Supermassive Games’ House of Ashes is a survival horror interactive drama video game that is the latest instalment to The Dark Pictures Anthology series.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is set in the middle of the Iraq War with marines looking for a secret compound in search for Saddam’s biological weapons. This can be very uncomfortable at times, especially knowing what we do now about how that conflict panned out. The characters are what truly bring this game to light, intermingling stories of five characters forced into situations and relationships that they didn’t foresee keep players invested. You’re always on the edge of your seat, as you stress about consistently making the right call. I found myself on many occasions having to fight myself over making the right decision, as each character has specific drives and viewpoints that are shown to the player. On more occasions than I would like to admit, I found myself having to say ‘no don’t just be nice’ as character you play is meant to be commanding or decisive.
As someone who has played the two previous titles in The Dark Picture Anthology series, I was a little hesitant as I really enjoyed the first title, Man of Medan but was let down by Little Hope. As such, I tried to go into House of Ashes with an open mind. The gameplay, however, has not changed and if you have grown weary of the last two titles, I admit that little has been changed and this title may not be for you. If you have fallen in love with this style of gameplay, this is Supermassive Games’ best work since Until Dawn. Supermassive Games have found their formula and for the most part, it works well.
The formula that Supermassive Games utilises is that all decisions effect you. Thankfully, their moral compass is always present, advising the player exactly what choices have been made and which ones are going to affect the way forward. But this time, the compass has been replaced by crows, giving an almost throwback to their original title Until Dawn and its butterfly effect. There has also been an addition to the secrets in-game, now instead of only seeing notes and pages sometimes, there will be additional mini cutscenes to give context to these clues going forward. Although, this is where the changes stop. There are still the foreboding scenes when you find tablets that can give you a glimpse of possible futures and quick-time events that range from super forgiving to deadly (this can be changed in the settings as well).
In comparison to its predecessors, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is a huge improvement. The story constantly shifts showing the perspective of not only one or two characters per chapter, but the viewpoints of everyone. There are still parts where certain dialogue seems somewhat forced, however, the overall the voice acting is impressive and expressive, helping keep players immersed and hungry to know more about all characters involved.
This game can be very stressful and unforgiving in the best way possible, allowing for the player to choose between three difficulty settings from Forgiving, Challenging and Lethal. I personally love a challenge, so I decided to play on Lethal difficulty, which certainly kept me on my toes, as every clue was vital in keeping everyone alive. Thankfully, when it comes to The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes there is no shortage of clues, lore and collectables that assist in helping you make decisions and move forward with the story.
As much as you want to believe you know what’s going to happen next, Supermassive Games always has something up their sleeve that keeps you guessing and makes you want to know more. The build of tension and the giving moments where you can just breathe and take in the stunningly crafted environments from underground tombs and ancient tunnels, where they utilise tight shots to give a sense of claustrophobia, and the feeling that anything could be around the next corner, only enhances the experience.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is a true return to form for Supermassive Games. At its core, House of Ashes is a mystery that keeps players hooked with super difficult QTEs, consequences for choices and actions such as gory deaths that are not for the faint at heart and a beautiful cinematic experience that puts the player right in the thick of it with the characters they are embodying. This is a much-needed return to what fans adored about Until Dawn and I personally cannot wait to see where Supermassive Games takes us with the rest of The Dark Picture Anthology series, and with other projects in the future.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.
A PlayStation 5 copy was provided for the purpose of this review.