The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review
House of Ashes is the third entry into The Dark Pictures Anthology, a spiritual successor to the sleeper hit PlayStation exclusive title Until Dawn, a title that I enjoyed at the time, being a fan of narrative adventures.
House of Ashes is an action horror title about a group of Marines tasked with finding Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, uncovering an ancient horror buried inside a forgotten ruin. Trapped hundreds of feet under the rubble, these soldiers are now in for the fight of their lives as the horrors trapped with them take them out one by one.
Continuing from where we left off from our House of Ashes preview, there are still two acts to complete plus all the branching plot lines that remain. Will it continue to be the same as the past The Dark Pictures Anthology titles, or will it surprise us with their slightly new direction and better storytelling?
Same but slightly different
As a new recruit for The Dark Pictures Anthology, I’m coming into the game fresh with only Until Dawn to remind me of the pedigree that the developers have produced. At first glance, there’s certainly a lot of features that carry over. It’s definitely still a horror series that has branching decision trees that follow suit from your actions, and who gets to live or die is dependent on the choices that you make.
There are also certain deviations from the formula, and Supermassive has streamlined many of its mechanics, namely the Butterfly Effect now known as “Bearings”. Bearings represent the long-term decisions that you’ve made from the first Act that will have lasting consequences until the finale.
Quicktime events in House of Ashes see a higher level of interactivity that feels awkward at first, but as you get into the story, it actually makes the experience feel more interactive compared to Until Dawn, where some of the movements really feel stilted and could’ve been improved.
In particular, the “stealth mode” where you regulate your heartbeat is a nifty feature especially when you start to increase the difficulty of the game. The rhythm gets tighter the harder the game is, turning it into the pulse-pounding action-horror seen in films like Aliens and The Descent.
With each character in your team being highly trained soldiers and specialists, it’s only natural that they are skilled in their craft and are hardier than your typical teenager from Until Dawn. This level of agency is quite refreshing even though they start off as corny caricatures of every other soldier film trope you’ve probably seen in the past.
War buddies for life
It’s easy to have some favorites among the characters in House of Ashes. Salim and Nick are easy choices as their stories are relatable and they feel like someone you could hang out with. Eric and Rachel don’t exactly pop out compared to Salim and Nick, feeling a bit flat with a dramatic soap opera backstory. Unfortunately for Jason, he really felt like a background character for the most part of the story until the middle of Act Two where he starts to become likable because of his relationship with the other characters.
Many of the non-perspective characters could’ve been fleshed out more or given more to do than their predictable destinies. Characters like Merwin and Joey had more personality at the start of the story than Eric and Jason, and I was more invested and curious about Clarice’s story rather than Rachel. Though they all served their purpose, they could’ve been better utilized.
At first, I expected the story of House of Ashes to play out like any other cheap horror movie and the characters to behave like typical horror movie characters which we’ve seen many times before. Because of the way choices are set up in House of Ashes, you can instill some character traits that weren’t there from the start, like making this guy less insulting or this girl to show more personality. House of Ashes puts a premium on choice, much like the earlier installments in the Anthology.
All your action-horror movies in one title
House of Ashes stopped being a horror after Act One. If that sounds weird for a game that’s meant to be a horror, let me explain.
House of Ashes still has a lot of horror elements, but it stopped trying to be creepy and embraced its action-horror trope and let the characters be the trained soldiers that they’re meant to be. After a while, the jump scares were there just purely for effect, and the game still falls into the overreliance of it for scares similar to Man of Medan and Little Hope.
I also didn’t like how the camera angles were inconsistent when you’re controlling the characters. Sometimes the camera zooms way in or it zooms way out and there’s really no way you can control how the camera moves along with your character. You’ll eventually get used to it, but it is bothersome especially during the first part of the game.
Another great thing is collecting the journals of Randolph Hodgson. While it breaks the overall mood of the game, the journals let your imagination fly with the fate of the previous explorers of this ancient ruin. It has that classic horror tale feel to go with the modern story, and this story-within-a-story adds so much to the lore that it actually made me go through my codex to find out more.
What we liked:
- The characters, while corny at the start, actually grow on you and become likeable.
- The action-horror works for the series than actual horror-horror.
- The lore that you uncover throughout the game is a fun story-within-a-story moment
What we didn’t like:
- Overreliance on jump scares.
- Some camera angles used are all over the place.
- Side characters could’ve used more love.
Verdict: Buy It!
House of Ashes is a welcome entry for The Dark Pictures Anthology as the action-horror pivot really works for this series. With the addition of several mechanics, it draws you into the story with its slightly creepy start and goes all out as it escalates the title all the way to its rip-roaring finale. The combination of likable characters and a semi-serious horror adventure leans into many of its tropes and embraces its campy nature, allowing you to have fun with it.
As a whole, The Dark Pictures Anthology should have just leaned into the B-movie cheese that it brought with House of Ashes. What I enjoyed with Until Dawn was the semi-serious nature that it brought with it, with its several unintentionally funny moments along with the camp horror that we enjoy with many rental horror films we had fun with in the past.
House of Ashes is not perfect, but I had a good time. The concept hits home for me that it is a horror rental movie that you can control. I didn’t mind having some characters die and it really worked well allowing for more replay value going forward to see how the story will unfold if I made a different decision from the last. Give this title a go for Halloween, it’s the perfect season to try it out.
*The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publishers.