I’m not going to lie. While I loved Man of Medan and Little Hope, their endings left a TON to be desired. I especially hated the bait and switch those games pulled in regards to what really went down. When I saw the trailer for House of Ashes after beating Little Hope, I honestly had very little expectations of it.
After being screwed over twice, can you really blame me?
Well…that was months ago. Now, House of Ashes is finally here.
Does it redeem the Dark Pictures Anthology or is it yet another disappointment in disguise?
What is House of Ashes?
House of Ashes is the third (and latest) in the Dark Pictures Anthology series.
It’s a third person adventure game series where the choices (and actions) you make dictates who lives and who dies. Developed by Supermassive Games and published by Bandai Namco, the series is available on PC, the Playstation and Xbox consoles.
You can play it solo, or local or online multiplayer. Local multiplayer has you passing the controller around, while online multiplayer is 2 player co-op.
Our copy of the game was kindly provided by Bandai Namco Asia! Thanks a ton guys!
As each entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology is standalone, House of Ashes doesn’t require players to have any knowledge of Man of Medan or Little Hope…which is great for players who don’t want to play the previous games.
For stalwarts of the series, it’s a bit disheartening that following the games doesn’t get you anything extra. I’d have hoped that after Little Hope, Supermassive Games had something special in store for returning fans.
Nope, lesson still not learned. Sadly.
House of Ashes takes place in the early 2000s, during the second Gulf War.
America’s just reinvaded Iraq again, in the guise of looking for Saddam’s chemical weapons. In the game, the US Military thinks it has found one of those storage sites. To see whether they’re right, they’ve sent in a small team of US Marines to confirm it.
What they find instead isn’t a chemical storage depot, but an ancient temple filled with forgotten dangers.
Like all the other games in the series, House of Ashes is mainly an interactive movie.
It’s peppered with Quick Time Events (where you need to quickly input button commands or mash buttons) and split second decision making choices, but for the most part you’re expected to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Successfully completing the QTEs or choosing the right dialogue choice dictates how the game plays out.
While House of Ashes isn’t that long, replaying it over and over to see how all the alternate branches change the story is all part of the fun.
In that sense, the game truly works.
I’m a sci fi-horror fan and I’d pay good money for a movie adaptation of House of Ashes. There’s no better compliment than that.
It has all the elements of a good horror flick; an ancient civilization, creepy ruins, a team stranded and a hidden killer, with a cool (not lame this time) twist at the end.
The sets are breathtaking (and claustrophobic) and evokes a feel of Alien mixed with The Cave and The Descent, a dollop of The Exorcist (or at the very least, familiarity with Pazuzu) with a dash of The Last Crusade and a major dose of The Pyramid.
In fact, there are numerous similarities to The Pyramid.
Both take place in the ruins of an ancient civilization’s temple/tomb in the desert, both deal with a trapped team and both have an unseen, unknown menace stalking (and killing) said team.
It’s cool though because similarities aside, House of Ashes is distinct enough that it stands on its own. That’s in part due to the great cinematography. The game features a combination of third person camera and static camera angles and it’s the second part that really impresses.
It’s a shame that the game depends so much on jump scares (which I absolutely hated) to create tension.
I’ve always found that jump scares were lazy and cheap. Like I said, the locations this time around are incredibly cool, yet very forbidding and feels eerily malevolent. The game’s creepy enough due to that and Supermassive Games should’ve leaned on that instead of adopting jump scares as a tactic to scare the audience.
Some of the locales in the game are incredibly cool, particularly the big open areas of the temple.
The static camera angles for some areas only add to the awesomeness as they really show off the sets. One of my favourite set pieces in the game?
Seeing the large decaying temple statues being lit by the light of a flare as the characters repel down. It reminds me a ton of Alien and The Descent.
House of Ashes feels more like a big budget movie more than Man of Medan or Little Hope ever did.
Unfortunately, there are issues that detract from that experience.
Unlike past games in the series, House of Ashes has a native PS5 version.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it’s not really optimized.
There’s texture and object pop-in (which is insane considering the PS5 uses an SSD) and the stuttering if you use the Quality preset is horrible. It also seems to run around 30FPS (and under).
Thankfully, the Performance setting is much smoother and more enjoyable. It’s definitely not 60FPS all the time, but the frame rate is more stable than the Quality setting.
The game just feels clunkier than Man of Medan and Little Hope for some reason though.
There are a couple of bugs (such as floating objects and clipping) that really should’ve been ironed out. Sometimes it’s hard to get an interactable prompt to pop up on-screen unless you stand in a really specific position. Character movement also feels really sluggish, like you’re wading hip deep in mud.
To be fair, that’s also an issue with Man of Medan and Little Hope.
There are also issues that break with the game’s immersion.
Character animations can be stilted and facial animations (particularly the lips) can be completely off. Lip movements can be contrary to the dialogue and even when they aren’t, the lip animation is still wooden at best.
The flashlight mechanic also could use some work.
It rarely points where you want it to and doesn’t really illuminate the surroundings well. It’s a shame, because like I mentioned the environments are some of the best parts of the game. Not being able to admire them is a damn shame.
Also an issue? The camera in tight spaces…which is pretty much 75% of the game. It’s way too close to the character in closed quarters, which means that half the screen can be taken up by the character model.
Lastly, the voice acting can be a bit tepid.
They’re not super bad, but there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement. Some of the dialogue’s (particularly between Eric and Rachel) really cringey and totally out of place for the game. Thankfully, the other actors (particularly the ones doing Salim and Jason) are decent enough so that it evens out.
With so many issues, you’d think that I’d hate the game right?
It’s the exact opposite.
The bland (and rather basic) character animations aren’t much of an issue for the majority of the game because you’ll be in darkened settings. The story’s also pretty decent and I love it more than any of the other Dark Pictures entry.
This time around, it’s not a cop out.
It’s not a hallucination, nor a mental issue or any other cheap, underhanded tricks Supermassive Games pulled for the plots of the two previous games.
It’s about time the series started to treat its fans with what it’s been promising instead of wussing out at the end with a lame as hell twist. In fact, the last act of the game is bat shit insane (and awesome) at the same time. It really reminded me of the Derelict from Alien, right down to the biomechanic look that’s definitely inspired by H.R. Giger. Thematically, it was awesome and I totally loved it!
The Bottom Line.
House of Ashes is a great addition to the Dark Pictures Anthology. In fact, I feel it’s the first game that actually lives up to the spooky premise that the Dark Pictures Anthology claims to have (but lied).
Yes, there are issues that make the game seem like an indie project, but the great location, good story and decent twists were enough for me to overlook the problems that plague the game.
Ultimately, they weren’t massive enough to stop me from liking House of Ashes more than any other game in the Dark Picture Anthology. Hopefully the next one will be just as good, if not better!
Great story and environment but some technical issues. Still the best game in the Dark Pictures Anthology though.
- The plot.
- The environments.
- The suspense.
- Some bugs.
- Quality mode is crap.
- Jump scares are lame.
- Lip sync issues.