House of Ashes Review – The enemy of my enemy is my friend

The third title in The Dark Pictures Anthology series, House of Ashes is a title that brings considerable improvements to the previous games. A gripping storyline, along with some pretty interesting characters makes for the best title in the series so far. Keep reading this review for our take on the new horror game from Supermassive Games.

Story

The game is set in 2003 during the Gulf War in Iraq. Following a conflict between American and Iraqi forces, the game’s protagonists are thrown into an ancient Mesopotamian temple. The horrors of war are nothing compared to what they encounter in the temple, constantly fighting for their lives.

Ready for combat

The game’s story is intriguing, with a different context than other classic horror stories. Although the majority of the game is somewhat action-dominated, the horror moments in the game are few but good. These are emphasized more often than not by the appearance of creatures that hunt the protagonists. The creatures are introduced relatively quickly, and they are very interesting and a feared enemy for players.

Both the game’s interesting backdrop and the dynamics between characters make House of Ashes an intriguing story. Tense moments and player decisions are decisive in the unfolding of the action and give importance to every detail. As such, the story in House of Ashes is on a different level of quality to the other two Dark Pictures titles, and even other games released this year.

Gameplay

For those unfamiliar with the style of these games, the majority of the gameplay is tied to character decisions and a plethora of Quick Time Events. While this seems rudimentary at first glance, the various mechanics in the game are fun, and the decisions made by the characters have apparent ramifications and consequences.

Decisions, decisions …

Although this game can be played by anyone, the Movie Night mode definitely excels in terms of gameplay. Up to 5 players can play the story at the same time, each controlling a character. We’ve done so with all Dark Pictures titles so far, being huge fans of the developer’s studio since Until Dawn. So the fun and dynamics between characters takes on a whole new level when everyone controls a character and has to personally take care that they don’t die or kill another.

That said, the gameplay of the game has nothing more to say. Moments of free movement are few and brief, and most moments are tied to QTE actions. The tension of the game is lost in these “exploration” moments, and the atmosphere suffers little. For someone playing the title alone, it won’t be as much fun as an evening of group play. But even for this mode, the gameplay, or rather its limitations, don’t help the quality of the game tremendously.

Graphics

As House of Ashes is the first title in the series to make the leap to new console generations, the graphics have a lot to gain. Mainly the characters, but especially the locations look particularly good. The lighting and details of the underground temple are impeccably outlined and help the sense of dread the player gets during the game.

From frying pan into the fire

Although the characters look pretty good too, there are still big problems with facial expressions. Of course, these are a direct improvement from Man of Medan, where everyone was smiling without eyes and screaming without mouths, but it’s still not “right”. I also encountered a few graphical issues that weren’t very distracting, but still cut into the immersion somewhat. Weapons hanging in the air, flickering and textures loading slowly, these weren’t very much and not the most annoying either. Still, they should be mentioned.

The framerate was however contant at 60 frames per second on the PS5, so I had no problems there. Overall, the games in this series are steadily improving graphics and quality, which is to be commended.

Sound

Although prominent actors are called upon to lend their voices and faces to each play, sound remains the weak link in the series. Mainly it’s the cheesy and poorly written dialogue. Unfortunately, however, the Supermassive folks didn’t quite make it past this point, with character lines being clichéd and unnecessary many times.

Believe it yourself

While the character dynamics are interesting, as mentioned in the story section, some characters behave one-dimensionally. They maintain their attitude from start to finish, even with player interventions. One relationship between two characters that we found unnecessary is that between Rachel and Eric King. We won’t elaborate on why, as we don’t want to give spoilers, but their interactions are often pointless.

Dialogue and voice actors aside, the sound is good. The soundtrack is appropriate for the story, and the sound effects have no obvious problems.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of the games is one of the most important parts of the series. This combined with the playable group gameplay makes for a very fun experience for everyone. House of Ashes doesn’t disappoint in this chapter having a very good atmosphere full of tense moments. The original premise of the game along with the design of the monsters and the interactions between the monsters and the players provides a great horror atmosphere.

Remains of a lost civilisation

But even so, House of Ashes took a different direction from previous games in the series, leaning more towards action. Somewhat like Alan Wake Remastered, which came out this year, the game loses its horror as it nears the end. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it helps the narrative. But the tense moments that games are popular for do lose some of their charm. Of course, there isn’t necessarily a need for cheap jumpscares to scare the player, but the pressure of dramatic moments leaves something to be desired in some cases.

However, the atmosphere in House of Ashes is excellent and the best so far in the Dark Pictures Anthology series.

Conclusion

The Dark Pictures Anthology pleasantly surprises yet again with its third title. House of Ashes is a very good game, with an original and interesting story, and a perfect atmosphere for a group game night. The rudimentary gameplay and still weak character dialogue doesn’t bring the game up to a very high rank, but the apparent improvements to it are welcome. If Supermassive can get past the poorly written dialogue problem, the next game in the series can become a truly scintillating game. Nonetheless, The Dark Pictures Anthology series remains one of the most exciting of our time, and we can’t wait for the next game to come out to pull another all-nighter of horror.

Our criteria at Games Row for rating games are as objective as can be. Of course, reviews are influenced (also) by personal experiences. So our ratings may not meet everyone’s expectations.

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