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The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review (PS5)

House of Ashes Review: Burning Down The House

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review PS5

 

 

Leaving behind the haunted New England town of Little Hope, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes—the third installment in Supermassive Games’ collection of bite-sized tales of terror—transports players beneath the dunes of War-torn Iraq to experience a new nightmare. Featuring a fascinating setting to explore and a compelling cast of characters who must set aside their differences to confront a common threat, this latest offering from the team behind Until Dawn delivers an exhilerating blend of chills and thrills, just in time for Halloween.

 

6 Underground

 

House of Ashes Review

 

House of Ashes‘ story takes place in 2003 following the US invasion of Iraq. After an experimental military satellite detects what appears to be a cache of chemical weapons beneath a village in the Zagros Mountains, a team of marines, along with a US Air Force colonel and CIA field officer, head out to seize the WMDs before they can fall into enemy hands. Unfortunately for them, the raid goes south after a group of Republican Guard hardliners ambushes the US forces, causing their helicopters to crash into the rugged desert and opening a massive chasm in the earth. As the two warring groups tumble into the depths, they find themselves in the ruins of an ancient Sumerian temple.

You’d think being stranded hundreds of feet underground would be bad enough. However, being cut off from civilization is the least of the soldiers’ worries. They aren’t exactly alone. Something is lurking in this long-forgotten temple. Something hungry.

It’s a cool premise, for sure. House of Ashes‘ ancient setting is a pretty significant departure from the ghost ship featured in Man of Medan and Little Hope‘s spooky New England town. With its catacombs lined with massive columns and crumbling ceremonial chambers adorned with ominous sculptures, Supermassive’s vision of a temple lost to time would look right at home in Lara Croft’s next outing. It’s an exciting new setting rich in history that should serve as a welcome change of pace for fans of the anthology.

 

Ashes In Your Mouth

 

House of Ashes Review Dialogue

 

If you’ve played any of the previous Dark Pictures games before, you’ll know what to expect here. House of Ashes puts you in control of five survivors who must work together to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds if they hope to survive their current predicament. As the story bounces from character to character, you’ll occasionally be able to explore the environment to collect clues such as notes and relics to help flesh out the story. Or, on occasion, you’ll find tablets that offer a brief premonition of how a future situation could potentially play out.

However, these moments of exploration take a backseat to the game’s two main components: its dialogue and action sequences. House of Ashes features an interesting mix of personalities, many of whom share complicated relationships that you’ll need to work through if you hope to keep them all alive.

For example, Salim is a Republican Guard soldier torn between serving his country or siding with the Americans to stand a fighting chance. Unfortunately, his presence isn’t exactly welcomed by Jason, a Force Recon lieutenant with a harsh view of the Iraqis, who he blames for the events of September 11, 2001. There’s also a complicated love triangle between CIA agent Rachel King (portrayed by Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical and Scary Movie 5 fame) and two members of the unit, which creates plenty of uncomfortable moments when they’re all on-screen. Some even wrestle with the weight of spilling innocent blood in the war.

The dialogue options you choose and the relationships you build can significantly impact the direction the story takes. Not only does this make for some difficult decisions, but it also gives House of Ashes tons of replay value.

 

Fight Or Flight

 

 

When not chewing the fat with your (sometimes uneasy) allies, you’re going to spend a lot of time fighting off the things that go bump in the night. House of Ashes is by far the most action-packed entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology to date. Which makes sense, considering this is a game about heavily-armed soldiers fighting for their lives against otherworldly monsters that dwell beneath the surface of an active warzone.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I’d take to this change in direction. After all, I tend to like my horror slow and methodical, with plenty of room for building tension. That’s why I enjoyed Until Dawn and Little Hope so much. Both titles did an exceptional job of steeping the player in dread while slowly ratcheting up the scares. But the further I delved into the ancient tombs and decrepit shrines, the more I appreciated this fresh take on terror. While Man of Medan and Little Hope featured more supernatural scares, House of Ashes takes its cues from such cinematic classics as Predator and Aliens. It’s all about elite military forces facing off against apex hunters on their home turf. As a result, it’s a decidedly more trigger-happy affair, with rough-and-tumble types unloading big guns into towering terrors and more than enough screen-filling explosions to make Michael Bay hot under the collar.

Of course, you won’t be doing most of this stuff directly. Like Supermassive’s other offerings, these scenes play out as QTEs. So you’ll need to mash whatever button appears on the screen to escape the clutches of a clawed creature or plunge your knife into their fleshy faces. These inputs only last for a second, so timing them correctly can be tricky. Still, you’ll almost always get a couple of shots at redemption when you fail to nail an input.

As a result, I only managed to lose two characters between my two review playthroughs of the game—once solo, and another separate run through the game’s Shared Story multiplayer mode with my wife to experience the extra content introduced in the Curator’s Cut, which becomes available after you complete the main game. Supermassive claims there are more than 60 grisly deaths to discover. However, at least from my experience, it feels like you’d need to make a conscious effort to see most of them, considering just how forgiving the game can be.

 

Monster Madness

 

 

Speaking of multiplayer, just like Man of Medan and Little Hope, House of Ashes features two-player online or local play. In this mode, each player chooses from a handful of characters to control throughout the story. It’s a fun mode, for sure, and it’s always interesting seeing how your partner’s choices and performance contrast with your own. However, what’s much more exciting is the game’s Movie Night mode. This mode lets up to five players join in on the action. Which, as you can imagine, makes each scenario so much more unpredictable.

What’s nice is that the game allows you to choose a different difficulty setting for each player. So even if you happen to rope one of your non-gamer friends who just so happens to love horror, no worries. Just dial down the difficulty, and they should still be able to have a good time without worrying too much about failing miserably. Yay, accessibility!

While every mode was enjoyable, I think Movie Night mode is easily the way to go. If nothing else, it’ll help you suss out which one of your friends is most likely to throw you to the wolves to save their skin in real life!

 

Desert Woes

 

 

Without a doubt, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with House of Ashes. Still, there are a few areas where I feel Supermassive’s latest fright-fest misses the mark. For a game that puts such a focus on choice and keeping your gang of grunts alive, losing a character doesn’t isn’t always as impactful as you’d expect it to be. For example, Eric comes equipped with a UV light that is devastating to the monsters you’ll face, and this tool proves to be integral to a particular late-game scene. So I was a bit surprised when, in my second playthrough, where my wife happened to get him impaled on a stalagmite early on, those occasions where he saved the day in my previous playthrough never seemed to arise. I thought for sure I’d be at a significant disadvantage without him in the fight. Instead, it was as if those potential sticky situations just died with him.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I somehow managed to make the perfect storm of choices to prevent those events from happening. After all, the butterfly effect is pretty much a trademark of the franchise at this point. But I really don’t think my choices in my second playthrough were so different as to make that big of an impact in those particular scenes.

Additionally, there are two potential main antagonists you’ll have to contend with in House of Ashes. At first, I found this idea quite intriguing. But, unfortunately, this idea is handled in a completely unsatisfying way. The only thing that changes is the character model for each scene, with all of the encounters and animations playing out exactly the same regardless of the character you’re facing. Needless to say, this seems like a real missed opportunity.

These examples are certainly a little disappointing. Still, they’re easy enough to overlook when you consider just how many outcomes there are for every different scenario.

 

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Is Another Fantastic Fright-Fest From Supermassive Games

 

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is yet another excellent offering from the masters of horror at Supermassive Games. While not every facet of its choose-your-own-adventure style narrative works, its compelling cast of characters and immense replayability will keep you coming back for more. I’ve played through the game twice in the past week, and I’m already dying to return to the underground with four friends to experience Movie Night mode. If that’s not a testament to the game’s lasting power, then I don’t know what is.

 


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment America; Developer: Supermassive Games; Players: 1-5; Released: October 22, 2021; MSRP: $29.99

Editor’s note: A Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes review copy was provided by the publisher. 

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Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Chorus (XSX), Battlefield 2042 (XSX), Xeno Crisis (Neo Geo)

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