You always feel under pressure at an in-person preview event. You have the team who made the game watching your every move, your peers playing it alongside you, and you don’t want to come across as completely useless. So when I found myself stumped on a puzzle on The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me and I had combed the area multiple times for the solution — all too aware of The Devil in Me’s creative director Tom Heaton lurking in the room — I had to ask myself, ‘Am I really going to be that person who asks for help?’
I had to find a code for a digital lock on a door. I knew it had to be somewhere nearby, and while the number randomly above the staircase seemed like the obvious choice, it was a bust. I tried countless combinations — the date that was highlighted on a calendar, every digit being zero, and various order numbers on bills, but none worked. I didn’t have the guts to out myself as being a complete failure, so I stuck with it and eventually worked it out. In hindsight, it was ridiculously simple. There was more than one way through the hotel, and I had looked at the clue with the code before reaching the locked door, then forgot all about it.
After the preview, I asked the others how long the code took them. I was relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one stumped. Interestingly, some who had breezed the code had taken longer on another puzzle I had easily completed on my first try. At least I had one saving grace.
The trials and tribulations I had with the code are a perfect example of The Devil in Me’s revamped approach to exploration. This new addition to the anthology aims to offer more non-linear levels, and the hotel felt significantly more open-plan than the environments in previous titles. You could double back to much of the space, but there were times when the corridor I had just come from seemed to disappear. I’m not sure if this is one of the ‘Murder Castle’ quirks, and it’s the serial killer messing with you through false walls like he does elsewhere, or if it’s a limitation to stop players nosing into areas they don’t need to be in. The characters didn’t acknowledge the disappearing hallways, so I think it was the latter.
The new movement mechanics in The Devil in Me further enhance the exploration aspect. You’ll find yourself dragging furniture around, climbing on top of it to reach new areas, jumping across gaps, and, more importantly, you can now run around too. I always love exploring different nooks and crannies in The Dark Pictures Anthology, so being able to jog makes this less of a chore. Heaton also promised that there would be times in the game when you will need to run for your life, quite literally, to hide from the serial killer.
Characters also have a limited set of tools they can use, which will help with puzzles and exploration so you can uncover little extra details about the world. Each protagonist has unique tools at their disposal, some of which they have from the very start. Others can be found throughout your playthrough, though Heaton warned that tools could be lost or broken, and a select few can be upgraded. For example, Charlie can use his business card to open locked drawers, while Jamie can use her multimeter to fix fuse boxes and solve electrical puzzles.
Some tools, like the torch or lighter, can be whipped out and used whenever, while others only work in specific situations. When I picked up a key to a door, it took me half a minute to realise this, as I panicked when I couldn’t see the key in my directional pad inventory. I even went back to where I had found the key, but it wasn’t there. I simply had to interact with the door before the key option even appeared — silly me.
Both the puzzle and tool inventory systems aim to be simple, just extra flourishes to enhance the gameplay without going so in-depth that it crosses over into a different genre and alienates the narrative horror fans. Heaton also told us that The Devil in Me will have the longest run time so far, reaching close to seven hours, while the previous games were closer to four to five hours long. With the non-linear paths and puzzles that might stump you despite their simplicity, perhaps it’ll take you even longer.
Out of the entire first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology, the setting of The Devil in Me appealed to me the most. Like the previous games, this new title takes inspiration from real-world events. It uses the story of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, as its foundation, and its name is even taken from a H.H. Holmes quote, “I was born with the devil in me.”
The game follows Lonnit Entertainment, a film documentary crew, who are invited to stay in a recreation of H.H. Holmes ‘Murder Castle’ by its enigmatic owner — an offer they gladly accept to save their failing TV project. During the preview, we caught up with the crew shortly after arriving at the hotel. It doesn’t take long for things to begin to unravel. Between the owner failing to show up for dinner, the creepy animatronics, and other strange occurrences, horrifying recordings, and damning clues you can peek at, you know it’s only a matter of time before blood gets spilled. Fortunately for Lonnit Entertainment, it’s not their blood, but it’s enough to send them running scared for the door. Unfortunately, they quickly realise they’re locked in this seedy hell hole.
Despite always falling for jump scares — I screamed more than once during the preview — I decided to play it bravely. There were a couple of occasions when you’ll be face to face with danger and must choose to confront the threat or run away. I stuck it out both times, convinced that no main protagonist would die that early on, and it seemed to hold true. It didn’t make it any less scary, though.
As always with The Dark Pictures, your surroundings are rife with additional lore. If you dig around, it becomes clear that the Lonnit Entertainment team are not the first visitors to fall victim to the H.H. Holmes-obsessed owner. There are more Dark Pictures quirks to be found, offering flashes of potential death scenes so you can try and use that to save the protagonists, and there were also little coin collectibles in a few places that seemed to rack up currency points. I’m not quite sure what they’ll be used for.
I’m even more excited for the launch of The Devil in Me after this brief preview. With the added features and unique setting, it’s shaping up to be the best game in the series. I usually play The Dark Pictures games with my husband in Movie Night mode, safety in numbers, and all that. He doesn’t jump at everything like I do and is much better at quick-time events, but he’s far more indecisive regarding choices, so we balance each other out. I know exactly which characters I’m going to make him choose so I can see how long he gets stuck on that code puzzle…
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC on November 18, 2022.
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