Ahead of its appearance at Gamescom, Eurogamer was given the chance to watch a pre-prepared keynote on The Devil In Me, the next instalment and first season finale of Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology. The preview, hosted by director Tom Heaton, included footage from one of the episode’s later scenes, and a look at its various gameplay improvements.
This early look began by introducing the story and main characters of The Devil In Me, and setting up its stakes. Supermassive’s latest horror chapter centres on Lonnit Entertainment, a small TV production company developing a documentary series on famous serial killers, and a gentleman named Granthem Du'Met, who inherited a hotel with reproductions of rooms from HH Holmes' infamous “Murder Castle”. Once the team arrives to meet Du'Met, however, it's clear the hotel is a much more accurate reproduction than they previously realised.
Kate Wilder, played by Jessie Buckley, stars as the show's presenter. In our preview she was described as introverted and lacking self-confidence, but with a fierce determination to do the right thing. Heaton later told me that Wilder was "quite damaged" when I asked more about the character. "She's carrying this secret most of the people on the crew don't know about at all," he said, and added that she could sometimes snap at people while attempting to process issues from the past.
Buckley is an accomplished actress, with roles in recent TV series such as Fargo and Chernobyl, and a number of accolades and nominations. Heaton said he jumped at the chance of asking Buckley to play Kate, because she was how he always imagined Kate would be. Kate is a complex and prickly character, Heaton said, citing Buckley's performances in recent films The Lost Daughter and Men as examples of why she fitted the role.
The remaining protagonists that fill the main cast include Lonnit Entertainment owner and TV director Charlie Lonnit, who is described as caring only about getting the content he needs for the documentary. The crew's cameraman is Mark Nestor, who also happens to be Kate's ex-boyfriend. This situation can cause tensions between two, or players can try and rekindle their relationship. Jamie Teirgan is the crew's grip, handling lighting and electricals, and is opinionated, always happy to offer some sarcasm. Completing the cast is Erin Keenan, an intern in charge of audio production, though Charlie apparently takes advantage of her kindness to make her run errands and complete the company's accounts.
This time around, Heaton said Supermassive took inspiration from horror movies such as Saw, The Shining and Psycho - and as we’ve seen in earlier trailers, the Saw influences are obvious. In the footage I saw, Mark and Jamie fall through a hidden trapdoor in the floor, separating them from Kate, leaving them to encounter a number of tableaus set up using mannequins. At one point we saw a mannequin lying on the floor, reaching towards Jamie, before it gets dragged away as someone’s screams play over the hotel's tannoy. Another later set-up showed two mannequins chained onto opposite sides of a spinning saw that stops rotating when one of them gets beheaded. The climax of the scene results in Kate and Erin being locked in separate containment rooms with increasing pressure, with Mark and Jamie being forced to decide who to help. Later, outside the hotel, a lingering shadowy figure, presumably Du'Met, followed the protagonists as they tried to escape. Just as a character looks away, the figure stalked across the shot, reminiscent of Michael Myers from the Halloween series.
Du'Met's backstory and the history of his hotel form a key part of the mystery in The Devil In Me, Heaton promised. The character was "inspired" by HH Holmes' technique and ambition, Heaton continued, and now wanted to beat Holmes’ kill count. (The name Granthem Du'Met is even an anagram of Holmes' birth name, Herman Mudgett.) Such a close link to an actual murderer is unusual for The Dark Pictures, and Heaton acknowledged the character is the most "solid" real world inspiration it has used thus far.
For context, “murder hotel” owner HH Holmes was a real person, born in 1861, who was ultimately hanged on the count of one murder. But Holmes confessed to 27 murders in an elaborately written confession (from which The Devil In Me takes its title), in an apparent bid to build the myth that now surrounds him. "Once he realised that he was going to get hanged, I think, [he] wanted to build his own reputation and his legend so he talked up some of the things he'd done," Heaton noted, calling Holmes a "very compelling character" who had given Supermassive plenty of material to draw upon, alongside plenty of freedom to be creative in the level and puzzle design.
Heaton admitted there was, ultimately, only a "limited amount" of research Supermassive could do on Holmes and the hotel. Supermassive’s team found a few contemporary photos from the 1890s and some later high quality photos from the early 1900s which gave them an insight on the hotel's exterior. Less information is known about the hotel's interior, however. Heaton stated there was a pharmacy and a reception area, which Supermassive has incorporated into the game, though little else is known for certain by historians.
During Supermassive’s research, developers did find one map of the hotel's second floor published in a contemporary newspaper. Heaton called it "not very believable", as it was hand-drawn from memory by a journalist. Despite this, Heaton said it showed all the things people now associate with Holmes’ hotel design: mazes of corridors, doors that lead to brick walls, trapdoors and chutes leading to the cellar, and even rooms that only had exposed gas pipes. "It was great fun, myself and the design team, and then the environment team creating this space," Heaton remembered, explaining that Supermassive wanted to create an "untrustworthy" space that changes around the player.
The nature of the hotel - deceptive and full of secrets - lends itself well to puzzles and exploration, Heaton continued, and the season one finale has a greater emphasis on these. Players should expect more complex and non-linear areas than previous entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology, which has prompted a couple of new mechanics to be introduced.
The first of these is a simple inventory, allowing characters to carry around items found in the world. Items are primarily used to solve puzzles, but can get lost or break during the game. Players can choose to trade items between different characters' inventories, and this also contributes towards the branching narratives Supermassive Games is known for.
Each character starts off with their own unique tool related to their position within Lonnit Entertainment. Charlie, for example, has a business card he can use to pry open drawers. Kate has a pencil and is shown shading over a notepad to reveal a hidden code. As the cameraman, Mark can use his camera to collect evidence of the events that transpired inside the hotel. Jamie has a multimeter which allows her to rewire and fix circuits, while Erin has a directional microphone she can use to hear through doors, walls and the floor. Introducing these tools meant the team could be more creative with puzzle design, though Heaton reassured me these elements would be engaging without being too difficult. "They're not the sort of puzzles that you might encounter in early Resident Evil or Silent Hill games," he joked. "They're not things you're going to get stuck on for an hour."
The other big new feature in The Devil In Me are its overall gameplay and movement improvements. Heaton said the team wanted to give players more control and agency to navigate the hotel, and they've done so by letting players perform a variety of actions that weren't possible in previous instalments. Characters can now jump over objects in the environment, climb over walls, and shimmy along ledges, to name a few.
In gameplay footage we saw, Jamie (as the playable character) performed all of these actions. During an earlier segment, where snippets of gameplay are shown, Mark was shown hiding from an unknown stalker underneath a bed. Heaton highlighted these as well as the inventory as ways in which the team have increased the depth of exploration in the game to match the setting. "I think when you're playing a game that has fear and terror at its heart, then the more responsibility you give the player the better," he told me.
The expanded mechanics also gave the team huge incentive to add more collectibles and secrets to the maps, as Supermassive wanted to place a greater emphasis on exploration. As well as the pre-existing collectible systems in previous games in the Dark Pictures Anthology series, such as the 50 secrets that can be connected together and the premonition system, Heaton mentioned a few other things. He described one of the new additions to me, collectible coins called Obols that unlock items you can view when collected. Heaton also teased these might have a greater meaning to the series as a whole, mentioning that the Curator is "keen on collecting" them.
Heaton pointed to these new features when asked about what made The Devil In Me stand out as the series’ first season finale. "We've made a real effort with this game because it's the season one finale to just try and bring in a ton of new stuff," he stated, but talked about the balancing act the team faced when introducing new mechanics. "We made a very definite decision not to have a complex inventory," he recalled, to retain the core fanbase. "They're our primary audience," he continued, "and then we're trying to grow that audience."
Intriguingly, Heaton called the way Supermassive analysed responses to a new release as "clinical", revealing that the studio breaks down reviews using a spreadsheet and looks for overall response trends across the industry and in fan discussions. Heaton told me he is proud of the audience Supermassive has cultivated, and that looking forward, the team was always aware that it had "got to make sure [they] don't break anything".
Indeed, The Devil In Me has the features any Supermassive fan has come to expect from its games. As with previous instalments in The Dark Pictures Anthology, all characters can live or die. Relationship dynamics and character traits will change depending on choices the player makes. Heaton explained Supermassive held multiple read throughs with the cast to work on the script and ensure that its characters were engaging. Heaton also estimated the runtime of The Devil In Me would be slightly longer than previous entries in the series, at around seven hours.
At the end of our interview, I asked what was coming up in season two of the Dark Pictures Anthology series. Heaton couldn't tell me much, but promised this wasn't the end of the Curator's story. He described the Curator as "frustrated", with "a little bit of resentment there, maybe towards the player who makes actual choices," as he is only able to comment on the decisions the player makes. "His story moves at a very different pace from the main stories of each game," Heaton teased, acknowledging that the Curator was on a slow narrative arc. Heaton also noted that any improvements from season one would all be carried over into season two, but couldn't reveal anything else.
Keep an eye out, though, for the usual hints and Easter eggs for future instalments which fans now know to look for. "We know fans love to discuss these," he said, referring to fan speculation that arises when each of their games releases. "We're aware of those theories, we enjoy reading them." It'll be up to fans then, to follow the breadcrumbs set out by Supermassive and figure out where The Dark Pictures Anthology will head next. The Devil In Me is set for release on 18th November for PC, PlayStation and Xbox.