House of Ashes is a new interactive horror-survival video game. It’s the third entry of the Dark Pictures Anthology series, and the plan is to deliver eight titles.
The Dark Pictures Anthology includes Little Hope (2015) and Man of Medan (2019) games. The trio is available on the series’ web page, and you can buy the trilogy as a bundle.
The anthology selection departs from 2015’s Until Dawn interactive drama horror video game. The three titles follow a similar formula and share a common thread.
These live in original horror settings, where players make decisions and see how the consequences play out. Other elements include co-op multiplayer, where you and your friends control different characters.
So, much like its predecessor, House of Ashes plays an interactive drama in a horror setting. In essence, the franchise games are intended to work as interactive horror movies. Is the movie good then? Let us see.
House of Ashes’ developer is Supermassive Games. Supermassive Games also created Until Dawn, but you might know them for LittleBigPlanet and Little Big Planet 2.
The publisher is Bandai Namco, the Japanese game distributor. They need no introduction, but we recently saw it publishing Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes debuted on October 22.
The game is available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. PC players can get it on Steam.
Co-op & Cross-play
House of Ashes allows a 5-player local or online co-op on either platform. However, your friends would have to play on the same console as you, as the game doesn’t allow cross-play or cross-gen play.
Either way, the multiplayer feature allows you to play the entire campaign in two game modes:
- Movie Night Mode: You can play with up to 4 friends, either online or locally. The mode allows a single controller, which means you’d need to pass the control or the decisions between one another.
- Shared Story: It’s a 2-player online co-op allowing you to play the entire story with someone else. Both your choices and your friend’s decisions will affect the overall story.
As you see, there’s no split-screen option.
Are Dark Pictures Anthology Games Interconnected?
The series offers standalone original experiences, so you can play either without losing lore details. The one thing connecting the games together is “The Curator,” the narrator for all of the stories in the series.
What is House of Ashes?
The Dark Pictures Anthology series offers intense, standalone cinematic experiences. You play with a single character through a horror story and take branching decisions leading to multiple endings.
House of Ashes shares a story on Iraq. At the end of the Iraq War, you play as five military specialists hunting for Saddam Hussein. You control one at a time, though.
As the team searches on caves and underground locations, they uncover ungodly creatures. Rising from a buried Sumerian temple, ancient monsters begin to hunt them.
The only way forward, though, is going deeper and deeper through the ruins. You’ll find unlikely allies below, though, a secret society ready to fight against their centuries-old enemies.
The game switches perspectives between the characters as the story goes on. Either “hero” can live or die, depending on your choices.
That said, the storyline is branching, so you can experience a completely different game on replay. There’s plenty to see, as most everything you do has a consequence.
Surviving is up to you. As the “movie” goes on, the game presents you with choices akin to “Quick-time Events.” So, you have a limited window to choose between a couple of options and then see how the movie goes according to your selection.
For example, you decide which routes to take, like going right or left, going under or around, going back or forward.
The game also presents standard Quick-time Events, like pressing a button to hold your breath or another button to shoot at an enemy.
Other common choices revolve around dialogue. The game often prompts a dialogue wheel to encourage, discourage, or remain neutral to your friends.
Here’s the short gameplay:
Does It Have Multiple Endings?
House of Ashes has two main endings, a secret ending plus various mid-credit scenes.
Let’s talk about previous Anthology games, so you get a clue.
Man of Medan has six different endings. The game revolved around 5 characters trying to find treasure in a stranded ship. The ending depends on which characters die and which ones survive.
Little Hope has three endings. The game focuses on four college students, plus their teacher, going to Little Hope, an isolated, lonely city. There, they find a sinister fog trapped all of the locals into their own nightmares. Even worse, they find out they have a relationship with the mist.
As before, the ending depends on your choices, which leads to characters either dying or surviving.
There’s an ending where everyone survives, the Daylight Ending. You have to successfully complete all QTEs to keep everyone alive. Also, you wouldn’t want to shoot or abandon anyone. Lastly, you may want to defeat the demon Balathy in the underground temple.
Is House of Ashes Any Good?
We know the basics of the game, so it’s time to check the quality.
Let’s start by…
The Quality of Dark Pictures Anthology Stories
The general reception of these games is just okay. Genre fans, those who like interactive movies, do enjoy it.
Commonly, I find the word “decent” to describe the series. These are solid entries for a genre that, sadly, doesn’t offer much of anything outside of the interactive Walking Dead series.
Moreover, the “decent” description is not because of the story. Generally, players and reviewers consider these games have good stories, even “wicked.” Points go down on other departments.
The horror setting is not really horror. Instead, I would qualify the series as more of a “Twilight Zone” offspring. They offer weird, twisted deception webs that focus more on the human mind and less on exterior threats. There’re still some horror and spooky spots along the way, though.
Remember Alan Wake? These games feel a bit like that, which is something many people would appreciate. Like Alan Wake, Dark Pictures titles have dark themes, careful suspense-building, and likable characters.
So, take the series for what it is: moderately successful “Twilight-zone” interactive games with cool stories.
Here’s a Little Hope trailer, in case you’re unfamiliar:
There’s a big “however,” and here we go. The previous games intended to outsmart the player. By the end, everything that happened was because of dreams, hallucinations, and emotional projections.
Many players found these endings underwhelming and lacking significant evidence. Plus, ending a story with “but it was all a dream” tends to mute the whole experience. Alan…wake up?
Lucky for us, it seems Supermassive Games listened to the fans and changed things a bit. As they already showed monsters in the trailer, we want to believe these monsters are, indeed, real.
Dark Pictures games received mixed reviews, mostly because of inconsistent performance. Both Little Hope and Man of Medan had glitches, frame drops, and connectivity issues that broke the game for some players.
That said, the solo play was more consistent on Little Hope. On the other hand, Man of Medan offered campy fun in co-op, which most players preferred.
House of Ashes doesn’t improve much in the performance department. You may suffer frame drops, glitches, and crashes depending on your console or PC configuration. Other common affixes are black screens, lag, stuttering, and screen tearing.
PC players should update drives, disable the antivirus, and check the game’s integrity to tackle the issues.
Dark Pictures games have beautiful, realistic graphics. The trick is how they use motion-capture for all characters, so character animation generally looks smooth and human-like.
In general, these games look like low to moderate-budget Hollywood movies. That’s a high achievement for a small studio, so we can only praise the developers for their work.
House of Ashes is the first game in the series to reach the PS, so it’s better-looking. In particular, the studio used motion-capture for facial animation, so character models look quite realistic.
On top of that, it has great textures, details, set design, depth of field, lighting, and shadows. However, sometimes the character’s eyes look odd, like staring in different directions.
I’m not sure of the voice-acting quality, though. Aside from some stand-outs, like some villains, the main characters often sound silly and ungrounded. The lack of urgency, fear, or threat in their voices can often take you out of the experience.
The voice-acting doesn’t sound better on House of Ashes. In particular, The Curator sounds more like a game host, and less like the menacing storyteller he should be.
Here’s a character trailer for House of Ashes. Make your own conclusion:
Lastly, we can evaluate the quality of the music, sound design, and sound FX of previous games. We can say everything is by-the-books, as the sound is the literal definition of a horror story.
Neither game has intense, melodic music. Instead, it’s about ambient sounds, haunting chills, sudden sound effects, tension rises, and similar. The few original OST we hear, like intro themes or licensed songs, are great.
The third one follows a similar trend. There’s nothing spectacular in the OST department: it’s just okay.
The available characters are:
- Jason Kolchek (US Marine)
- Nick Kay (US Marine)
- Rachel King (CIA agent)
- Eric King (CIA agent) – husband and wife.
- Salim Othman (Iraq military official)
During your first playtime hours, characters don’t have much time to talk or develop relationships with each other. However, as you explore the underworld, you’ll also explore the depth each character has to offer, as well as their relevant relationships.
House of Ashes: Does it Improve Over Previous Games?
House of Ashes takes us back to Iraq, 2003, at the end of the Iraq War. A simple reconnaissance mission for chemical weapons and Iraqi leaders becomes a dangerous exploration of ancient ruins and inhuman threats.
Unlike previous games, the newer anthology title is not a Twilight Zone story. Instead, it takes inspiration from movies like The Descent, Predator, or Aliens. That means the monsters are very real and really dangerous.
You play as a group of human soldiers, trying to survive against an otherworldly threat. However, as time goes on, each character’s best and worst qualities emerge as survival and victory become the main goal.
The story balances tension, sacrifice, heroism, and selfishness. Like before, the game handles these dark themes with care, without delivering moral good or bad choices.
For example, we can either abandon or help an injured character trying to flee from the monsters. Your companion is injured, useless; leaving him behind might help give you the advantage. What would you do?
The game doesn’t have a cinematographic look, though. Instead, the whole story happens with an over-the-shoulder view, plus the cinematic cuts. However, you can now control the camera with freedom. You also have a lantern, matches, or similar to check the environment for paths and clues.
Don’t mistake the camera for a Resident Evil game, though. Action is limited to Quick-Time Events (QTE) only.
Supermassive Games is adding three difficulty modes to tweak QTE experiences. So, the hardest difficulty offers mere seconds to react in danger. The easiest one notifies you before a QTE, plus adding more time to respond.
Other than that, the game feels similar to previous Dark Picture games. Similar, but still featuring a wider scope.
First, it has the biggest scope in the series. The Naram-Sin underground temple is huge, dark, and twisted. Then, because the story includes demons, Pazuzu and Balathu. Beneath the Sumerian temple, the soldiers awakened something deadly.
The Curator returns with a bigger role this time. He’s the story’s narrator, and he will be present during your whole story arc.
He begins the story around 2250 BC, in ancient Mesopotamia. A disease haunts civilization, and the King believes human sacrifice can obtain the Gods’ forgiveness.
Within a holy Sumerian temple, the rulers sacrifice people to the Gods. Meanwhile, armies of other ancient civilizations are beating their doors to save their people from slaughter.
Then, in Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein was hiding from the CIA. Colonel Eric King created satellite software that’s able to find human sources underground. Once he’s certain of the jackpot, he launches a fatal mission near the Zagros mountains, where he discovers the signal wasn’t from Saddam, but something else…something evil.
The Curator has a candelabra, with five candles lit at the beginning of the story. Each one represents the life of your characters, and it helps keep track of your consequences and QTEs.
Even so, you’ll see how failure is sometimes the best option. Likewise, you may not know how to solve the many moral dilemmas the game presents.
House of Ashes is an outstanding addition to the series. It looks stunning, features an impressive story arc, and introduces new gameplay mechanics to the series. Then, the journey is full of horror, darkness, blood, and tough choices. Genre and series fans will love it.
I’ve found the game as a frantic, entertaining, and moderately scary interactive drama game. It has plenty of replayability value and likable characters, enough to play it a couple of times.
More importantly, Supermassive Games listened to the fans and took the feedback. They added stuff gamers asked for, like difficulty levels for QTEs, 360-degrees camera movement, personal light sources, next-gen graphics, and more Curator involvement.
We believe Dark Pictures Anthology is an evolving series. Those looking for something different or trying an interactive movie should give this game a try.
This is not an action title, though. If you don’t like or wouldn’t like the genre, skip it. Also, be mindful of the performance: I don’t recommend it for old-gen consoles or older PCs.