I must admit that Supermassive Games are great storytellers. The Dark Pictures anthology is the proof of this, and the fact that year after year they have presented a new instalment as different in theme and characters as they have been, is cause for praise. But in the same way, perhaps due to production schedules, or perhaps a lack of technique or resources, technical advances on the basic formula take much longer to be noticed. As I noted in my final impression, The Devil in Me is more The Dark Pictures, for better and for worse. But "let's break it down bit by bit".
As I have already said, The Dark Pictures is known for touching on all sub-genres of horror in their games. From ghost stories and haunted ships (Man of Medan), black magic, occultism and deep America (Little Hope), to war and monster stories (House of Ashes). The Devil in Me is a discordant point, not because it moves away from the genre of horror stories, but because this time it is based on real and documented facts, such as the story of H.H. Holmes, considered the first (and also the most "prolific") serial killer in the United States. It is said that this bloodthirsty individual killed more than 200 people in the late 19th century throughout the country. A figure who has inspired fear as well as fascination throughout history, and who inspires the group of main characters to embark on the adventure.
We play as the members of the Lonnit Entertainment team, a small production company in the doldrums who are trying to save their business by filming the final episode of their serial killer series featuring H.H. Holmes. A mysterious individual, Charles Du'Met, invites them to spend the weekend at his old house on an East Coast island, where he apparently lives. The building is a fairly faithful recreation of the Murder Castle, a hotel that Holmes used as a cover for his crimes, and which he modified to fill with traps and deadly instruments for guests. Recording the episode there could make the difference between keeping the job or not, so everyone agrees to attend the mysterious rendezvous.
Once at the hotel, they gradually discover that what seemed like an eerie fascination becomes real, and blood and murder begin to follow one after the other. Little by little they discover that this deadly game in which they are trapped has many layers, and that it has been meticulously prepared for them. If we want our characters to survive the night, we will have to make choices, which can lead to a butterfly effect and trigger several possible outcomes (and most of them are not exactly good). This is the premise on which the series is based, and in The Devil in Me it is just as present. They also introduce the factor of the relationships between the characters, and they intend it to be an important variable in the story, but the truth is that most of the decisions regarding them come naturally, and except for a couple of critical moments with each one, there is no need to worry too much about it either.
But survival isn't just down to our teammates, as we will also have to take the initiative and solve puzzles, perform quick time events (QTE) and get all the clues we can from the environment. Even the slightest overlooked hint can mean a team member lives or dies, so take it slowly... as long as there isn't a scare that will have you hanging from the ceiling light.
One of the new features that The Devil in Me introduces to the series is the vertical exploration of the environments and the use of objects to reach otherwise inaccessible places. They're classic box-moving and climbing puzzles, so if you've ever played The Last of Us or any Uncharted, you know how they work. None of them are particularly difficult, and the times when I felt slightly stuck it was because I didn't notice that the solution was in a gap in the wall or in a spot I hadn't realised I could climb through. Now the areas through which we advance are larger and, in this case, more complex, as the corridors and rooms of the hotel rotate at the will of our mysterious kidnapper.
This changing scenery also means we are always on edge, on the lookout for any leftovers or lights that appear to show the way. We don't know what's behind the next door, but we need to be prepared, and that's where the second major addition to the title comes in: the characters' inventory. It's very basic, and it only allows a maximum of four items at a time, one of them being a light source such as a lighter or a torch. Another of the spaces will almost always be assigned to a key that opens a particular door in the same area, and the others range from temporary consumables to the signature item, as I've called it. Each character has one of these and they are tremendously useful, such as a card to force drawers open, a selfie stick to reach high objects, or a multimeter to check voltage and retrieve electrical current.
When I played the preview I was only able to enjoy a small section of the game, and I assumed that these puzzle and inventory dynamics would have more weight in the plot. But now that I've seen the game's credits, I feel that neither of them are really exploited, and that they have less weight than they should have in the story. In the end they've turned out to be more so a few isolated moments than a new twist in the game's loop, and I'm a little disappointed.
The story of The Devil in Me could easily be the best of the four we have seen so far. The inspiration from such important film sagas as 'Saw' and the recreation of a real historical figure set it apart from the previous ones (although there is always the supernatural element, of course). But even a great story loses its strength if the technical capabilities are not up to par. And there are countless errors in the technical section: teleportation and levitation of characters, lighting failures, the error of not marking a researched object as unlocked (this error is maintained throughout the series, it seems), not to mention the terrible sound profile. I've tried playing the game with the original English voices and the Spanish localisation, and I'd almost say it's the first time I've found that a video game dub is better than the work of the original actors.
And these bugs are not the ones that have been fixed in the day one patch (although some were marked for it), I must admit that I have not noticed any drop in frames or performance and that the game works perfectly on both PC and consoles, and that my PC is starting to get a bit outdated (an Intel i5 processor with an Nvidia 1070). Just in case some of the problems I have mentioned were due to my hardware, I have played simultaneously with a PC and a PlayStation 5 console, and the errors I am referring to were present in both.
I hope and pray that Supermassive Games will continue to work on delivering experiences as immersive and exciting as The Devil in Me. It's clear that when it comes to visual storytelling they have very few rivals in the industry, but perhaps it's time, now that this first season of the anthology is over, to put aside the release of annual instalments and sit down and consider how to fix the problems that keep repeating over and over again. Because in the end, not even a great story, no matter how good, can save mediocre gameplay.