the experience. However, this can also lead to the time each person gets to play feeling unbalanced, especially if their character meets their fate early on. I played Shared Story with my husband, and by the end I was playing the game almost solely by myself since two of his three starting characters died. He argued that there should be better balancing, while I argued that he just needed to make better decisions. All of my characters made it out alive!
Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay still remains largely the same from previous installments. You’ll have to make decisions that will not only affect your relationships to other characters, but can also impact events of the game later on. I’ve already mentioned how there is a drastic drop in dialogue options in The Devil in Me, but the majority of the character actions also seem to have little effect on how things will play out, at least in comparison to other titles in The Dark Pictures Anthology series.
Staples of the franchise also make their return, such as QTEs and “keep calm” moments when hiding. These still work well, with the QTEs giving just enough time to make the necessary inputs without feeling overly generous. The Devil in Me also introduces some new gameplay mechanics, such as an inventory system. Each character has a unique tool or piece of equipment that can help them get past certain obstacles. For example, Charlie carries business cards on him, which he can use to jimmy locks open (although certain doors still require a key). Meanwhile, Kate can use her pencil to shade over notepads to see what was previously written. These new mechanics work very well and help make each character’s exploration of the hotel feel unique.
One thing that did shock me was just how terrible the controls were for moving the protagonists. This is one area where the gameplay in The Devil in Me took a massive step backwards. It’s odd, because each new game has steadily improved the control scheme, allowing characters to walk faster, turn easier, and not get stuck in doorways from NPCs as much. The Devil in Me seems to have gone back to the controls found in Until Dawn and Man of Medan, where the characters move at an agonizingly slow pace, with “running” only moving them slightly faster. Turning them also feels extremely cumbersome, like trying to drive a bus up a winding mountain road. This becomes incredibly frustrating, especially when trying to navigate the tight corridors.
Another area that has taken a big hit are the graphics. Now I will give credit where credit is due; The Devil in Me features the best facial animations to date. Finally, Supermassive seems to have gotten the odd eye animations fixed. Not once did I find the characters looking cross-eyed or far below the intended targets. With that said, there are a shocking amount of textural pop-ins all throughout the game. Even during cutscenes, there are tons of instances of the background taking a long time to fully render. The framerate also struggles greatly, sometimes dipping well below 30fps. This is particularly puzzling, considering both House of Ashes and The Quarry didn’t have any of these issues, and both were released within a year of The Devil in Me.
The sound design, on the other hand, is wonderful. The vocal performances are all very strong across the board. The only exception is Jessie Buckley’s performance as Kate. While she’s mostly fantastic, there are times where she struggles to retain an American accent. This is particularly noticeable when she talks about H.H. Holmes, pronouncing her H’s in the way that draws attention her Irish heritage. It’s not an egregious error, but it still did take me out of the immersion at times. The soundtrack is fantastic, being appropriately tense and eerie throughout the whole game.
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by The Devil in Me, mainly because the past two Supermassive games were both so outstanding. The controls and visuals took a big step backward, with the controls in particular being extremely annoying. It feels like they rushed to get The Devil in Me out before it was fully ready, which is odd considering they already had two very successful titles released over the course of a year. Despite its issues, The Devil in Me is still an enjoyable time, with an incredibly creepy atmosphere, great tension (despite an annoying overreliance on jumpscares), and a genuinely intriguing mystery surrounding the masked murderer. I’m hopeful Season 2 sets The Dark Pictures Anthology back on track.
This is one of the best looking Supermassive games to date, while also struggling the most. Finally, the facial animations are on point with no weird eye issues, but its riddled with framerate dips and textural pop-ins at just about every turn.
There are nowhere near as many dialogue options as in the other installments, nor are there as many QTEs. Controlling your characters feels like trying to drive a bus up a winding mountain road, and the camera is equally as obnoxious.
The vocal performances are all really good, although Katie’s voice actress struggles at times with her American accent. The soundtrack is wonderful and appropriately tense and eerie.
Fun Factor: 7.0
Despite the awful controls and lack of meaningful decisions, the atmosphere of the hotel and the mystery within it is intriguing enough to make it worth your time.
Final Verdict: 7.0
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.
A copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me was provided by the publisher.