Whether you're buying snacks for that big house party tonight, packing to go on a lovely hike through the wilderness, or just hanging out with friends in a picturesque remote cabin, you know you've got at least half an hour before the killing begins. It's a horror movie trope that characters have to be established, tension slowly built, so the audience can identify their heroes as well as the doomed couple who will later sneak off and die horribly. It's something which Man of Medan, Supermassive Games' first entry in its Dark Pictures Anthology series, played into with its opening, which starred fratty teens drinking beers on a boat.
Little Hope, as its name might suggest, dispenses with all of that.
This second, standalone chapter opens with a much darker and more startling introduction - one which reveals plot points trailers have not hinted at so far. We'll avoid going into detail, but suffice to say this story's focus on different time periods - historical events during the witch-fearing 1692 and a group of students in the present day - will play a much larger part in the game's mystery than expected, with links between them that run a lot deeper than those seen in Man of Medan.
There's something else too, an immediate sense that where this story is going cannot be tied up as neatly as the explanation Man of Medan eventually gave if you uncovered enough of its clues. There was a sense, there, that its horror was grounded in a reality Little Hope is happy to leave behind for a deeper dive into the dark and weird. Was Supermassive intentionally setting out to break its own rules? "There are no rules in the Dark Pictures Anthology," company boss Pete Samuels laughs when I ask later on a video call. Each episode is designed to be very different in style, influenced by the many subgenres of horror.
That's not to say there aren't similarities. Little Hope will feature a storyline set mostly in the modern day with a cast of characters whose fates are completely under your control. The tale is another book in the library of the series' mysterious Curator, the bowler hat-wearing spectre of Death played with dark relish by Pip Torrens. And while the style is different, the love for the genre in nods to films and video games is evident (Silent Hill fans, this one's for you). Oh, and the well-received Shared Story and Movie Night modes plus later Curator's Cut option will all also return.
Little Hope features five main protagonists - a trio of teens, a mature student and their teacher - who explore the eponymous town in the present day after a bus crash leaves them stranded. Among them is Andrew, Bandersnatch's Will Poulter, who leads the group as they uncover the town's dark history of show trials and executions for those accused of being witches. Again, without delving into spoilers, it's clear we'll see plenty of this history played out on screen as our modern day characters uncover it for themselves. The version of Little Hope in 1692 is populated by a cast of historical characters whose fates seem oddly intertwined with those of the students, and are oddly familiar despite having northern English accents (a nod to the Witch movie, whose historical setting is similar). And while it's still early days, Samuels credits The Crucible enough as an influence to hope this take will also delve into some of the wider themes prevalent at the time.
Supermassive is pretty upfront about the criticisms it saw levelled against Man of Medan at launch - of bugs it needed to fix, and that some of its controls felt counterintuitive. For Little Hope, it has added camera movement to the left controller stick, a greater range of walk speeds, smoother scene transitions and better QTE alerts. It has also pledged the improvements and fixes it put in place are ones which will now "roll forward" here and in future chapters down the line. But it is also upfront about the game's length - which at four to five hours will be similar to Man of Medan's. It's still designed as a short experience with replayability, though after nearly a year's wait it will likely feel briefer than originally planned.
Little Hope is due sometime this summer, a little later than expected for fans of Supermassive's horror brand. The studio previously said it wanted to release a couple of Dark Pictures Anthology games per year - a schedule the studio still aspires to achieve in the future, Samuels told me - though development on multiple forthcoming chapters is, as you might expect, currently being impacted by the studio working remotely.
"It's very difficult with the whole world closed," Samuels said. "Our performance shoots are done in North America, and obviously that's on hold at the moment. We had some scheduled which we've had to postpone. Even our UK body shoots - there's no opportunity to do that, it's not safe to do that. So there's certain things in our process we've had to put on hold, and rejig things coming down the pipe. Fortunately for Little Hope, we'd already done all that, we've already got all that data so development can carry on. Slightly less effectively, at the moment, but we're confident at where we'll end up."
Little Hope is the second of a planned eight initial Dark Anthology entries, with an overall story arc mapped out to be uncovered by fans along for the whole ride. Individually it's shaping up to be a darker and more interesting entry into the series - and a step up for the fledgling anthology as a whole.