I love a good scary game and Supermassive Games has been delivering some great interactive narratives ever since Until Dawn back in 2015. Borrowing heavily on the design elements of that fantastic horror adventure, The Dark Pictures Anthology was born just four years later with a new series of cinematic games kicking off with Man of Medan followed by Little Hope a year later and now House of Ashes this October. All of these games, including Until Dawn, follow the same basic structure dealing with a group of people put into dangerous and terrifying situations and you must try to keep as many of them alive as possible as you swap out playing various members of the cast. The entire thing is “hosted” by the Curator who introduces the story and occasionally reappears to check in and comment on your progress and even offer a hint if needed.
Of the three games released so far Man of Medan remains my favorite to play because of the diverse cast and branching storylines, but when it comes to actual story House of Ashes definitely wins for best narrative. Set in 2003 we join a group of soldiers in the Gulf War searching for chemical weapons following the capture of Saddam Hussein, but not before a brief and terrifying prologue set 4,000 years prior where we play as a Sumerian temple guard defending against an invading army. How these two events tie together will quickly be revealed.
I won’t even begin to spoil the adventure ahead because it is full of twists and shocking reveals that genuinely surprised even me. You’ll get to play as most every member of the cast, experiencing all the relationship drama and claustrophobic terror of being trapped hundreds of feet below the surface while being stalked by bloodthirsty monsters that feed on actual fear. Prepare for plenty of split-second decisions, QTE’s, and that infamous button-tapping EKG. With multiple plot paths all leading to an insane climax, how many soldiers can you keep alive?
As expected, House of Ashes maintains that same level of cinematic quality with exciting locations, and a diverse cast of characters all expertly portrayed by actors lending their voices and motion-capture performances to create a truly interactive movie. My only issue with the game was the character model for Rachel King (Ashly Tisdale) that goes well into “uncanny valley” territory. Her voice performance was fine, but knowing what Ashly looks like in real-life and seeing this creepy recreation in the game was really distracting; not that having her drenched in Carrie post-prom blood for the final act of the game wasn’t already distracting.
The audio mix for this game is truly terrifying; especially if playing in a surround sound setup or with good headphones. The screeches and echo location clicking of the monsters had my nerves frazzle throughout most of the game. The voice acting is outstanding, the music is thrilling, and the entire sound design is worthy of a feature film.
You’ll definitely want to play House of Ashes with a controller, as there are plenty of button-mashing QTE’s that simply don’t work as well with a mouse. My only issues with controls were the rapid-tap sequences where you have to mash a button to fill up the circle. This was very difficult to do using my thumb, forcing me to alter my grip on the gamepad and use my index finger. Another minor annoyance was how the game lulls you into just watching it then suddenly springs a QTE on you with no warning. The game also has the uncanny ability to know when I am taking a drink or scratching my nose and spring a QTE on me. Thankfully you can fail a few of these before permanently altering the story.
As with previous games in the anthology House of Ashes can be played alone or with friends both online or in a local party mode for up to five players who all share a controller and play chosen members of the cast. The online mode is particularly cool because players can be seeing and experiencing their own events simultaneously before coming together in those shared moments of terror. There are numerous paths to explore and a very clever cinematic credit sequence that recaps your choices and reveals their outcomes at the end. You’ll definitely want to play this adventure more than once, and there is even a Director’s Cut available to experience even more of the story.
I really enjoyed House of Ashes. It had some truly terrifying moments, great story reveals, interesting relationship building, and a cinematic quality that you don’t often get in horror adventure games. A single pass through the story took me just over six hours and only earned me seven of the thirty possible achievements, so there is plenty of incentive to revisit this game in the future and definitely share it with friends. House of Ashes is definitely an improvement on Little Hope and hopefully a sign of great things to come when the anthology wraps up next year with The Devil In Me. Until then, I’ve got a lot more adventuring to do.
If you want to see House of Ashes in action, check out our gameplay video for the first two hours of the game with commentary.