When I was a boy my dad taught me to play chess. Or at least, I think he did. My memories of these things are blurred by dread; they loom behind me like demons in fog, one QTE away from dragging me under. I’m not convinced my dad is any good at chess but he did have one gambit that always worked on me. Whenever I selected a piece he’d nod, lift an eyebrow and say something like “oh, so you’re doing that, are you?” Or he’d sit back, like Caesar regarding a supplicant from one of the meeker barbarian tribes, and ho-hum ominously to himself. After five minutes of this I’d be a quivering bundle of flight reflexes, klaxons howling inside my head as I peered owl-eyed at the board, paralysed by the thought of a million potential reversals. What can we learn from this? Well, firstly that my father is a monstrous bully and it is high time I returned, charged with the lifeforce of a thousand PC strategy games, to exact a humiliating vengeance. And secondly, that my dad is actually a Supermassive game in dressing gown and slippers.
Supermassive games love watching you squirm. If Amnesia is a snake wrapped around your neck then Little Hope – the second game in the Dark Pictures anthology – is a vulture drinking in your movements from afar, counting the seconds till you fall. The horror of these games doesn’t really lie with the apparitions that skulk half-seen in the foreground or lurch through the backdrops, never quite committing to attacking you till at long last, they do. It lies with the sense that the game is constantly taking your measure – that every little thing you do or say, every object you pick up or ignore is subject to a terrible accounting.
Little Hope puts you in charge of yet another group of bickering, Hollywood-acted lost souls thrown together by supernatural (or are they?) events. As you try to find your way out of the titular town, with its reassuring history of witch trials, you manage the tension between these ill-matched personalities, switching between them at preset intervals. It’s possible, as ever, for most of the cast to die without ending the story, and every choice you make is, or appears to be, a weight on the scale. Pick a dialogue option – a calming response to somebody’s angry outburst, say – and you’ll usually alter one character’s fondness for another while strengthening a trait such as “Witty” or “Irritable”. Relationships and traits affect the options available to you: should a trait be triggered too many times it’ll be locked into that character’s personality for good, possibly deciding their fate later on.