𝕱𝖔𝖗 𝖌𝖔𝖔𝖉 𝖔𝖗 𝖋𝖔𝖗 𝖎𝖑𝖑, 𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖎𝖗 𝖋𝖆𝖙𝖊 𝖗𝖊𝖘𝖙𝖘 𝖎𝖓 𝖞𝖔𝖚𝖗 𝖍𝖆𝖓𝖉𝖘.
— The Dark Pictures 💀 (@TheDarkPictures) October 22, 2021
House of Ashes is the third instalment for the first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology. So far, we’ve been treated to Man of Medan and Little Hope. Each story offers a different take on horror storytelling. Man of Medan pits some privileged young adults on a ghost ship, while Little Hope is influenced by the Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600s. Yet House of Ashes takes another new direction, this time we have a more Hollywood blockbuster vibe.
In House of Ashes, the year is 2003 during the Iraq War and tensions between nations are at an all-time high. When a USAF Lt. Colonel believes that he has discovered an underground Iraq base, he with a squad of marines investigates the intel in the hope of turning the tide of the war. Yet, they got far more than what they bargained for as they wandered into an ancient tomb full of ungodly horrors. Will everyone escape out alive and will they leave with their minds intact? Well that my friend, is all up to you.
Just a few moments ago, I mentioned that House of Ashes has a Hollywood blockbuster vibe. But don’t let that put you off, because House of Ashes is packed full of fantastic horror moments. What I mean by being Hollywood, is that this really does feel like its story belongs on the big screen. The diverse and conflicting cast of characters, the quality of voice acting and motion capture, the compelling soundtrack, and surprises at every turn.
House of Ashes manages to find a perfect blend of being both action-packed and stacked full of horror. It might be easy to assume with House of Ashes centring around a bunch of marines, it might favour action over horror. Thankfully, that is not the case. Sure, some moments are very “Yeeha,” but trust me, there are a lot of tense moments in House of Ashes. Bundle this in with the added pressure of making a decision, and it adds another level of tension. You will be under pressure to make big decisions within moments, and you will be questioning your decisions as they have a direct impact on your story.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is described as an interactive drama, survival horror and House of Ashes is no exception. Like previous games in this series, there are multiple decisions to make, branching in different directions and offering multiple endings. This aspect alone gives House of Ashes and its predecessors a fantastic amount of quality replay value.
In total, you will play as five characters and each of their fates are in your hands. CIA officer Rachel King is in a troubled marriage with her husband, USAF Lt. Colonel Eric King. Then we have USMC Force Recon 1st Lt. Jason Kolchek, Sgt. Nick Kay, and Iraqi Guard Lt. Salim Othman. In most cases, I would find this number of characters a little too packed. But the story does such an excellent job that you might begin to dislike a character at the start, but you’ll be rooting for them near the end. So, kudos to the writing team at Supermassive Games.
In terms of visual presentation, House of Ashes is one of the most impressive looking games in recent times. However, if you’re familiar with Supermassive Games, then you will know that they not only bring a prominent level of storytelling but also superb visual presentation. 2015s Until Dawn on the PS4 still looks fantastic today, and naturally, House of Ashes looks even better. The character animation, the eerie environments, the amazing lighting effects and more. House of Ashes is pure video game eye candy at its best. Although, while House of Ashes is full of tense horror, without giving anything away, I never found its enemies to be all that scary, at least visually.
If you’ve played the previous games in The Dark Pictures Anthology, then you will pretty much know what to expect with House of Ashes. However, some quality of life and accessibility improvements have been made in this third instalment. For starters, we now have a 360-degree camera and is no longer fixed. For the most part, the camera works fine. But at times the free camera does get a little too close during narrow corridors and can feel a little restrictive. I may be stuck in my ways, but I’ll often prefer a fixed camera in horror games.
Little Hope also offered various difficulty levels related to the Quick-Time-Events. In House of Ashes, you can also remove the QTE timer, restrict button prompts to a single button and you can even remove the function of having to button mash. For me personally, I’ve always hated button mashing and it surely can’t be good for the condition of your controller.
In total House of Ashes also has four main modes. Firstly, you have the main campaign. Then you have two multiplayer modes. Movie Night is a local pass the controller co-op for 2 to 5 players. Shared Story allows you to play the story with a friend online. Finally, Curator Mode allows you to play the game from the perspective of other characters. The Curator Mode is initially a pre-order bonus, but it will eventually be free DLC for all.
Overall, despite not being the creepiest game in season one of The Dark Pictures Anthology, House of Ashes might be my personal favourite yet. Its story wouldn’t look out of place on the cinema screen and offers a fantastic popcorn movie experience. It’s full of high-octane action, and a bat-shit crazy storyline. But by now, this is probably why you might enjoy the Supermassive Games form of horror. I played through House of Ashes in two sittings, which as a married man with a child, is quite an achievement. House of Ashes is one of the most fun games I’ve played this year and a dreadful delight for horror enthusiasts.