I like horror games. That probably shouldn't come as a surprise when I'm previewing The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes, the third in... well, an anthology of horror titles. It also shouldn't come as a great deal of surprise when I've already done a hands-off preview of House of Ashes, as well as having previewed and reviewed the previous title, Little Hope.
Still, now I've had some hands-on time with The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes; what do I think?
It's a Supermassive Games game, so there are some things we go into just knowing what to expect. What we expect to see, we see. What we expect to encounter, we encounter. Within five minutes of the hands-on preview build, I was on the edge of my seat, having already jumped and sworn at my screen. As my hour with the game - actually, more than an hour since I replayed the build - I found myself feeling the same way as I did about previous Supermassive games.
Tension and suspense are something these games do well. Part of this is due to the slow tank-like controls, which constantly remind me of early Resident Evil games, though I think this is finally getting on my nerves. Until Dawn, Man of Medan, Little Hope and now House of Ashes, all of them rely on the same slow-paced and sluggish control scheme. It's more annoying when you get to parts where you're simply searching the locale for small glints, hoping it's the item that moves the plot forward.
Well, unless you're me, then you're hoping the glints are the secrets or the premonitions that let you see your possible future deaths. I like to explore. It doesn't matter the genre; it doesn't matter if the game features wide open spaces or narrow corridors; I'm going to explore the secrets and extra lore that adds flesh to the bones of any game world. Even from the section of the game I've been able to play here, with the branching options, I can see that this will continue the traditions of the series so far.
As it stands, this undoubtedly sounds like more of the same in terms of gameplay, but there are certainly some refinements here. In my earlier preview, I mentioned that you would be given full control over the camera. This freedom of movement for both yourself and the camera is noticeable, and even within a short period of time, it enhanced the game. It adds a layer to the exploration and even more to the lighting effects thanks to your flashlight - more on that later - but I will say there are still some issues.
I don't mind the slow, cautious approach. It makes sense when you're on a haunted ship. However, it should be contextual. I'm not saying you should be running around when looking for some gas to fill up a generator. I am saying that you should be able to walk at a quicker pace when looking around. While we know already that House of Ashes will feature the same sluggish pace found in previous games. I'm hoping that will be the next improvement from Supermassive Games.
Speaking of improvements, let's talk lighting. The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes also brings with it a flashlight button. Yes, I know. Other games have featured this for so long that it seems quaint for me even to mention it. Only, it seems worth talking about here. You've always had a flashlight, but now you have the option to turn it on and off. I can only imagine there's going to be a reason that I've not yet seen as to why. The creatures you're facing against seem to have an issue with bright lights, so it could be a factor as the game develops.
As for the rest of the visuals, it's very much as you should expect now from one of these titles. The faces look good, though some of the eye movements can be a little... off. I'm yet to find a game that has got faces absolutely perfect, but these titles are some of the best out there. The environments are as good as expected, with a great mixture of tight claustrophobic spaces and spacious chambers. It's up there with the rest of the games, and I can't complain about that.
The one thing I will complain about if it turns out like the previous two is the story. The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes is hopefully moving away from the [SPOILERS] "it was deep-sea pirate gas" or "you're remembering your dead family" twist. I say they're twists, but they're not when The English One is so smug about telling you "not everything is as it seems". The setup here can be a good horror story akin to The Descent or As Above, So Below. 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.
Still, I'm just hoping for something not to happen when it may not even happen. My hands-on time with the game has been a positive one, and the steps forward from Supermassive Games have the potential to advance the Dark Pictures games.
The multiple choices and consequences resulting from your actions are clear. Even in this hour, I could have (and later did, in a second playthrough) cause the death of a colleague. It's going to be interesting to see how the inclusion of an Iraqui soldier fits in, too, considering the setting of the Iraq war. As for one last aspect, I haven't tried out the multiple difficulty options that are also a new feature within The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes. The reason is simple - I want to give myself something to test for the review.
I'm looking forward to this, and I don't have long to wait. The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes will be out of the PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One & Xbox Series S/X in a little under two months, the 22nd of October, 2021.