The mechanics stay the identical as “Till Daybreak,” inserting us in command of a number of characters who can all die through the story attributable to a missed button press or a foul alternative, at which level the narrative adjustments and continues with out them. Even the framing is comparable, with a number character to handle the viewers and mark breaks within the story — for The Darkish Photos Anthology, we return time and time once more to a person recognized solely because the Curator, the collection’s Rod Serling-type narrator.
The Darkish Photos Anthology has at all times been a lot smaller, by way of pure scope and ambition, than Supermassive’s different video games. The video games are consciously extra modest efforts, with fewer story branches and recognizable actors. “The Satan in Me” serves as a finale for the primary season of the collection in addition to a extra targeted, cohesive and experimental different to Supermassive’s larger efforts.
It follows a true-crime movie crew, headlined by Jessie Buckley as its useless, dissatisfied presenter, Kate, and Paul Kaye as its temperamental director/producer, Charlie. Initially, we discover them agonizing over how you can spruce up the crummy early minimize of an episode on H.H. Holmes, the real-world Nineteenth-century serial killer whose booby-trapped resort has lengthy since enshrined him as a determine of American delusion. Fortunately, a mysterious benefactor has the proper alternative for them: He’s constructed a painstaking re-creation of Holmes’s well-known “homicide fortress” on a distant island, and all they need to do to movie it’s come go to and go away their telephones behind.
It’s a setup that’s all however begging for bother, and thus a terrific thought for a horror sport whose generic title belies influences that vary from “Home on Haunted Hill” and “Psycho” to “Noticed” and “Halloween.” Navigating a maze of dying traps, entice doorways and secret chambers, the crew finds themselves dealing with down the purest expression of our tradition’s fascination with serial killers: a masked stalker who has taken Holmes’s mustachioed, bowler-hatted picture for his personal silent, fearsome persona in a type of H. H. homage.
The sport’s opening flashback of the “actual” model of Holmes all however twirls his mustache, greeting visitors with double entendres that will make Hannibal Lecter roll his eyes. It’s goofy, however Supermassive’s work requires us to just accept a sure stage of goofiness. Character fashions that look nice one second will look unspeakably picket in one other. However right here, as in Supermassive’s different video games, they serve their goal effectively sufficient as avatars whose deaths we’d desire to keep away from whereas we nostril round a sport laden with low cost shocks meant to make us leap after which chortle at the truth that we jumped.
Not for nothing has Supermassive’s work emerged as a multiplayer fixture, good for sofa commentary. It’s the “enjoyable” model of horror fairly than the genuinely harrowing type, and the studio consciously performs round inside these parameters. As an example, the spooky animatronics that populate the re-created Holmes resort are simpler to confuse for actual individuals when the characters themselves are computer-generated mannequins fairly than human actors.
The yearly output of The Darkish Photos Anthology collection makes such self-reflexive touches extra seen, alongside slight tweaks and adjustments to every new installment. The final sport, “Home of Ashes,” featured a extra adjustable digicam than earlier entries, for instance. “The Satan in Me” furthers the inclusion of extra “conventional” sport parts, like giving particular person characters inventories for gear. For instance, one of many characters, Mark, can use his extendible digicam mount to nudge objects in excessive locations, and he can gentle up the world in entrance of him with a quick, brilliant flash. Charlie depends on his cigarette lighter and may jam his enterprise card into drawers to get them open.
In apply, although, the stock mechanics really feel bolted-on at greatest, meshing awkwardly with Supermassive’s long-established system. As a result of we’re continually shifting characters, the sport doesn’t wish to disorient us by having to trace too many particulars throughout too many inventories. Pickups within the atmosphere are primarily keys to be used within the rapid neighborhood by way of an additional button press, which is functionally simply one other option to visualize actions which have historically occurred routinely in these video games. If these new concepts accomplish something, they recommend one thing doubtlessly extra experimental and fleshed out down the road for Supermassive. As is, they definitely don’t ask us to think about which character we’re enjoying or which instruments they’ve for various seconds.
Additionally new is the presence of extra traversal choices, much like the interactive busywork of environmental puzzles in a Naughty Canine sport the place we climb round and push objects that each one conveniently have wheels and handles. Moderately than deepening our identification with the characters, these mechanics really name extra consideration to the on-the-rails nature of the sport. Earlier than, we’d have accepted that the “interactive film” method requires gamers to give up a number of the management we’re accustomed to in different video games. Now, the interactivity solely clarifies the laborious boundary between walking-around segments and the precise, pivotal scenes that contain quick-time occasion button-pressing and choice-making.
From a story standpoint, it’s powerful to tie up all of a narrative’s threads when any one among them can finish at any time, and “The Satan in Me” reveals the standard flaws of that method. Characters are usually awkwardly sidelined, and motivations don’t fairly coalesce. Even the hulking assassin who can kill each character begins to really feel slightly inept after we spend a lot time dodging his killing blows.
These points should not distinctive to “The Satan in Me.” “The Quarry” usually felt uneasily patched collectively, struggling to reconcile all of its plot threads. All of this raises a query that haunts the expertise of Supermassive’s video games: Amid gamers’ expectations of visible constancy and complicated narrative, how sustainable is a format the place, at any level, any absolutely voice-acted, motion-captured character can die and be minimize from the sport immediately?
Steven Nguyen Scaife is a Midwest-based freelance author whose work has appeared at Slant Journal, Polygon, Fanbyte, Vice and BuzzFeed Information. For nevertheless lengthy it lasts, his Twitter account might be @midfalutin.