I have been a fan of horror games for as long as I have been gaming. The Silent Hill series captivated my imagination, and Resident Evil made zombies fun again. Yet, even though those series stand as some of the best in the genre, I also loved what Supermassive Games did with Until Dawn. It was the right level of camp and B-movie tropes to suck me in. I played the game many times over to find every potential secret and ending. Even with that, their follow-up series, the Dark Pictures Anthology somehow did not hit the same way, at least until I saw the new instalment House of Ashes.
While I only had the pleasure of watching a presentation about House of Ashes, already it feels like a much more fleshed out, complete experience. The first instalment, Man of Medan, gave me real hope, it was a creepy journey on a haunted boat, and with Little Hope I was cautiously optimistic due to the haunting and Witch trials. Yet even with good concepts and great casts, they always felt flat, either from overly complex segments, odd design glitches or stories that did not hit the mark, I never got as invested in them as I did with Until Dawn.
So, when I saw what House of Ashes brings to the table, I was pleasantly surprised. First point in its favour is that it has a setting and concept that works and seems exciting. This branch of the series focuses on a military unit that find themselves trapped looking for chemical weapons in a war zone, only to find an ancient evil lurking under the ruins of a temple. It invokes feelings of Aliens and mixed with Lovecraft in the best possible way.
“House of Ashes also gives strong The Decent vibes, one of my favourite modern horror films, so it has that boost in my books at least going right in.”
Even though little was shown on how the creatures will look, the way they are described and the mystery surrounding them give the constant sense of danger and an unstopping force waiting to strike. It moves away from the horror of ghosts and jump scares, to something different but could be a needed change for the series. House of Ashes also gives strong The Decent vibes, one of my favourite modern horror films, so it has that boost in my books at least going right in.
Technically, the team at Supermassive Games seems to be pushing what the tech can do and giving a more polished overall experience. While I did enjoy the fixed camera angles in Resident Evil and Silent Hill and find them a great tool to control the players experience, it can be limiting. Finally, The Dark Pictures Anthology will have a fully player-controlled camera and based on the setting this time around, it will be a welcome addition.
The ruins—and the caves underneath—look stunning. They give the sense of claustrophobic dread while looking wondrous and exciting. It is a welcome change from the old houses and small rooms seen in the past instalments. There seems to be more to play with, and more ways to invoke terror for the player. It remains to be seen if this potential will be fully realized in the final game, but so far, they are doing and saying all the right things to make me, and potentially many horror fans, excited.
“…the team seems to be listening and working to build the best game possible…”
The gameplay seen in past games is still alive and well here. You will have segments of exploration mixed with choices and character moments that help drive the plot and get in the minds of the characters. I found in the past, this was one of the strongest aspects of the series and helped relate to the people and get a better sense of how smart and trailed people will make dumb choices when the pressure is on.
Even though I am optimistic about House of Ashes, and the team seems to be listening and working to build the best game possible, questions remain at how well the final product will play. As I mentioned before, many of the problems with the game in the past rested with how technically finished they felt. There were many times in past Dark Pictures games where I experienced hard crashes and game breaking glitches. While they did not stop me from enjoying the experience, they tainted it enough that I never wanted to dive back in. If the team cannot ensure it is relatively bug-free at launch, even the best possible story could be hidden under a notable issue.
But as this was a hands-off demo, we will need to wait for the full release to get a true taste on what we can expect when playing. Thankfully we don’t want long to wait since The Dark Pictures House of Ashes is slated for release later in 2021 and will be hitting most major platforms, including Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Sadly, Nintendo Switch owners will be out of luck if they want to play. We are eager to see how the final product looks and hope to enjoy our time with House of Ashes, and all the dark secrets it has yet to share.