The third entry in Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology, House of Ashes is set in 2003 Iraq as a bunch of American soldiers are on the look for Sadaam’s fictitious WMD’s. It’s a setup that caused a few raised eyebrows when announced, but thankfully manages to avoid more pitfalls than our characters do as they tumble into an underground temple full of Pazuzu statues and creepy monsters.
Our set of playable characters led by Ashley Tisdale’s Rachel all have their own issues that they’re dealing with, such as Jason and Nick who have to come to terms with tragedy that’s happened during the war and Eric whose lifes work is seemingly tracking down the WMD’s that Sadaam definitely 100% has. They also mix things up a little by adding an Iraqi soldier Salim who also finds himself trapped underground. A man who doesn’t want to fight and just wants to get home to his son. This bringing in lots of drama to it as our two opposing forces tend to butt heads quite a lot, leading me to scream at the TV, “we have bigger problems here people!”.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged from what came before. There are dialogue choices, quick time events and exploration sections. And the decisions or mistakes you make will butterfly effect into new unforeseen situations where maybe not all of the cast will make it through to the credits. In fact, maybe none of them will. This has really been the hook of this series since te beginning, allowing the player to tell their own horror story and I can easily say this is Supermassive’s best effort since Until Dawn.
While Man of Medan ended on a whimper after a promising start and Little Hope was saddled with dodgy accents and dull action set pieces. House of Ashes is a lot more balanced. The story itself is the right kind of silly. What starts off as generic horror soon goes off the rails in quite a stunning way with characterisation (well, if you keep the characters alive) that is the best they’ve probably done. A little generic in places, but hey, if we’re aping horror movies here then they’re perfect. The action sequences go full on Aliens with gunfire, explosions and the only thing missing being a character who shouts “Game over, man”. So much so that it’s sometimes difficult to find a natural stopping point where you can quit the game and continue it later.
If there’s one downside with House of Ashes it’s that the facial animations are a little off. There are some moments where it reminde me of certain Mass Effect Andromeda moments which is never a good thing. The over exagerrations during some points made the game lose a little of its horror factor as you’re left having a little giggle at Ashley Tisdale’s mouth agape and crazy eyes.
What House of Ashes definitely does have working in its favour is the price tag. With the PS5 retail disc library being full of £60 games (still waiting for Ghost of Tsushima to reduce to a reasonable price) it was a pleasant surprise to see House of Ashes on the shelves at a measily in comparison £25 new. And honestly it’s worth every penny of that. While once finished I didn’t feel the urge to revist it straight away, despite it having trophies that require multiple playthroughs, with a solid 6 hours of entertainment I felt I got my fun out of it. So while Man of Medan and Little Hope disapointed slightly, House of Ashes has brought me way back on board and am now eagerly anticipating the season finale.