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Little Hope's time-hopping horror mystery doesn't pull any punches

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Supermassive Games' Dark Pictures Anthology returns this summer with its second episode, Little Hope, swapping Man of Medan's largely modern ghost ship yarn for a time-hopping misadventure inspired by New England's 17th century witch trials. And Blair Witch. And The Omen. And The Crucible. There's some Hellraiser in there too. And let's not forget about Silent Hill. 

Drawing from all these well known stories, movies and games is a risk, but Until Dawn and Man of Medan both wore their many inspirations on their sleeves without becoming too derivative, even managing to squeeze in a few welcome surprises, and Little Hope's prologue suggests the same could be true here. 

Spoilers for Little Hope's prologue below. You have been warned!

The witchy mystery kicks off with a group of students stuck on a bus travelling through New England. Like the previous episode, it's around four to five hours long, but with a pass the controller and an online co-op mode, as well as a special cut that lets you play from different perspectives, giving you an excuse to play it again. It's a chance to make different choices and take the story in a new direction. 

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

"Our story forms around paranoia, brutal executions and the pursuit of redemption," says CEO and game director Pete Samuels, and the second one is very much on display during the prologue. 

The bus is rerouted through the abandoned town of Little Hope, but a thick fog and a mysterious girl on the road cause the driver to lose control, leading to a crash. And then we're in the '70s, watching a family squabble about work and kids. It's a sharp change in tone. And it's here where you'll first get to slip into the shoes of one of the characters—specifically Anthony, played by Bandersnatch's Will Poulter, doing a decent American accent. 

Little Hope bounces between cinematic action with split second decisions and QTEs, and slightly more open, sedate exploration sequences. It feels familiar, but Supermassive has used feedback from the previous episode to introduce some quality of life tweaks that it hopes will improve the flow of the game and clarity of the environments. 

"Little Hope retains the values of cinematic presentation that define our studio," says Samuels, "and we've incorporated a wider range of camera systems, seamlessly transitioning to close character-centric cameras where we feel that better suits the environment and the player experience. With left stick camera control to help both PC and console gamers feel a closer attachment to their character, and with a greater range of walk speeds that fit the environment and the narrative."

This is evident as Samuels moves Anthony around his home. I missed a lot the first time I played Man of Medan because the dimly lit, claustrophobic ship made it hard to find objects of interest, but here there's more contextual information that directs you towards things to inspect. 

QTE's have been improved, too, with Little Hope giving you more advanced notice that a QTE is about to crop up, showing you where it will take place and giving you an idea of the action you'll be performing. If a jump is coming up, for instance, you'll know if before you suddenly have to bash some buttons. 

All is not well in this family home, with the youngest kid, Megan, at the centre of things. And wouldn't you know it—she looks a heck of a lot like the little girl who causes the bus to crash all those decades later. There are some non-specific allusions to her being strange, and she definitely falls into the category of spooky devil child.

Little Hope lays the forewarning pretty thick. Dennis, another one of the kids, heads up to the attic after being a bit of a dick about his sister, and then the steps start to wobble, as if being shaken by an invisible hand. Then the mum, after expressing her worries about Megan, gets locked in the bathroom by her evil little girl. It's pretty clear things aren't going to end well.

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Supermassive doesn't leave you wondering if Megan is up to no good for long. It turns out she's made a new friend, and they've been whispering in her ear, warning her about her family. We only catch a glimpse of this new pal—a monstrous claw. And that's when she starts the fire. 

Once the inferno begins, as Anthony, who is now outside, you've got your first big choice to make: do you save Tanya, your other sister who is now trapped on the balcony, locked out of the house, or Megan. For this playthrough, Samuels picks Tanya, but it doesn't go very well. There are two ways down, and you have to tell her which route to take. Unfortunately, Samuels picks the one that leads to Tanya's scarf getting stuck, promptly chocking her to death when she falls down. 

It's pretty clear from that point that everyone's going to die. Dennis tries to climb down from the roof, after escaping the attic, but he's impaled on some railings. Ignored by her brother, Megan is burned alive. The dad, passed out in the living room, is crushed by falling debris. The mum chokes to death on smoke. And finally, Anthony rushes inside the burning house, where he's quickly engulfed in flames. 

Cheery stuff! All of the deaths are pretty horrible, but watching a wee girl, even one who has orchestrated all of these murders, dying in a fire is rather distressing. It's an introduction that's not a far cry from the previous episode, which also put you in a situation where there was no good ending, no matter what choices you made. 

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Returning to the present, we're back at the bus, with the passengers now waking up after the crash. The first one we see is Anthony, but now he's called Andrew. The rest of the students are also made up of this long-dead family. That's the end of the prologue, leaving us with a big pile of questions, but Supermassive also revealed a slightly later slice of the game, and yet more time-jumping weirdness. 

While exploring Little Hope, Andrew and Angela, a mature student who also happens to look exactly like the dead family's matriarch, find a little girl in the woods. It's Megan, of course, except she's dressed like a 17th century pilgrim. She reaches out at them and we get a wee jump scare as she become some sort of undead thing, just for a second. 

Supermassive normally likes its jump scares, though this was the only one evident in the demo. The term is increasingly used as a pejorative, but both Man of Medan and Until Dawn proved that Supermassive knows how to use them deftly, playing with expectations, tricking you and finding just the right time to make you shit your pants.

After the shock, Megan looks like herself again, or at least a pilgrim-y version, and is introduced as Mary. It also becomes apparent that, somehow, Andrew and Angela have been dragged back in time, and they're now in the 17th century. Unfortunately that's where things conclude, though Samuels offers a teaser of what's next.  

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Mary's not the only 17th century doppelganger, unsurprisingly. The students will find versions of themselves, all part of the Andover witch trials that will lead to their execution. Little Hope will eventually return to the present, but the gang will bring something back with them. And it's not a souvenir. 

"On returning to the present, the residue of those events still pursues them in the form of cenobite-esque demons carrying fragments of tormented souls of those executed," Samuels warns. Cenobites are the demonic antagonists in the Hellraiser series, with the works of Clive Barker, like The Hellbound Heart, providing yet more inspiration for Supermassive. 

It's more overtly supernatural than Man of Medan, but it might be all smoke and mirrors. Paranoia and things not being what they seem has been a prominent theme in Supermassive's misadventures, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Little Hope subverting expectations again, especially seeing as that the real 17th century witch trials were born out of a puritanical fear of women rather than evidence of witchcraft or evil doings. 

With Man of Medan, Supermassive attempted to give context a real mystery, creating a scenario that explained why a ship might go missing and why it would spawn a bunch of spooky legends. It's still fiction, but slightly more grounded than you're led to believe from the start. And Little Hope is similarly born out of the studio's interest in the way the allegedly supernatural intersects with history, as well as its research into the town Andover.

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

"Something I hadn't realised until researching the subject is that during that period, more people were accused and arrested for witchcraft in Andover than were in the neighbouring town of Salem," says Samuels. "It was through studying a map of Andover in 1692 that we came up with the name for our fictional town of Little Hope."

To give the game an air of authenticity, Supermassive got help from a TV and film costume designer, who designed the clothes for the pilgrims. And each of the actors has a lot of heavy lifting to do, playing a trio of characters with different accents. One rather uncanny behind-the-scenes clip showed Poulter in the studio having a conversation with himself, with one version sporting a Northern English accent, while the other chatted away like an American.

Man of Medan was my personal pick during our Game of the Year features in 2019, so I'm already a fan, but Samuels acknowledges that it didn't resonate with everyone. James gave it an 81 in our Man of Medan review, but the Metacritic score is a bit lower at 75 on PC and 69 on consoles. He says the team has been working "tirelessly" to respond to player feedback from the first episode, and he hopes the changes will win over more horror fans.

There's definitely a connection between the stories, which are both presented and occasionally interrupted by the mysterious and faintly ominous Curator, but the setting, characters and horror sub-genres are different. With that in mind, you could jump into Little Hope without knowing anything about Man of Medan, though by the end of the anthology I suspect you'll want the whole picture.

Little Hope is yet to receive a specific release date, but you'll be able to start your time-travelling investigation this summer.

Fraser is the sole inhabitant of PC Gamer's mythical Scottish office, conveniently located in his flat. He spends most of his time wrangling the news, but sometimes he sneaks off to write lots of words about strategy games.