House of Ashes review – A spectacular story to sink your teeth into

Supermassive Games, Dexerto

The Dark Pictures Anthology is renowned for blurring the lines between film and video game, and its latest installment, House of Ashes, it comes closer than ever to removing them entirely. While the talents of Ashley Tisdale and an innovative plotline define the game, there’s a slew of unwanted bugs wreaking havoc within its caves.

The Dark Pictures Anthology has picked up where Until Dawn left off, bringing Supermassive Games’ penchant for “choose your own adventure” plotlines with a reverence for the horror genre. Following on from Man of Medan and Little Hope, House of Ashes is the third title in the franchise – and it’s the best one yet.

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Set amid the harrowing scenes of the Gulf War, a group of special ops troops is pitted against a series of terrifying monsters in a battle to survive the night. While the story’s imaginative plotline and characterization make for a series high point, it falls short of Until Dawn thanks to a cumbersome camera and a host of particularly irritating bugs – and no, I don’t mean the bats.

House of Ashes: Key details

  • Price: $29.99 / £24.99
  • Developer: Supermassive Games
  • Release Date: October 22, 2021
  • Platforms: PlayStation / XBOX / PC

House of Ashes trailer

Did I make the right decision?

At the core of every Dark Pictures game is player choice, which allows players to influence the path the game follows. Choose not to save a character? They’ll either die, or, more likely, come back to haunt you (dead or alive). Did you berate one of your colleagues? Trust me when I say, they’ll remember it. Every little choice matters.

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With plot changing decisions signified by a murder of crows flying across your screen, the game truly tests your sense of morality. Should you make the logical decision, or go with your gut? Would you throw your comrade to the wolves to survive, or will you commit the ultimate act of selflessness?

Playing House of Ashes forces you to deal with those fight or flight instincts that are so easy to dismiss, and coming out the other end I feel like maybe I’m not the pacifist I make myself out to be.

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house of ashes blond woman with hair in bun looks off cameraSupermassive Games
House of Ashes finally lets you rescue your High School Musical sweetheart – not that she needs it.

This immersion is exactly what makes your journey through the House of Ashes so thrilling. You’re on the edge of your seat contemplating how your actions will influence the course of the story, but considering time isn’t on your side sometimes you don’t have time to think – you have to just do.

Even if it’s at the cost of someone else.

The enemy of my enemy

Of course, many assume that the “someone else” will likely be an Iraqi solider, especially given lead protagonist, Jason Kolchek’s, views on the ongoing conflict. Sporting a baseball cap with “9/11” and the World Trade Centers drawn onto it, I’d be a liar if I claimed the historian in me didn’t have concerns that the story would be a very one-sided affair.

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References to Iraqi people as “feral” certainly boiled my blood, and as soon as Kolchek crossed paths with Salim, the title’s Iraqi protagonist, I could feel myself flinch.

However, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and watching two men who should hate one another grow to become comrades in arms is truly beautiful. It adds a splash of grey into a conflict that has often been portrayed as black and white. It’s predictable, sure, but strong performances and facial animations help sell the character development.

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one man knees as another stands over him in a caveSupermassive Games
Jason and Salim’s relationship was one of my favorite parts of the game.

Of course, that’s because I chose to follow that path. It could be interesting to see what happens if you fan the flames of tension between the two in a different playthough.

And that’s the beauty of the House of Ashes – I can rewrite the game if I want to.

Ain’t no sparkles on these vampires

While I always aim to take my time with House of Ashes’ more difficult choice, a lot of the time you don’t have time to explore your options because there’s a horde of particularly ravenous vampires looking to tear you limb from limb.

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And they are terrifying.

Gone are the days of handsome, porcelain creatures like Edward Cullen – here, we have giant bat creatures with a taste for entrails. Blending beautifully into the shadows and using their obscure clicking to seek out unfortunate victims, you can feel beads of sweat trickling down your neck as you pull a Jurassic Park and try and stay as still as you possibly can.

bat like monster lurking in the shadowsSupermassive Games
While he may look stunning, we wouldn’t want to cross paths with this beast.

The swarms are accompanied by the terrifying Ancient One, whose hollow soul and undead eyes are truly nightmare fuel. Loosely based on an Egyptian mummy, and with bats inspired by vampire mythology, every single enemy is a stunning reimagining of a classic horror trope.

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Equally, though, they have an “other-worldly” feel, reminding me of Alien’s classic Xenomorph or the fearsome Predator. There’s a futuristic element that perfectly blends science fiction with cult horror, and I think that’s what makes these creatures much more terrifying, adding texture to their fearsome aesthetic.

They’re a joy to fight, even if you’re silently crossing your fingers and toes all the way through.

Some things should have stayed dead

Sadly, though, the tomb has plenty of unwanted visitors. One bug continually crashed my PC, forcing me to restart that sequence over again. While only tied to a single instance of collecting an item, it’s pretty frustrating not being able to collect what could be a game-changing clue.

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house of ashes open book with a computer warning saying fatal errorSupermassive Games
Why does everything in House of Ashes have to be fatal!?

Additionally, the 360 camera is quite the menace. While I can see the logic behind trying to make you feel like the character, the over the shoulder viewpoint when zoomed in is incredibly distracting, and when zoomed out you’d often find your character staring right back at you because the camera has moved unpredictably. Yes, more camera control is welcome, but it’s an odd decision given the claustrophobic setting.

Sure, having Ashley Tisdale stare at you isn’t a particularly bad thing, but several graphical issues plague her character, Rachel. In several scenes it looks like she has a slight double chin even when looking upwards, while in others her neck appears to elongate at some very inhuman angles.

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Finally, the one thing that shatters the immersion are the jumpy cutscenes. House of Ashes loses the movie aspect simply because some scenes are added in depending on who is alive or dead. Had the transition between main story clip the added ones been a little bit smoother, it truly would have felt like you were living in a horror film.

Rating: 8.5/10

While House of Ashes lacks polish thanks to an off-putting 360-degree camera and inconsistent visuals, these are likely to be fixed in the future – it’s just a shame poor Ashley has been done a little bit dirty in the process (and that’s not because she’s covered in blood half the time).

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All in all, House of Ashes is the standout of the series so far, and if the increase in quality is anything to go by, Devil In Me is likely to be the best entry yet.

Reviewed on PC.

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