Ah yes, the Human mind is so intricate, so adaptive to its darker impulses, so eager to wrap itself up in the macabre and the lurking evil within us all. The Dark Pictures series is clever at creating the darkest, most intriguing scenarios, at least it’s supposed to be. These are make-your-own adventure games where the appeal lies in guiding helpless characters to safety in horrific situations, or should you choose, leading them to their untimely deaths. Today I will recount my and my friend’s experience with the 4th entry in the series “The Devil in Me.” Where, unfortunately, the Devil was not also in the details.
This title takes us on a journey into the mind of H.H. Holmes, a prolific serial killer in America, historically the first. The focus on this man in the game’s introduction and his ties to the main antagonist is one of the stronger aspects of this adventure. The murderer within the game imitates him obsessively, even using the blueprints of his murder hotel and rebuilding it, where the game takes place. One of my friends rushed to Wikipedia to learn more about him during his play, and the historical aspect is genuinely engaging.
Under the pseudonym “Grantham Du’met.” The killer rather clumsily imprisons your five main characters, hoping that your soon-to-be out-of-pocket director, Charlie, will uproot his entire staff to visit an exact replica of Holmes’ famous hotel. Miraculously he does from a single phone call.
The story tries very hard to insist Du’met wants to play fair and will only kill your party when he has exacted superiority via murder contraptions, even handing an asthmatic member of your group an inhaler, where it looks like she may die from natural causes. However, should the rooms start to fail, he turns into a cliche, over-the-top, teleporting slasher villain, despite him both being and portrayed, as just an ordinary man. The story is about escaping a hotel designed to kill its inhabitants, but the hotel itself proves to be as flawed as the man imitating its true master.
This results in a strange disconnect where the game attempts to be overly clever despite cliche after cliche affecting the narrative and lessening it. When compared to the overwhelming sense of emotion I got from Little Hope, this story was disappointing.
When I think of the atmosphere in the Dark Pictures games, it paints an incredibly gothic and lucrative horror scene. Man of Medan had its ship filled with dead crewmen, Little Hope’s dark and twisted sense of perception from the mind of a tortured soul. The Devil in Me does have that, however, but not for half of the game. In fact, the hotel itself is chilling with an air of emptiness that mimics its owner and subsequent owners’ corrupted and empty hearts. It’s filled with mannequins and contraptions that echo Du’met’s mechanical brain and inability to see any difference between a doll and a human life’s worth.
However, a large portion of the game is outside the bounds of the hotel, in a sadly poor and low-effort landscape. Copy and pasted plants; looking at the ocean at points, you can see the water hasn’t been rendered correctly.
The characters’ faces looked as though they’re missing small distinctive details they had in Little Hope. However, I found this has been fixed since, but not in time for our playthrough. I guess proof of intent to improve graphics is a good sign.
There is a hedge maze at one point, filled with discarded bicycles. What choices were these? It’s supposed to be a murder hotel, not Hello Kitty’s day-out adventure. Granted, if you take the path where you let your party die, there are a lot more gruesome and fun contraptions and rooms you get to see the killer use. These are some of the strongest scenery! Du’met himself wears a rather low-quality mask on his face. However, his clothes are designed well and the details on his stained clothing look menacing, even though it does seem slightly derivative of Leatherface. His hat is the most memorable prop piece in the game as it radiates authentic American history.
My friends spent 2 hours complaining about how it didn’t measure up to previous entries, and I agree. A 7-hour game about a murder hotel should not force you to participate in a 3-hour nature romp.
Gameplay in a Dark Pictures game revolves around two things: Player choices and Quick time events. These quick-time events are generally used to ambush the player to test them and score a sneaky player character death.
The Devil in Me adds balance beams and a new inventory system, which is poorly explained. You’ll only notice you can use an item if you pull yourself out of the story and see a tiny icon in the bottom left of the screen. Something you won’t notice if you’re immersed.
Cheap and unrelated jumpscares abound whilst the game insists on repeatedly reusing the same climbing animation.
You’ll often find tiny pieces of evidence or clues to the killer’s identity and motives, except this is already explained in a mandatory video segment halfway through the game, making further clues and evidence redundant. None of this even remotely helps the characters.
Finally, I want to talk about the trap rooms, the biggest selling point of this game as a psychological thriller. These rooms are not very well designed. One of them relies on blind luck on who you choose as to whether both live or one dies. If you decide to save one character, they die. If you choose the other, they both live through a Deus ex Machina. Never mind if you may wish to explore a situation with one or the other dying. No clever way to save them both. Just if you choose a specific character to die, they both live. It’s absurd!
Another requires a character to be holding an item, and you choose them to die with that item if you wish them to survive. It’s decent but easy to figure out.
The best one, repeatedly tries to make you doubt your decision, giving you multiple chances to change your mind. Something that I found pretty tempting and legitimately made me question myself as the character should.
However, this doesn’t excuse the introduction of blind luck into a choice-based game. Half of the fun is regretting or praising your decisions based on information. This game would instead have you make a decision you couldn’t possibly work out on your own. Subsequent playthroughs lose a lot of glamor as a result. I’m sorry, but that one specific choice detracted from the gameplay in a massive way for me, and it’s a significant choice revolving around the entire appeal of the title.
Thankfully, a bit more positivity now, The Devil in Me has very good player characters.
Charlie lies to his crew about finances, hoping for one big score that will save their movie studio. His interactions with his crew determine whether he’s worthy of being their leader and whether he gets over his harmful lifestyle choices.
Erin is an adorable ray of sunshine who suffers from asthma. Her story is about overcoming her fears and not becoming consumed by them. Her relationship with Jamie is the series’ first LGBTQ romance if you pursue it, and it’s really sweet.
Jamie, likewise, is a hothead who likes to antagonize people but mellows down and shows a real heroic side as the story progresses. She’s very likable, not fitting into anyone’s mold of who she should be.
Kate begins this story as a Schrodinger’s cat. Your choices in the game show if she’s misunderstood or a bad person as until you make choices, she can be either. Her interactions with Mark show that oftentimes she’s forced to make hard decisions for herself, as he won’t take them with her as she would prefer.
Mark is made better by Kate. He’s a perplexed man who doesn’t seem to have much direction. His indecisive nature is the core of his character, mainly because it seems he dislikes the toll his actions take on others. He’s a flawed character, but one is welcome in this sort of story. He is invaluable to the bad ending, making his characterization a genius narrative choice considering its contents.
Du’met is a mute killer. He really has no personality other than “Ha ha; I will kill you with my funny evil lego set.” His backstory told through the optional secrets, does little to make him intriguing. You could put Jason Vorhees in his place and have the same effect. His hat is still nice though.
All but Du’met are solid and enjoyable. The effort put into their characterization, at least had me rooting for them to survive more than a few times.
Sadly it’s pretty forgettable. The insertion of classical music at key horror moments does little to create a more tense atmosphere. This is primarily done through character moments. The soundtrack is pretty standard and the sound effects are okay. Erin’s sound-amplifying microphone is the stand-out use of audio here. It’s something I have to give credit to even if you don’t use it very much.
To summarize, The Devil in Me is a game that did not live up to the legacy of its predecessors, not in graphical capability, not in gameplay quality and not in terms of story.
However, it does contain the core of what a Dark Pictures game is, which is an exploration into the unknown with likable and interesting characters. While this was a disappointment in many regards, it should be taken as a lesson that a deadline of 1 year to make a 7-hour-long horror story cannot meet the standards of a series that aced it when the games were 4 hours long.
This will still be a fun and entertaining time with friends, but for a solo experience, I recommend their other games, such as Little Hope or House of Ashes, if you prefer Science Fiction.
Final score: 5/10