The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me Review — Dark Hallways

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me is scary, but not for the reasons you might think.

I have always rooted for The Dark Pictures Anthology series. Until Dawn, Supermassive Games' first foray into the choose-your-own-adventure horror genre, is one of my favorites in the entire PS4 library, so when the studio announced it would try its hand at a horror anthology franchise that covers drastically different themes, I couldn't have been more excited. Then I played the games.

Aside from the second entry in the series, The Dark Pictures Anthology has been nothing but a letdown over its various installments. The final entry in the anthology's self-espoused “first season," The Devil in Me, is perhaps the weakest of the four titles. It seems as if it hasn't learned anything from the past, with the series actively regressing in many departments, from encounter design and character development to narrative writing and options for player choice.

The story of The Devil in Me follows a true-crime documentary crew as they take a mysterious overnight trip to a replica of serial killer H. H. Holmes' "Murder Castle.” Things start to go awry when the owner of the replica hotel disappears, and the cast inevitably gets separated and chased by a murderous copycat killer.

The premise is solid enough, but the game is packed full of boring stock characters that don't move the story beyond that initial premise. It’s true that archetypes can drive a horror story; in fact, Until Dawn utilizes similar genre tropes to great effect, subverting expectations while also delivering a nail-biting horror story. However, everyone here — with the exception of Erin — is so profoundly unlikable and shallow that their deaths border on small victories for the plot, and their collective and individual choices are so poorly realized and unrealistic that they fail to resonate in the way they're intended. 

Critiquing any character's decision-making process in horror is hardly the way to enjoy the genre, but here, the cast fails to garner any sympathy as they bumble around the Murder House, coming in and out of the same handful of locations and situations none-the-wiser, like caricatures of Scooby Doo characters.

The Devil in Me's scene-to-scene writing doesn't do the cast any favors, with pervasive inconsistency and thoughtlessness for cohesive scripting. An early scene in the game's roughly seven-hour playtime features two characters talking poorly about another cast member. Overhearing them, that character reveals themself, telling the other two off for speaking so unkindly. In the very next scene, the two gossipers debate whether or not they think that person heard them, as if nothing happened in the scene before.

I imagine these inconsistencies are, in part, a result of the game's choose-your-own-adventure mechanics, where branching paths can sometimes conflict with the intended story. Supermassive, however, has had years to work on the formula but hasn't improved it to make the scenes flow more cohesively. The patchwork nature of the narrative was a criticism many had with Until Dawn back in 2015, and seven years later, it's still a problem for The Dark Pictures series.

The actual choices The Devil in Me allows you to make are weak as well. Most of the major decisions are either made for you in cutscenes or reliant on you finding a random item in one of the hotel’s many identical rooms and hallways. Some player-chosen possibilities don’t seem to have much, if any, bearing on the story either, making the overall system clunky and ineffectual, especially in comparison to other genre titles. 

At its core, this is a slasher story, and the narrative boils down to being chased by an omnipotent killer who is everywhere in the hotel at once. Eventually, the frequency at which the killer appears becomes comical; you can quite literally expect to see them in every scene, emerging from the darkness to a swell of music before chasing the cast — which usually escapes — and it all beginning again. 

Initially, the killer provides a few scares, but their clocklike consistency simply makes them part of the set as the plot plods on, not an actual character. The Devil in Me is so unwilling to let three minutes go by without a (feeble) jumpscare that it's entirely unable to build any sort of real tension. Jumpscares might make you shout, but The Dark Pictures seems to have forgotten that being scared and being startled are two entirely different feelings.

To be fair, there's a single good horror scene The Devil in Me, where the crew’s soundperson uses their microphone while wandering the halls of the Murder House listening for distant screams. The lights go out, the sound gets louder and stranger, and you’re on the edge of your seat, listening intently as the tension ramps up. It's a great, if fleeting scene.

The Devil in Me makes a handful of changes to the traditional gameplay of the Dark Pictures Anthology outside of cutscene quick-time events. Now, characters have much more mobility, allowing you to climb ledges to reach doors, for example, but it ultimately doesn't change much about the core of the game. Similarly, each character has a small inventory of items that allows them to "solve puzzles," which boils down to unlocking cabinets that contain random documents. There’s even a promising camera mechanic that goes completely unused. 

I wrote about the potential some of these systems could have on the branching story in my preview of The Devil in Me, but as I suspected then, they do nothing to push the series forward. 

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Performs well on performance mode.
  • Solid premise.

Cons

  • Flat characters.
  • Overly reliant on jumpscares.
  • Shallow plot with no real resolution.
  • Uninteresting puzzles.
  • Overall lack of player choice.

The Devil in Me is a little baffling, especially considering that Supermassive released The Quarry earlier this year, which seemed to take the lessons from previous Dark Pictures entries to heart. As a sendoff for the first season of the anthology, The Devil in Me isn't the triumphant victory lap that it could have been. Instead, it's the death rattle of a series that's already run out of ideas.

If you're looking for a pop-corn horror game that isn't interested in doing anything other than making loud noises at you, then give The Devil in Me a shot. After all, there's something to be said for that sort of entertainment, but there's just nothing to The Devil in Me that would make me recommend it over the numerous other titles in the genre.

The game feels like a regression from Supermassive's previous work. The Quarry was a refreshing return to form for Supermassive, but The Devil in Me and the overall lackluster quality of the rest of The Dark Pictures Anthology make me think that this IP may be out of ideas.

[Note: Bandai Namco provided the copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me used for this review.]

Our Rating
4
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me is scary, but not for the reasons you might think.
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5

Contributor

If you're looking for him, Peter can usually be found dropping hot in Apex Legends with his friends. A fan of games of all types including JRPGs, third-person shooters and survival horror, Peter is a journalism graduate of North Central College and can be found writing for IGN, Digital Trends, and Gameranx, in addition to his work here at GameSkinny. Contact: peter.szpytek@gmail.com. Twitter: @PeterSpittech

Published Nov. 30th 2022

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