Does Tarsier Studios‘ expansion pass Secrets of the Maw with its three DLCs The Depths, The Hideaway, and The Residence deliver the same Halloween frights and chills as puzzle-platformer Little Nightmares did?
A boy finds himself on the Maw, the same ship girl Six was imprisoned, and tries to escape its horrors that also lurk in the water this time.
Afraid of water and the darkness
The first episode The Depths plays with the boy’s fear of water and is highly effective to evoke the same horror in the player, as the main nemesis is a deformed grandmother that constantly tries to grab the protagonist while he swims from one safe spot to the next. As one usually only sees small ripples on the water’s surface at first the boy follows with his eyes, the sense of terror is reminiscent of the horror movie Jaws, because each time one enters a flooded room one can be quite certain that the creature isn’t very far away. Of course there are other frightful scenes outside the water as well, the most memorable one being a big jar on a table that is rocking back and forth, and as one needs a key that can only be inside with whatever is moving, one has to overcome the fear of the unknown, as terrifying as the result might be.
Light on storytelling
There isn’t a lot of character or the story development, as the boy’s and girl’s journeys simply connect at the end. He remains just as faceless as the Six, and even if one sees a different part of the ship, it doesn’t offer any explanations, except showing how the creature with the long arms chases children and how they try to escape from their prison cells. But anyone expecting anything substantial added to the main storyline with a satisfying conclusion will be disappointed. If one feels like exploring, bottles can be collected to unlock concept art, but these don’t provide further explanations of the story or setting.
Puzzling in the water
Gameplay-wise, the few physics-based puzzles usually revolve around water, e.g. emptying a flooded room, then pushing crates to the right positions, so that with water rising, one can use them as platforms and reach the other side or throw a key from one to the other, as carrying it and jumping at the same time isn’t possible. While these conundrums might sound contrived and unoriginal, they’re still a nice distraction from the repetitive puzzles in the first game, although due to the less than perfect controls and throwing mechanics it takes more time than necessary to overcome these obstacles.
Frustrations of drowning
Unfortunately the checkpoints system doesn’t work particularly well, as failing one section and trying it again isn’t the same as restarting the game and continuing where one left off, because one is thrown back much farther back than before, requiring to go through rather long platforming or puzzle sections again. As the finale relies on very fast reflexes and trial and error in how the environment can help to defeat the adversary in the water that becomes more and more aggressive, the frustration level increases as well, even if these segments are pretty intense and memorable.
A short and scarily wet experience
The Depths does a great job of making people afraid of water again with some intense survival horror sections, while the physics-based puzzles are also quite nice and don’t outstay their welcome. Unfortunately, the DLC doesn’t add anything to the overall story, which isn’t surprising, as the playtime is just around 1 hour.
Another young boy tears his way out of a paper sack on the way to the Maw’s kitchen and tries to escape the ship with the help of the pyramid heads creatures, the Gnomes.
Alone in the darkness…
Despite not telling much about the main character’s personality or history, the player will still have a better understanding of the relationship between the children and the gnomes. The open ending might again not be as satisfying as it could be, but considering how obscure the base game and the first DLC were, it’s somehow to be expected. The fear of darkness is omnipresent, as one is in constant danger of encountering the creature with the long arms that was already featured in the first game. It might be a bit disappointing not to be presented with a new threat, but there are more than enough tense scenes to make up for the lack of originality, e.g. sneaking past the blind monster and trying to avoid making sounds on coal pieces or shards of glass in absolute darkness in which only the flashlight can help to find one’s way around.
…with pyramid heads!
The puzzles are much more complex this time and rely on collecting as many pyramid heads/gnomes as possible. These can help to push a very heavy mine cart, open a door, or they can be thrown on a lever to pull it down if the boy can’t reach it or doesn’t have the strength for it. The goal of building an army of these mysterious, but cute-looking creatures isn’t to defeat the enemy, but to stoke a fire with coal in order to set a bucket elevator in motion as an escape route. Of course one also has to make sure that sparkling plugs have to work for electricity, and replacements are obviously found in the blind monster’s lair.
More puzzling misdirection
Unfortunately, the more complex puzzles take up a lot of time and distract from the main attraction of the game: being scared. As the pyramid heads’ A.I. isn’t the best and one has to constantly run back to see that all of them follow the boy and aren’t left behind, the gameplay falls into the trap of annoying micromanagement. With quite a few locations to visit from the furnace hub area, it’s often not clear where to go next, and it doesn’t help that one can easily miss the gnomes in the darkness. Backgrounds that can be interacted with, like crevices one can squeeze through, are also inconspicuous and require standing in a particular position to be recognized as such, so running around clueless even if one was in the right place becomes a common problem.
A longer walk in the dark, but with more problems
The Hideaway offers a better understanding of some parts of the first game‘s storyline, but again lacks a clear identification with the main faceless character. It focuses much more on co-op puzzling with the gnomes, but the player gets stuck too many times because of the lack of clues, pathfinding problems, and easy-to-overlook points of interaction, which explains the longer playtime of almost 2 hours. Still, the stealth sections are still pretty intense and are reason enough to play the game.
The young boy enters the private quarters of the geisha lady in the hope of finally escaping the Maw.
The second DLC’s story continues
It’s strange that the first DLC was a short episode with a different character, being independent from the second and third one that serves as a conclusion to the boy’s storyline. As the DLCs can be bought separately, it’s a somewhat questionable narrative choice to leave players quite literally in the dark who haven’t played The Hideaway. However, as Little Nightmares is a title that revels in obscurities and open endings, players could easily have believed the ending of the second DLC as just another open ending. One can even ask the question if all the DLCs are necessary to fully grasp Six’s storyline. It’s true that the boy of the second and third DLC cross paths with her again, but the weird ending doesn’t answer any questions and only gives a different perspective on the relationship between the gnomes and the children, something that has already been explained in the second DLC.
Not quite home and not alone
Even if one spends some time exploring the geisha’s residence, one doesn’t learn a lot about her history, except that there’s a reason why she wears a mask. Introducing shadow children only adds to more confusion and mystery, but it somehow fits the weirdness the original Little Nightmares has thrown at the player, despite its obvious inclusion for scare tactics. Still, there’s a different kind of atmosphere when traversing the geisha’s home that is built more like a mansion, including a library, music room, and even a grotesque family portraits room. All of these locations are slowly unlocked behind doors and often require backtracking, as one looks for specific geisha statuettes that open a big door. While one almost feel homely in these surroundings that are much different from the wet underground levels of the first DLC or the dark coalmines of the second one because of the exquisite furniture or carpets, it doesn’t mean that one is safe. Walking through fog and seeing shadows moving in the dark, this might actually be the scariest episode of the expansion pass.
The puzzles are much more varied this time, e.g. turning a globe-like structure with various lenses in order to shine lights on mechanical eyes and open a door, finding and arranging books in the correct order on the appropriate shelves, or pushing buttons under specific family portraits the clues of which ones can be found in the preceding room. The solutions might not always be obvious, especially in the case of the family members, but these are still much more original conundrums than what even the original game offered, so it always feels as if the environment is a puzzle and mystery that has to be solved and revealed in the process.
Fight the darkness
Unfortunately, it’s not all about puzzle solving or exploring the scary surroundings, as the last part of the game becomes extremely frustrating when one has to use one’s flashlight in order to destroy the shadow children. While this might at first seem like a welcome distraction, the more enemies close in on the boy, the more difficult it becomes to get rid of them. It almost feels as if one plays an action game like Alan Wake (or survival horror title Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare) which uses the same mechanics, but unlike the writer (or the paranormal investigator), the boy doesn’t have a gun and has to use his light source with care due to a cooldown effect. Even more aggravating than this is that one also has to move furniture around and turn levers without being able to use the flashlight, making the boy vulnerable against the oncoming enemy waves.
The beginning end
The Residence offers the most beautiful and varied environments of the expansion pass and even the best puzzle design. Even if it’s not essential to understand the story of Six or even has a satisfying ending, its setting is still scary enough to play it. If only the unnecessarily difficult final section wouldn’t rely so much on frustrating action sequences, then this would almost reach the same high quality of the base game, despite its short playtime of 1 hour.
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG or Amazon links and buying the products also helps ;).