Do you like funhouses? Those cheesy traveling fairground attractions with the wobbly mirrors and sliding walls? Blasting out cheery music and plastered in faded primary colors, they want you to think that they’re super fun places for all the family. They want you to think that nothing bad can ever happen there, but we know better. You, me, and about eleventy gazillion Dean Koontz novels have smelt the faint desperation lying beneath sweet scents of cotton candy, though. We know that no place adorned with the sadistic smile of a dead-eyed clown can be a good one. We know that funhouses are fun for no one.
Well. No one other than serial killer Henry Howard Holmes.
Have you come across him before? Widely touted (incorrectly, I think, but let’s go with it) as America’s first serial killer, HH Holmes was a fraudster, philanderer, and murderer who lives on in infamy by way of his deliciously devilish “Murder Castle”, a funhouse with the same sliding walls and trick mirrors, only they led not to hilarity but to gas chambers and dead ends. Again, it’s not clear how much of it was real – much of Holmes’ story seems to have been speculation at best, and fabrication at worst – but it sure makes for one hell of a tale. Little wonder, then, that it’s the premise for survival horror The Devil in Me, the latest installment of Supermassive Games‘ thrilling horror anthology, The Dark Pictures.
So far, the horror series has been focussed chiefly, if not quite exclusively, on supernatural stories, but The Devil in Me – Holmes’ own words, allegedly – takes a delicious detour into serial killer land. And whilst it lacks the spooky potency of its predecessors – this is the least terrifying Dark Pictures release thus far, for me anyways – discovering the trapdoors, body chutes, gas chambers, and sliding walls hidden away in this modern day Murder Castle is an absolute joy for any horror or true crime fan.
If you’ve played any of the previous Dark Pictures games then the way you progress through The Devil in Me will feel comfortably familiar. You’ll take turns inhabiting different characters from an ensemble cast – this one stars Paul “Dennis Pennis” Kaye and Jessie Buckley – progress via an effective blend of organic exploration and scripted sequences, and encounter quick-time events (QTEs) where you’ll have to hit the right button at the right time to survive. You’ll also have to make decisions – sometimes very quickly – and what you choose, however mundane it seems at the time, may later turn out to be a matter of life or death, your progress helped or hindered by the strength of the relationships you’ve built around you.
Like the previous games, any or all of your characters may die. And like the previous games, some of these deaths you’ll care about, and others may come with a sigh of relief. That said, I always try to finish my first Dark Pictures runs with the cast surviving the night, and this is the first where that didn’t happen. One death seemed gloriously unfair – they didn’t die because of a mistimed QTE (which sucks, but happens), but because another character chose to run in the “wrong” direction – and I cannot begin to fathom how I can save the other next time. But that’s the magic of Supermassive’s ensemble casts and branching storylines; next time, you’ll know what not to do, eh?
You’re introduced to HH Holmes’ demented funhouse by way of a brief visit to 1893, where you meet newlyweds with the unfortunate luck of having checked into Holmes’ fine new hotel. The meat of your adventure, however, will be spent with Lonnit Entertainment, a modern-day filmmaking crew creating a documentary about HH Holmes that oh-so-just-happened to be invited to spend a night at a replica of Holmes’ Murder Castle.
Christ knows what the team thought was going to happen when they rocked up for a night at a Murder Castle – the clue’s right there in the title, for fuck’s sake – but suffice to say, what you think will unfold does indeed unfold. Cue a night of mystery, mayhem, and lovely, bloody murders, of course.
For the first time in a Dark Pictures game, you’ll get an inventory – someone thought it was necessary, apparently? – and each of your characters uses a different light source; Charlie his lighter, Kate her light-up compact, and Mark his (admittedly very spooky) camera flash. Only Erin and Jamie were bright enough (sorry not sorry) to bring a flashlight along. There are puzzles, too – to use the term loosely – that may include rewiring fuse boxes, balancing on a beam, or repositioning a conveniently nearby crate. More time-wasting than satisfying, though, they feel a little clumsy, as though the team was preempting “walking simulator” accusations by shoehorning a handful of unnecessary puzzles in first.
Perhaps most perplexing of all is that some of the game’s more puzzling story beats are never satisfactorily explained. It’s possible that the game’s branching narrative is to blame, of course – maybe if one particular character had survived, we may have had a resolution – but when the credits rolled, I was still without answers to some pretty big questions. For example, Mark tracks codes he sees but may never use, and you may discover what your wannabe HH Holmes wants your corpse for – ostensibly, at least – but not why.
It’s a shame, really, because the puzzles and elongated hit-this-button-in-time-to-your-heartbeat sequences aside, The Devil in Me‘s devilish premise and fantastic action sequences are robust enough to carry the game without puzzles – walking simulator or otherwise. Factor in the game’s signature “premonition” flashes and the wonderful worldbuilding buried in the letters, clues, and mementos you’ll find secreted around the place, The Devil in Me may not be one of the scariest Dark Pictures chapters thus far, but it’s one of the best nonetheless.
A delightful detour from The Dark Pictures‘ usual supernatural stories, The Devil In Me is a wonderfully wicked horror romp that’ll keep you hooked right to the end.
- A deliciously devilish funhouse to explore
- An intriguing whodunnit that’ll keep you guessing right until the end
- Excellent array of unlockable content, including a documentary about the real HHH
- Puzzles are painfully simplistic
- Some deaths feel unfairly unavoidable (even when they’re not)
- Not all story beats are satisfactorily explained