I’ve been a big fan of both of The Dark Pictures Anthology’s previous releases, with Man of Medan and Little Hope offering two genuinely eerie horror adventures that were fun to unravel. There was a real sense of helplessness as I’d fight for my group’s survival, with the seemingly ordinary folk put into genuinely terrifying situations and forced to use their wits (and some well-timed QTEs) in order to survive. It felt like I was playing a horror movie, albeit one where I was able to stop the cast (or, in some cases, encourage them) from doing the things you KNOW horror movie characters shouldn’t be doing. Who goes wandering off alone when there’s a killer about?! House of Ashes is the latest releases in the series, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t as excited for it at first. Early trailers suggested it was going to take a much different approach, with players put into the role of a group who were well-armed and more than capable of dealing with the threat at hand. I didn’t know how well that scenario would capture the creepy sense of despair found in the previous releases.
Thankfully, Supermassive Games are masters of their craft and delivered yet another enthralling horror experience. Whilst House of Ashes certainly offers a different vibe to the previous entries in the series, it’s still as horrifying and fun to play.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Houses of Ashes puts players in the role of a US Special Forces team as they seek out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Whilst their search is fruitless, a confrontation with the Iraqi Resistance sees disaster strike when the land collapses beneath them, leaving both the Special Forces and the Iraqi soldiers trapped within a mysterious underground temple surrounded by tunnels. With no solid means to escape, the Special Forces have to try and survive the hazards around them, but there’s also a more malicious and monstrous threat lurking in the underground that’s looking for blood…
I’d love to go into depth about more of the story details because there are some real startling revelations and dark scenarios to see unfold in the game, but I’ll avoid spoilers here. Just know that whilst you seem well-armed and capable to survive in House of Ashes, it turns out you need more than brawn and gunfire to handle the dangerous underground.
I will mention the characters though, with the player not only taking control of four members of the Special Forces, but also a member of the Iraqi army. This adds an interesting twist to the dynamic since they’re technically enemies, but are instead forced to work together in order to survive the ordeal. There’s depth to the be found in the relationships within the Special Forces group too, especially since two of the characters are a husband and wife, so there’s certainly a personal touch to the experience that adds an extra element to the storytelling outside of simply trying to make it out alive.
“Players will make the decisions or perform the QTEs that will determine how events play out in the game, with wrong moves or bad decisions easily resulting in the death of one of the characters.”
As always though, survival will ultimately come down to the player’s actions. Players will make the decisions or perform the QTEs that will determine how events play out in the game, with wrong moves or bad decisions easily resulting in the death of one of the characters. The relationship between characters will change based upon these choices too; whilst something you do may not seem too impactful at first, you never know how it might affect things down the line.
Players will constantly swap between characters and see events unfold from different perspectives, so it’s easy to bond with the playable cast. You’ll learn more about their individual relationships, their emotions about the situation, and what they’d like to do to survive, so handling all of the different personalities isn’t always easy. It ensures that the decisions you make as each one is all the more impactful, especially if you find yourself preferring some characters over others. It’s easy to play favourites, after all, and I’ll admit that I found myself caring for the safety of some characters more than others as I played.
With it seemingly possible for just about anyone to die at any given time though, you’ve got to be careful. Sure, the game is designed to ensure that the cast survive long enough to tell a story, but it doesn’t take long before all bets are off and one wrong move means the end. It’s one of my favourite things about the series, with the high-stakes gameplay making me question everything I do. And hey, in some cases you’re better off doing nothing; whilst House of Ashes will give you plenty of different choices to make or QTEs to complete, sometimes simply ignoring them is the best course of action.
“Whilst House of Ashes will give you plenty of different choices to make or QTEs to complete, sometimes simply ignoring them is the best course of action.”
One thing that I feel is worth mentioning is that the horror of House of Ashes feels different to the previous releases in the series. In those games, you weren’t always sure what the threat was or how you would deal with it, with ghostly presences, ominous sights, and jump scares aplenty. Here though, you know EXACTLY what you’re dealing with, and it’s not as if they try to sneak up on you – they’re pretty forward and head-on in trying to kill the cast. It doesn’t make the game any less intense though, especially when you know you’re being hunted, but it does give Houses of Ashes a different vibe that’s more about desperate survival as opposed to being spooky. It was one of the things that made me apprehensive about the game before playing (I’m a big fan of creepy horror as opposed to monsters), but it actually works really well in-game and didn’t hinder the sinister atmosphere at all.
Other than that, it’s the same kind of harrowing experience seen in the previous games (in a good way, of course). The storytelling is great, the scenarios you find yourself in will leave you at odds as to what you should do, whilst the premonitions you encounter across the world give some forewarning of impending threats and how to deal with them. House of Ashes brings with it plenty of gripping moments, and whilst its horror might feel different to the previous games, the top-notch storytelling and gameplay remains the same. It’s good stuff.
“The storytelling is great, the scenarios you find yourself in will leave you at odds as to what you should do, whilst the premonitions you encounter across the world give some forewarning of impending threats and how to deal with them.”
There have been some changes made though, with the most obvious being the camera controls. Gone are the fixed camera angles of the previous titles, with players now given full control as they explore the ominous tunnels. It’s a neat change that suits the vibe of the game, though I’ll admit that I think I preferred the more cinematic feel offered by the fixed camera angles. But hey, that’s just me.
The Dark Pictures Anthology has always been known for having superb visuals and that’s certainly the case here, with House of Ashes the best that the series has looked thanks to the native PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S versions of the game. Between the excellent facial animations, detailed environments, and impressive lighting effects, everything in the game simply looks sublime, whilst the enemies are more monstrous than ever too. The faster loading times are also a big plus, whilst the player can choose between Performance and Quality modes to see what works best for them. It’s just a gorgeous game to look at and I’m excited to see what the team at Supermassive Games will do with the hardware in future releases.
I can’t end this review without mentioning multiplayer, with Movie Night allowing local co-op play where players will swap the controller around and each control individual characters, and Shared Story played online with both players controlling different characters. Shared Story is especially interesting because it offers each player different perspectives on events not found when playing the game solo, giving more for them to discover (or all new ways to betray one another… survival is key, after all). Once again, it makes for a gripping multiplayer experience that offers a unique way to unravel the story where it isn’t just YOUR decisions that matter.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review
House of Ashes feels different to previous entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology series, but is still as gripping, horrifying, and entertaining as ever. There’s some fantastic storytelling on offer throughout that will leave players on the edge of their seat, whilst it also looks bloody gorgeous on the PlayStation 5.
It’s just another impressive release from the team at Supermassive Games and shows that they’re certainly not running out of ideas with The Dark Pictures Anthology. I can’t wait to see what terrifying story they’re going to tell next…
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC