Reviewing the latest Dark Pictures game has become an annual tradition for me. Supermassive Games have been putting out a new installment in their mid-budget horror anthology series once a year since 2019, which is fairly impressive. While the games certainly have flaws, I’ve consistently enjoyed them. Indeed, if you go into the latest entry, The Devil in Me, expecting another trope-y horror adventure title full of gory deaths and a veneer of player choice you’ll find exactly what you were looking for here. However, Supermassive may have accidentally shot themselves in the foot this time, as one of their earlier releases this year, The Quarry, outshines The Devil in Me in just about every respect (and may very well be my game of the year!). Between inevitable comparisons to its contemporaries and a smattering of half-baked new mechanics, it is hard to recommend The Devil in Me.
The Devil in Me is once again based on an urban legend: in this case, the infamous “murder castle” of real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes. According to legend, Holmes opened a hotel nearby Chicago’s World’s Fair in the late 1800s and used the hotel to lure in potential victims. While tales of Holmes’ hotel for murder were greatly exaggerated, The Devil in Me assumes that they were true and follows the exploits of a modern-day film crew making a documentary about the infamous killer. The crew consists of reporter Kate, director Charlie, photographer Mark, technician Jamie, and intern Erin, all of whom are slightly at odds with one another at the beginning. With their series on the verge of cancellation after an unsuccessful first season, the documentarians are given an unexpected boon: an invitation from a wealthy recluse to visit his island home, where he has built a full-size replica of the World’s Fair Hotel, including rare memorabilia and other H.H. Holmes artifacts. Eager to salvage the show, the crew accepts the invitation, only to find themselves trapped in the hotel at the mercy of a demented copycat killer and a series of deadly traps. Whether the would-be victims survive the night or not, as always, is up to the player and the decisions they make along the way.
The story of The Devil in Me is a well-told horror caper that owes a lot to the “torture porn” craze of the early 2000s. The comparisons to films such as Saw and The Collector cannot be understated, what with the series of elaborate trap rooms (one of which is ripped straight from Saw IV) and taxidermy-obsessed antagonist. The movie also draws a lot of inspiration from 80’s slashers and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The game credits its screenplay to Seth M. Sherwood, who also worked on several horror films such as Hellfest and the 2018 Texas Chainsaw sequel Leatherface, and his talent serves the game well. The main cast is a likable bunch, grounded by strong performances. In addition to Jesse Buckley (from Chernobyl and, more recently, Men) putting in excellent work as Kate, the crew’s director, Charlie is played by Paul Kaye, who I recognized as Thoros of Myr from Game of Thrones. As always, Pip Torrens returns as The Curator, the Anthology’s mysterious host, and he remains an absolute delight, eager to offer cryptic advice or sardonically comment on the player’s progress.
Gameplay-wise, The Devil in Me provides a familiar framework for series fans. You guide each of the five characters through the winding halls of the World’s Fair Hotel, interacting with objects, performing context-sensitive quicktime events, and making decisions at key moments in the narrative. What sets The Devil in Me apart from the other Dark Pictures games is its attempt to add more variety to the gameplay experience through a several new mechanics that hearken back to classic survival horror titles. Some of these changes are for the better: the superfluous “walk slightly faster” button has been replaced with a dedicated run button, which is welcome. In general, you have a lot more freedom of movement in The Devil in Me, with your characters able to vault over obstacles, shimmy through gaps, and balance across narrow walkways, and the environments feel more expansive to accommodate these verbs (though your characters’ movement remains somewhat stiff and unresponsive). Unfortunately, for the vast majority of these new mechanics, their implementation leaves much to be desired, and they often feel half-baked.
Take, for instance, the new photography mechanic. As the group’s photographer, Mark can take photographs using his camera. This is ostensibly so that he can document evidence of the killer’s crimes (indicated by the camera’s reticle turning green), but there’s no way to look at evidence after the photo has been taken, nor does the amount of evidence you’ve found appear to affect the game’s ending in any way (unlike The Quarry). There isn’t even a way to view the pictures you’ve taken, so I question why Supermassive even included this system. There are achievements/Trophies for finding all of the evidence and for taking photos of each crew member, but that’s it. The Devil in Me is full of unnecessary features that feel like they exist to increase the game’s replay value. Early on, The Curator will draw special attention to obols, a new collectible that serves as an in-game currency. You can find caches of obols throughout the game, but they don’t serve much of a purpose in-game: their only use is to purchase little dioramas of the game’s assets like trophies in Super Smash Bros. from the main menu. There are also business cards to find, which don’t serve any purpose either as far as I could tell, just another thing for you to pick up.
I also have to call out this game’s perverse fixation on box puzzles. Light environmental puzzle-solving is one of The Devil in Me’s principal innovations on The Dark Pictures Anthology’s formula. Yet, the game’s approach to puzzles is half-hearted at best and clashes somewhat with its linear structure. You won’t be backtracking through the hotel at any point or have to remember anything more complicated than a four-digit passcode. If you find a key, chances are it will be for the only locked door in the area, and you’ll come across it very shortly. Each character has a special tool they can utilize, such as Charlie’s ability to open locked drawers with a business card or Jaime’s fuse box doohickey, for lack of a better term. While these would theoretically open up new possibilities for environmental puzzles, the opportunities to take advantage of these skills are few and far between, and oftentimes the solutions to the puzzles are straight-up handed to you (as a side note, this game contains an 0451 reference it very much does not earn). But the most common puzzle you’ll find in the World’s Fair Hotel is going to be an old video game staple: pushing a big ol’ box around the floor to get to higher ground or create a pathway, complete with one of the silliest pushing animations I’ve ever seen. It gets tedious fast.
At least the game is rather nice-looking. Supermassive Games’ use of facial motion capture to render their actors’ performances has gotten better with each successive entry in The Anthology, and while The Devil in Me still has its fair share of uncanny moments, it’s easily the best the technology has ever looked. I did run into a fair share of bugs and glitches in the game before release, largely involving characters freezing in place or assets misbehaving, including the time I got Mark’s camera to float in midair. After installing updates released after the fact, however, this mostly went away, although I did have one instance where Mark got stuck in one place and could not do anything other than turn around in circles for a bit. As for the game’s audio, Jason Graves returns as the composer. The music is fine, although I would have preferred something stylistically different from the high-pitched strings and sudden discordant noises we’ve come to expect from The Dark Pictures. Say what you will about Saw, but that techno-rock theme music is a straight-up banger, and The Devil in Me doesn’t have anything like “Hello, Zepp” to elevate the game’s chintzy flair.
The Devil in Me brings a very uneven first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology to a close, and I’m left a little ambivalent from the experience. I enjoyed all four of these games to some extent, and I’m curious as to what they’ll do with the next game, Directive 8020. But it’s clear after playing The Devil in Me that Supermassive needs to give these games a little more breathing room. While it’s certainly impressive that they’ve maintained a yearly release schedule for the Anthology, games like The Quarry show that these experiences could be made so much more. I genuinely hope that The Dark Pictures one day become truly great horror games rather than just novelties.