The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review

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GAME INFO

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes

October 22nd, 2021
Platform PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
Publisher Bandai Namco
Developer Supermassive Games

The more I play Supermassive Games' The Dark Pictures Anthology series, the more familiar and comfortable I get with the format. During one of the longer cutscenes in House of Ashes, I was laid back watching it and happened to miss a quick thing. I pressed the left arrow key at that point and then wondered why it wasn't listening to me. Then I realised I was playing a game, not watching a film on Netflix.

Is it a good thing that this has managed to trick my brain into that? I'll answer that later. If you're coming into House of Ashes looking for a traditional game, then either you've never played a previous The Dark Pictures Anthology title, or you've seriously overestimated how much the series would change. There is a little more game than before, but it's still the same beast as Little Hope and earlier titles.

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Thinking about it, it's not only the game tricking me into thinking it's a film, but it's also tricked me into thinking it's a whole different type of game. Controlling soldiers, having the rifle pointed forward, I've had my finger hovering over the right trigger a few times, getting ready to unload a few bullets into whatever monstrosity happens to be nearby. I can't, though. Even when I've pulled the trigger by reflex, no bullets come out. It's a testament to how absorbed I've found myself and how good House of Ashes is at absorbing me that I forget the sort of game it is.

Every time I play a Supermassive game, I find myself enjoying them more and more. House of Ashes is sticking on this path, too, adding even more to the game side of things and making the - let's call it film - side even better than ever. I'll get onto that side, the story, later in this review. Let's first talk about the game, changes, and improvements.

I mentioned it in my preview, Supermassive Games have opened up House of Ashes to an extent. Or, to be more precise, it feels like the game has opened up. The areas you walk around are mainly of the same size and scale as you would find in the previous two The Dark Pictures Anthology titles and Until Dawn. There are a few larger areas, but the primary way the game feels bigger is by letting you control the camera and giving you freedom of movement around the areas.

It isn't perfect, but as a step forward, it is a very positive side. I've had a few times my character will lag a little behind the camera when moving, but for the most part, I don't honestly have any complaints. Later in the game, there's a part where this is used to incredible effect, as you're using the light from the torch on your rifle to spot areas of the floor you can and can't walk. House of Ashes has had me on the edge of my seat a few times, but rarely was a moment as tense - or intense - as that.

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Let's talk a little more about light. It seems redundant to repeat it here, as I did for Little Hope and my earlier preview, but Supermassive Games need to win an award. Or, at least somebody should buy them a few casks of Guinness. The use of light, shadows, it's frankly brilliant. It's even more impressive here than in previous titles, thanks to the use of large spaces, your torch barely piercing the gloom as you look to find your way forward.

There's a slight issue on this subject: there are too many light sources. Specifically, there are man-made ones found within later areas of the game. I noticed this because one or two parts will focus on getting light sources turned on or stopping them from turning off. It's a very noticeable plot hole when you start getting deeper and find light sources still under power after decades. Frankly, I'm more annoyed at my brain for noticing these things on occasion and taking me out of what is an excellent story.

Before we get to the story, let's look at what else Supermassive Games have done with House of Ashes. Movement is still a little too slow and laborious; though I may be wrong in thinking that your character seems to move a little quicker when you haven't turned on your light source, it certainly seems that way. If that is true, It makes sense, narratively, for you to be moving slow and steady in a dark room, underground in ruin full of eldritch horrors looking to eat your face off, with minimal lighting. Still, I wish there was a way to move quicker in later playthroughs, especially if - because you want to see the rest of the story - you're on the most accessible mode.

That's another inclusion, difficulty levels. There are three of them: piss easy, regular, and what's the point. Those may not be the exact names, but they may as well have been. I completed the game on regular at first, with four out of five characters surviving. I went straight back in and played the curators edition on piss easy and still enjoyed my time with the game. All I'm honestly expecting now is a film version, where you choose the directions, and the QTE's are gone. You know what? I'd bloody-well play that version for a game with a story this good.

A final thing I should state is that House of Ashes adds something to keep the QTE's a little more interesting. Sometimes, succeeding in the quick time event isn't always the best way forward. I'll leave it at that.

Now we get to it, the core part of a Supermassive Games The Dark Pictures Anthology game, the story. Man of Medan was decent but disappointing in that it had a host of characters to hate and a twist at the end that somewhat explained the horror. Little Hope had some decent characters and another twist at the end that ruined it for some. I can see how those who didn't like it felt like it wasted any reason to replay the game. After two twists, the question is if House of Ashes has a twist?

It does, but not in the way you are thinking. That's all I'm going to say. In my preview, I stated:

I am hoping with every fibre of my being that this doesn't end up as a hallucination linking to the Curse of the pharaohs, particularly since the game references the location as Alexander the Great's tomb.

I have to wonder if Supermassive Games had, when writing the story, somehow gone into the future and seen what I feared. So many times, the game leads you down the wrong path. You'll wonder what exactly is behind the scenes, what's happening to the characters, what is it that you're trying to survive? A few times, I thought, "oh christ, it's going to be [insert theory here], isn't it?" It wasn't.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is by and far the best story by Supermassive Games up until now. It's one that - if it were a film - I would have already decided that I'm watching the sequel. You rarely know how the story will turn out and if you play it through more than once, so many things neatly allude to later events. That's even before you look at the branching paths that are a mainstay of the series.

Adding to this, you have a generally well-rounded cast of characters in House of Ashes. They're all flawed, human, and likable, even if some can be abrasive at times. There's actual growth, depending on your decisions. Even the decisions and conversations seem a little more nuanced than before, a little more human. I'd like to know how some things come about and decipher the spider's web that is a Supermassive Games game, but at the same time, I don't know if I want to ruin the magic, maybe just when it leads to a cheap death.

While I've got you: watch the credits. Also, have a lookout for other things that link The Dark Pictures Anthology together. I'm enjoying these little pieces from the past and the hints that Supermassive Games keeps dropping for future games. It's like a puzzle I get to piece together before the next game in the anthology hits home, whichever possessed abode that may be.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes isn't perfect. I've mentioned a few little niggles, and there is still a slight issue in some of the faces looking odd at times, but I see improvements from Supermassive. Small niggles aside, I can only repeat that this is by far the best of the anthology titles so far. I would recommend House of Ashes to anybody, and I can honestly see myself playing this story a few more times.

PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.

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9

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is easily the best of the series so far. There are clear improvements in gameplay, such as difficulty options and complete control over the camera, which help push this forward. The writing also takes strides forward, with an excellent cast of characters, more realistic writing, and a satisfying narrative throughout. Add the already exceptional abilities of Supermassive Games at building atmosphere, and you have a recipe for a great game - something that I firmly believe House of Ashes is.

Pros

  • It has a great story with a strong cast of characters that show strong development.
  • Decisions that directly impact the game and story in both the short and long-term.
  • It builds suspense fantastically and constantly keeps you on edge.
  • Looks fantastic, and the new control system allows you to explore the great environments.
  • The inclusion of new difficulty modes allows you to play as you please.

Cons

  • Facial animations can, at times, look off and very much like they're stuck in the uncanny valley.
  • Sometimes the deaths feel inexplicable as to how they came about - though often due to an out-of-the-blue QTE.
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