Following the horror-filled hijinks of 2019’s Man of Medan and last year’s Little Hope, The Dark Pictures Anthology continues with 2021’s House of Ashes, and it might just be the best one yet from the series. Whisking players off into a Mesopotamian temple in the war torn lands of Iraq, get yourself ready for plenty of twists and turns that are unexpected and surprising in more ways than one.
Similar to the recent games developed by Supermassive Games, players will take control of multiple characters in a supernatural tale that unfolds as individual vignettes and as an overarching tale. Before long, a seemingly routine mission goes haywire, and depending on your decisions, the five characters will either live to tell the tale or perish.
With the cast of characters in House of Ashes, the team has managed to provide players with a group of people that are designed to be yours to shape. Although they may have personalities of their own, player decisions can and will influence things, and getting to know everyone’s stories is always good fun.
This is a bunch of characters that are fully fleshed out and wonderfully brought to life by performances that contribute in every way, and everyone knows that secrets and baggage only make them more relatable, with their concerns and stakes even more pressing.
Add in the unpredictability of supporting characters in various situations, and House of Ashes is ready to bring the scares and the surprises at almost every turn.
When it comes to gameplay, it does not differ from the familiar formula refined over the years. Characters can explore the environments they are in, learning new information and allowing the player to piece things together along the way.
Choices in dialogue and actions have to be made, and at vital junctures, quick-time events will ramp up the intensity. Of course, you can always choose to do or say nothing, which might actually be the most appropriate way to go about things.
What has changed, however, is the way the game presents itself. Rather than affixed camera angles, House of Ashes now gives full control to the player. It differs starkly, especially for a horror game that will benefit from certain visuals, but this change does not make the game any less scary. It may struggle at times due to the slow walking cadence or tight spaces, but otherwise, it works.
On a whole, however, everything else in House of Ashes points towards it being the pinnacle of Supermassive’s craft. The storytelling is tight, the action intense, and the ever-encroaching feeling of dread and the weight of split-second decisions will please even the most demanding of horror buffs. From start to finish, this latest entry is going to be full of thrills and spills.
Predictability can easily ruin the tension of any horror tale, and Supermassive has done superbly in making that a nonconcern. This applies to not just the narrative itself, but also gameplay moments that fans are probably very familiar with. The entirety of the presentation in House of Ashes has also been made better with the experience of the other games, and it shows brilliantly.
There are certainly the obligatory jump scares, but the way the characters fit into the story coupled with the environmental storytelling help tremendously with building tension. If you are a fan of mythology and ancient secrets, then this is a game that you will not want to miss.
It would be hard to discuss the merits of House of Ashes without going into spoilers, but rest assured, not a singular character is one-dimensional or forgettable, and their trials and travails are going to feel much like the player’s own. The way the developers has managed to make us care for these folks is amazing and allows the narrative to matter even more.
Not everyone will like how House of Ashes constructs and delivers its narrative, but that is simply par for the course. It is meant to be a slow burn, and not every decision will lead to an immediate payoff. Choices are not black and white, and just like any other great story, you are not meant to game the system by knowing the best decisions to make.
It also makes the game perfect for replayability, exploring different decisions and actions and seeing what could have happened in the given scenarios. And when you are done, you can utilise the useful Bearings function to learn just how everything ties up together.
As a horror game that puts player agency and a gripping narrative first, House of Ashes succeeds on all fronts whether you are enjoying solo or cooperative with friends for a good fright.
With characters that work wonderfully well as vessels but also on their own, House of Ashes is a solid horror story that boasts excellent performances and writing that will keep you on edge for its entirety. This is definitely one haunted house that is well worth the visit and the stay.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is available now for $37.29.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Strap in for the best ride in The Dark Pictures Anthology, as House of Ashes delivers the most complete and finest horror story yet.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 9.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 9.5/10