The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is the fourth entry in Supermassive Game’s series of interactive horror games. Taking place in a new location with a new set of characters, the game is quite a step up in terms of its storytelling but is also let down somewhat by some of the performances and clunky controls.
House of Ashes takes place in 2003 during the US’s invasion of Iraq. A new mission is issued that tasks the unit of soldiers with finding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. A satellite program has seemingly found the place where the weapons are stored, which appears to be underground. However, after arriving at the location in question, the US troops are attacked Iraqi soldiers. During the ensuing firefight, the ground below them begins to give way, creating sinkholes that the surviving soldiers fall into. They stumble upon an ancient Sumerian temple and soon discover that it is home to an enemy that is unlike anything they’ve ever fought before; they’ll need to let go of which side of the war they’re on and work together if they are to survive the ordeal.
The story in House of Ashes is told quite well. It’s decently paced and should be enough to keep you intrigued throughout, especially with some of the twists that show up, in addition to the incredibly exciting conclusion. The characters also help with driving the narrative along thanks to some of the shared moments between some of them; these are great since it offers an opportunity to showcase some depth. While the majority of the performances are acted out quite well, there are some inconsistencies where a few instances come across as being a bit dull. Thankfully, this isn’t a constant occurrence.
While it’s technically classified as a horror game, House of Ashes isn’t particularly scary. It does nail the atmosphere though as it makes it feel as if you’re being watched almost all of the time. In addition to this, the remains of the temple deliver this claustrophobic experience, which adds to the tension as you make your way from area to area.
When it comes to gameplay, House of Ashes handles similarly to previous entries in the Anthology, save for a few changes. You still navigate characters around the environment using the left stick but instead of a fixed camera, it can be controlled with the right stick, allowing for the best possible angle when exploring. Additionally, each character has access to a light source, be it a flashlight or even a lighter, which is helpful for some of the darker areas – there are a lot of them! However, the actual controlling of the various characters feels clunky a lot of the time, and on top of this, the characters walk quite slowly. It’s not too bad when an area is small and doesn’t have many items to inspect, but for the areas that do, it wouldn’t have hurt to speed up the movement a bit by jogging.
Like the other games in the series, House of Ashes makes use of Quick Time Events or QTEs to decide how a character will fare in an encounter with the game’s enemies or simply when performing a risky action. There is quite a variety of different types to experience throughout a playthrough, from single button pushes to mashing or timing it to match a heartbeat, and pretty much all of them are intense. They’re bound to make your palms sweat a bit as you anticipate which button to push or mash within the time limit. That being said, the game does give you a heads-up about what kind of action will be performed next, which does help a little. Failing a QTE does have consequences though, however, it isn’t always immediately apparent and might only come into play a little further down the line. This ultimately affects how the story plays out since a big part of the game is keeping your characters alive. Generally, completing the story with all of your characters mostly unscathed is considered the best possible ending.
House of Ashes has multiple branching options for how situations can play out and also offers a Curator’s Cut, which delivers the same story but may have you playing as a different character during a particular part of the game. Thanks to this, it offers a fair amount of replayability already. There’s also the ability to play with a friend either locally or online via Movie Night, which makes the experience more entertaining.
Visually, House of Ashes looks great. Each character has been animated well and their facial expressions really complement the storytelling. Some environments look fantastic while others just look okay. The creature design and animation are great though! The voice acting is quite well done too, for the most part. As mentioned before, some of the acting is a tad inconsistent. However, the game’s soundtrack does a good job of ramping up the tension significantly during QTE sequences.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is a great new entry in the series. The storytelling is fantastic, even if the character performances do falter here and there. The QTE gameplay is quite thrilling and frankly, nerve-wracking. The ability to control the camera is a nice change from the fixed camera angles in previous entries. The gameplay outside of QTEs could use a little refinement so that it feels a little less clunky though. Despite this, House of Ashes is a great new entry in the Anthology and it’ll be interesting to see how Supermassive Games follows it up!
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes was reviewed on the PlayStation platform
Developer: Supermassive Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Europe, BANDAI NAMCO, Namco Bandai Games America Inc.
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