Title: The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: October 22, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Adventure Horror
To some, narrative adventure games were just a fad left to pull in as many licenses as possible for a quick turnaround without much innovation. However, developer Supermassive Games proves that there’s still plenty of room to grow in this genre, with terrifying new stories to tell and new ways to tell them. The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes gives players the third entry in this series and probably the best of the bunch. It acts as an accumulation of feedback from the previous entries that isn’t afraid to try new things.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes doesn’t waste any time setting itself apart as we find ourselves in 2003 Iraq when the American military searched for weapons of mass destruction. Lieutenant Eric King has been assigned to a group of Marines who happen to be led by his wife Rachel King, and they aren’t really on good terms right now. There’s so much room in this general setup for the four controllable characters that you are free to mold their personality the way you see fit.
With the lover’s quarrel aside, you have a hot-headed American soldier named Jason who is hell-bent on following the rules and fighting for American freedom, an emotional soldier named Nick who acts as a blank slate at times but is interwoven in the drama from all sides which makes him a necessary character, and an Iraqi soldier name Salim who doesn’t want any part of this war.
The cast is incredibly written with open-ended objectives and possibilities that beg you to replay the game. The mistakes you make on your first time through may not even be mistakes at all, but I found something to like about each of these characters across all three of my playthroughs. I did my best to shake up the cast, and they reacted brilliantly to my responses. The agency players have over these characters during dialogue is commendable given that a choice made early on carries weight across the entire story.
The horror of this game emerges after a mission goes to hell, and both the American and Iraqi soldiers fall into an underground cavern that awakens an ancient curse. The lore surrounding these demons runs deep as scattered around are findings from archaeologists who found themselves trapped. There’s a significant layer of detail that has been provided to players, but that would require reading all of the text prompts from the points of interest. Luckily, the characters sum it up in a few sentences, but I found that reading all text helped with immersion.
Exploration is half the fun of this adventure as the set pieces become more significant throughout the narrative. The caves provide a sense of confusion as if you are walking around in circles and are genuinely lost, which I appreciated. The further into hell you go, the more perceptive you become, and then they change the scenery, so you’re lost once again.
The threat of the demons forces you to be on high alert, but the caves and enemy soldiers will also hinder progression. As expected, events require fast button presses, and the developer provides various difficulty levels for players to get what they want out of this feature. I love it but hate the sadness in my heart when I make the wrong choice. Luckily, you’re allowed to make mistakes without life-threatening consequences, but don’t expect too many chances. The developers also give you the option to simply not do anything which can have negative and positive results.
Character animations look great for the most part. It’s easy to see how much this team has improved at selling these characters’ emotions. Some movements can appear a bit stiff, but facial features are always spot on. I think the actors who took on this role did a fantastic job through reactions and voice work.
For the most part, the lighting is excellent, but it changes between scenes haphazardly at times during dialogue or when interacting with an object. There are also some consistency breaks between sections as the story guides you from one area to the next, so it’s hard to keep track of where you are.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes also introduces a new camera system where players can control the camera as they navigate the stages. This has been the first time in the series; the developers did a great job of its implementation, which allows them to hide items or create more immersive environments. Further, the Curator’s Cut is back and is an absolute must-play with a friend. The multiplayer features are incredible already, but having you and a friend play as two different characters simultaneously while uniquely affecting the story goes unmatched. If you play this game, play once alone and then again in Curator Mode, you won’t regret it.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is a fantastic feat in the adventure narrative genre. There’s a focus on character drama to make the cast more dynamic and a group of flesh-eating demons to keep your heart racing. Choices have a considerable impact, but there’s room to play again and again, with accessible options to fine-tune the experience and a new camera system to enhance exploration. Alone or with friends, no matter how you play, a nightmare awaits.
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