The Dark Pictures Anthology: 3 Improvements We Want to See

Each installment of The Dark Picture Anthology has been improving upon the last, but these improvements will ensure a better product in the future. With two games already available, a third on the way, and 8 installments planned in total, The Dark Picture Anthology has the potential to grow even further.

The Dark Picture Anthology: 3 Improvements We Want to See Cover

The Dark Pictures Anthology is an anthology of horror games by Supermassive Games, the developers behind the highly acclaimed Until Dawn. Unlike Until Dawn, however, the games here are shorter in length, allowing the developers to create a new one each year. Unfortunately, these smaller games haven’t captured the magic Until Dawn had. Both Man of Medan and Little Hope received generally mixed reviews. House of Ashes looks to fix some of the issues that plagued the first two titles, such as the removal of fixed cameras in exchange for a 360 camera, the inclusion of a flashlight button, and the inclusion of an actual monster.

These changes are sure to make House of Ashes stand above the first two titles, but what else can the franchise do to improve?

1. STORYLINE – Less Reaction, More Exploration, More Choices

The Dark Pictures Anthology consists of standalone narrative horror games where the players’ choices affect the outcome of their characters. Or so, they should. It feels as though a fair number of deaths are reliant more on QTEs (quick timed events) rather than choices made in the game. Little Hope corrected this a bit by adding more opportunities to survive based on exploration. Essentially, the player is rewarded for going out of their way to find an item that might benefit them later down the line.

Exploration could use an improvement though. Maybe exploration gets the player familiar with a certain area, which later helps them with a decision. When they’re running away from a monster, they can either hide under the bed or take a right turn. What’s on the right? A kitchen! A kitchen has knives that players can use to defend themselves. The player would only know this if they took their time to explore. Have exploration matter more by including more paths, not just to find items but maybe to unlock additional conversations with the characters. These conversations could hint at possible solutions to issues that appear later down in the storyline.

Choose Carefully

Choose Carefully

These hints could play into the character traits, an unusually confusing gameplay mechanic that sometimes seemingly has no influence on the outcome of a character. They have more influence in Little Hope, but could still use some improvements. The issue is how these traits lock the player into one playstyle instead of adjusting based on how they play. It’s not fun nor realistic to expect the player to always pick the same type of response. Not choosing to repeatedly spam the compassion option shouldn’t affect the player later down the line.

There should be some middle ground where players are rewarded for paying attention to details at particular moments, rather than mindlessly selecting the same type of responsive over and over again.

2. COUCH CO-OP – Two screens are better than one

Man of Medan and Little Hope introduced the new game modes Movie Night and Shared Story, which added cooperation with other players. Shared Story allowed for online play where two users could each simultaneously control a character. The mode was a fun addition and made sense in a game where characters are often split up.

The idea behind Movie Night mode is for multiple people to locally play together. It sadly doesn’t add anything that couldn’t be done without the mode. In Movie Night, players select characters they want to play and when that particular character appears on screen, whoever chose that character gets to play. Friends or partners just simply pass the controller to one another. It’s a mode that felt sort of shoehorned into the game.

A game better with more friends

A game better with more friends

The Dark Pictures Anthology could benefit from split-screen couch co-op, allowing two people to simultaneously play the game. Shared Story mode showed it’s possible for multiple users to play at the same time, so why not allow it with local play? Why not even encourage it? Maybe something player 1 sees could potentially help player 2? It’s not fun to simply hand the controller over to your friend after your turn is over. Having two players each in charge of a character and going through the same fear could lead to a more fun atmosphere.

3. MOVEMENT – Loosen those frightened nerves

The Dark Pictures Anthology always had a rough time when it came to movement. When controlling a character, they always felt heavy and sluggish. Moving forward and stopping typically always had a delay. Pair that up with fixed camera angles where players further lose control of their character and it made for some frustrating traversal.

Fixed camera angles have almost become a staple for the horror franchise, having been in all three Supermassive horror titles so far. Little Hope experimented more with the idea of letting the player control the camera. Certain areas of that title allowed for more freedom, letting the player roam without fixed angles. House of Ashes appears to completely eliminate the idea of fixed camera angles. It’s a shame considering how much of a movie-like quality was given during these fixed scenes. Unfortunately, they contributed to the rigid movement that players sometimes experienced when playing these titles. It wasn’t only the fixed camera angles, however.

House of Ashes won't have fixed cameras

House of Ashes won’t have fixed cameras

Even in Little Hope during the areas where players could rotate the camera, movement was often stiff. Exploration in this franchise was even more difficult because of the darkness in them. Sure, players have a flashlight, but even that was more difficult than it needed to be. The entire experience did not feel smooth and often came across as cheap. There is nothing more frustrating than missing a turn then having to stop your character completely before you can turn around. It feels very outdated and could use improvements. Movement should be fluid and responsive. The flashlight should be easy to wield and point at objects. Because the character has a difficult time following the player, immersion can be broken.

The anthology’s first two outings haven’t faired well when compared to Until Dawn. There are additional issues such as voice acting and character work which hindered the first two titles in this franchise. It’s not a perfect franchise by any means, and can even be frustrating. Still, Little Hope improved upon Man of Medan, and House of Ashes is looking to continue that climb upwards. The improvements listed here wouldn’t solve all this franchise’s issues, but the inclusion of them would certainly cement these games as must-play titles even for those who aren’t a fan of horror. 

House of Ashes releases October 22, 2021, for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC (Steam).

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes - Official Teaser Trailer

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