The Dark Pictures: The Devil In Me - The Darkest Picture Is Also the Brightest
We’re all afraid of different things. For some people, classic gothic tales of vampires, werewolves and ghosts cause instant bristles to form on their skin, and the image of a monster with unnaturally large fangs is the scariest image they could possibly conjure. For others, reality is much more frightening, with thoughts of the very real murderers who walk among us occupying their nightmares. I have anxiety, so everything scares me, particularly if it occurs under the cover of darkness – but the point is, we all have our ‘thing’. Until now Supermassive Games has leaned into the type of supernatural horror that for the most part we can convince ourselves is entirely fiction, even if some parts of what make their stories so scary are based in reality. But The Devil In Me, based on the (albeit probably sensationalised and truth-bending) stories of one of America’s earliest serial killers, H. H. Holmes, feels far more plausible – and because of that, is the scariest addition to the series yet. The amount of times I loudly exclaimed ‘FEAR IS BAD, ACTUALLY’ while playing this game is ridiculous – but that’s what makes it so good.
The Devil In Me is the fourth and final installment of the first season of The Dark Pictures anthology, so for those that have played its predecessors, the formula will feel very familiar. A group of five characters are thrown into a spooky setting where they have to escape imminent death, nurturing their relationships along the way and wishing they’d made different choices. This particular group, the Lonnit Entertainment film crew, were probably my favourite cast yet, and their setting – a recreation of H. H. Holmes’ renowned “Murder Castle” – was definitely the creepiest, by a mile. It was a terrifying combination that meant that I was both a) more desperate to keep them alive and b) much closer to just throwing my controller at the TV in fright at any moment, which would result in me missing a quick-time-event (QTE) that could keep them alive. Needless to say, playing this game was tense.
The premise is a classic recipe for murder and bloodshed. The Lonnit Entertainment film crew are in the middle of filming a documentary series about H. H. Holmes, and as is the case with many of their projects, it isn’t going so well. So when their director Charlie gets a call from the mysterious Granthem Du Met, offering a unique opportunity for the crew to film at a recreation of the fabled “Murder Castle”, he throws all common sense out the window and agrees, immediately jumping into a car with the crew in tow and heading to the obvious murder island. From the moment they get there, everything is more than a little shady, and it doesn’t take long for them to realise that this place is a very faithful recreation of the original mansion, and that they’re about to be hunted for sport. It’s Saw meets The Shining with some true crime fanaticism mixed in, and the killer is no amateur – it’s gonna take a lot for the crew to make it out alive.
More than the previous installments of the series, this game leans hard on the jump scares. I don’t remember any of the other Dark Pictures games serving up so many, though they were a staple of Until Dawn, and they are a part of what makes playing this so tense. The moving walls of the murder castle mean that around any corner could be a new terror that wasn’t there a moment ago, and you learn pretty quickly that even though the mansion is mostly uninhabited, it is home to many mannequins ready to be posed and manipulated in ways that make you feel like someone is constantly watching you. I hated it. But in the ‘this horror game is very scary’ way that means Supermassive Games were probably doing something right. Every time I was forced to look through a window, or walk into a new room, I just knew there was going to be mannequins (possibly animatronic ones) doing creepy shit, and I spent just as much time pausing the game and saying “nope, nah, I won’t be doing that, sure as hell not going in there, fuck that” as I did actually controlling characters.
This time around, you will spend a lot more time just wandering around exploring the area, which feels like both a blessing and a curse. Supermassive have added in some extra environmental puzzle solving that will mean characters will have to move around crates or bookcases to access new areas, re-energise power switches, and find keys to unlock doors, all outside of cutscenes – which is kind of new for the series. There’s a lot more to do here, and while it does make things more interesting, it can also be annoyingly finicky. The physics behind pushing and pulling objects definitely needed some work, and some of the movement animations look a little weird, but for the most part it did add some extra interest.
Each character also has their own unique inventory that can be used to navigate the environment, but these definitely felt underutilised. They all also have their own light sources which makes for a fun bit of variety, meaning you’ll be seeing by the light of everything from torches to camera flashes and make-up mirrors. Jamie, the chief grip, can use a multimeter to fix fuse boxes when the power goes out, and hers definitely felt like the tool I used the most, alongside photographer Mark’s camera. Erin, the sound engineer, has a high-sensitivity microphone that can pick up sounds through walls, which though used sparingly, is used to maximum spook effect in at least one scene. Kate, the show’s on-screen host, carries a crystal that can help to calm her in her more anxious moments, and Charlie has several different items that allow him to break through locks. Along the way the characters can pick up other objects to help them during key moments (like a screwdriver, or Erin’s asthma puffer), but knowing when to use them rarely felt like a puzzle to solve and instead felt more like another prompt to watch out for. It wasn’t a bad implementation, but I’m hoping they take the mechanic further in future titles.
While inventory management isn’t a huge part of the game, relationship management certainly is. The crew go into the murder castle with existing relationships and tensions, and they can come out of it (or not) with those relationships in tatters, or truly thriving. Mark and Kate are exes with a complex history, Kate and Jamie seem to hate each other for reasons I don’t quite understand, and Jamie is often the only one who listens to Erin’s (very valid) concerns about the danger lurking around every corner. It’s up to you whether nearly dying together drives a wedge between the protagonists or results in, as Jamie calls it, “trauma-bonding” (I love her), but it’s a fun ride either way. I was more invested in the relationship between two of these characters than I have been in any other Dark Pictures relationship, and it wasn’t the one I expected going into the game – but it was the one I hoped for after playing the preview, and it didn’t disappoint.
Romance aside, these characters do have opportunities to grow as people throughout their ordeal, and in my playthrough I feel like they mostly succeeded. I somehow managed to get them all out alive, even though there were moments where I was sure that wasn’t going to happen. Honestly, for some of it, I thought I might not make it out alive, and that I would instead die from one too many surprise mannequin encounters. But we lived. Me, the protagonists, all of us – we made it through. And as the first season of the Dark Pictures comes to a close, with the only real thread between them the constant presence of The Curator (Pip Torrens) who ‘guides’ (but mostly heckles) you through each episode and a deferential love for horror stories, this is the entry I’ll remember the most. It might not be the scariest for everyone, but it was the scariest for me, and a cast of likable characters and clever pacing made it of the series’ best entries yet. If you’re a true crime fan, this is going to be the one for you, while also showing you the dangers of letting a true crime obsession go too far. Sometimes, I guess we all need a reminder that going to an exact replica of a place where gruesome murders happened is a terrible idea, even if it is in the name of ‘art’.
Player 2 reviewed The Devil In Me on PlayStation 5 with a code kindly provided by Bandai-Namco Australia.