House of Ashes is the latest title to The Dark Pictures Anthology, the third in the series of standalone stories. Once again by Supermassive Games, it’s a new narrative, survival horror game for fans to partake in. While we cannot fully disclose much of the story to keep the excitement and mystery, there may still be potential spoilers for those who want to jump in completely fresh. You can also check out our keynote preview here for further reference.
Playing on the PS5, there are only Quality and Performance presets. On the PS4, there are none at all. I will assume that there should be more variables for the PC versions. There are also audio presets – Home cinema, Hi-fi, TV, headphones – but the console menu does not offer any equalizer if you wish to tweak it any further.
As for voice acting, there are dubs in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian. This also applies to the text, with the addition of Arabic, Portuguese and, unusually to me, Standard Spanish. Due to my unfamiliarity with the language, I hadn’t realized the differences could be large enough for a separate option a la Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
The accessibility options return, with toggles for single action buttons, hold instead of mash, and quick time event timers. There’s a dyslexia font option, which admittedly I am unsure how effective it is. You can check the examples below to compare it with the regular font. New additions include subtitle backgrounds with adjustable opacity, and text-size. Unfortunately, you still cannot change the colours for colour-coded text.
There are also no specific options with regards to adaptive triggers or haptic feedback for the PS5. You can choose among Forgiving, Challenging and Lethal difficulties, Forgiving being the easiest. This review is based on a Forgiving playthrough.
I will caution players that you may find performance issues on the regular PS4, which is unfortunate.
I am extremely impressed with the details and lighting offered with the PS5 Quality option. I can see the details like veins in the eyes, the sunlight streaming from above, the fire effects… kudos to the team! I’d like to even highlight Ashley Tisdale’s character, Rachel King; her mascara and eyeshadow have been rendered with care, and I’m amazed at the quality of her products. Damn girl, you’re looking pretty good for being out in Iraq for a while! Anyway, the point is that where you can, you should definitely play this game on the best possible display you can get your hands on.
The by-now series standard motion capture is in use, with the characters modelled after their actors. I’ve never had strong opinions on motion capture, just that sometimes it can still look stiff and on the edge of uncanny valley. Putting that aside though, I really enjoy the relatively small details of having the characters also move around in the space instead of standing around waiting for you to hit the plot trigger. It makes them feel more alive.
As promised, the camera is now really free to rotate. Unfortunately, this also comes with its own issues. The camera can struggle in cramped areas, with jitters or your character model phasing in and out as it tries to focus. The camera speed cannot be adjusted, so the slow sweeping is good for a “cinematic” feel, but not so much for quick scanning. I also encountered bugs where a character’s model disappeared from a cutscene, or missing voiceover. I would believe this would be ironed out in time.
Alright, let’s get it out of the way. The actual mechanics aren’t very complicated, and if you’re coming from the previous titles or Until Dawn, expect more of the same. If you’re unfamiliar, think of it as an interactive movie, where you’ll be making narrative choices or actions that can change how a character’s attitude shifts during the story, and affecting the overall ending. You’ll be semi-frequently switching point of views within the playable cast to experience their situation, with the Curator’s Cut offering even more branches. If you get someone killed, then naturally, you will no longer get their POV.
Quick time events (QTEs) are another staple. Every now and again, you’ll have to hit or mash the button prompts depending on the context. At times, you might need to take aim and hit your target, your crosshair turning red to score the hit. In games like these, it can pay to remember that doing nothing is also a choice you can make.
Along the way, there will be items to examine as collectibles or to progress the story, marked by white sparkles as you approach. Due to the nature of player choice, you can come across “premonitions”, which show up as stone tablets in this game. These will give glimpses at a possible “future”, to influence your later actions. You’ll be able to get the gist of the controls in the prologue tutorial.
Just pray that a choice of yours doesn’t suddenly turn someone into goo 2 hours later.
Once again, I’d like to reiterate that there may be potential spoilers for those who wish to jump into the game blind. There are nonetheless restrictions on how much story we can discuss at this point with the game launching very soon, should you rather wait.
As we’ve learnt from the preview, the prologue sets up a “curse” originating from the ancient lands of Akkad. Our totally very nice king Naram-Sin has been making sacrifices in his lavish temple to regain the favour of the gods after he ransacked their temple. The solar eclipse seems to be set up as a “theme” of sorts, with the game having such a mark on the Curator’s book. It’s the same shape you see in the game’s title / box art.
There’s a background conflict between two warring factions. At this point, your actions hardly seem to matter as everyone here will be doomed to die, curse or not. A glimpse of the monster is afforded to us, before we head into “present day” Iraq, in 2003.
Something is brewing up as US forces prepare to pull out of Iraq. We meet the first of our playable cast – Rachel King, Jason Kolchek, Nick Kay, Eric King – are part of a slightly larger crew holding out at “Camp Slayer”. Their mission is to extract a potential cache of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), chemical ones to be exact, and they head off at once to secure them.
On the other side, we have Salim Othman, a single-father before he is an Iraqi soldier. His son, Zain, has a bright future awaiting him, though he’s not free from vice. As much as Salim would like to talk to his son, he is pressed into duty once more. With the work that Supermassive has put into the game, I highly appreciate the effort in getting the Iraqis to be speaking Arabic, to make it feel more authentic, much like how they’ve always tried to base their stories in real legends.
While the whole WMD operation seems to be a bust, the plot violently kicks in, an earthquake sending everyone tumbling into the abyss and right into Naram-Sin’s abandoned temple. The monster is still not seen even if you do hear it and can make out its silhouette, invoking “nothing is scarier” as you cautiously tread into the unknown. You would expect the non-playable cast to be killed promptly, but something I like is that these NPCs take up enough screentime, with sufficient personality to not make them completely unforgettable and one-note. I strongly believe that their presence better builds up to the threat that awaits. It’s not the humans you need to worry about, just sayin’.
I fully confess I’ve always seen The Dark Pictures Anthology closer to mystery than actual horror. The presence of veteran soldiers with guns sometimes even made me feel like House of Ashes was an action or thriller flick. That can vary, of course, but what I can say is this: I managed to get everyone out alive, and the story along the way? I think this is the best one in the anthology yet. Please stick with it to the end, I sincerely hope that you enjoy the later acts as much as I did.
I really do want to emphasize how well done House of Ashes feels to me. I can really feel that sense of scale that Supermassive has attempted in this title, with the gradual escalation making me grip my controller in anticipation. I suppose that reflects in my poor regular PS4 struggling at various points in the game.
While I did enjoy Little Hope, the impact of my choices and the changes the character have gone through feels that much more visceral and meaningful in House of Ashes. I will definitely be curious about the next title of the anthology. Yes, you do get a hint for the next game, but I won’t spoil what little you see of it.
The technical issues could dampen the game some, but they weren’t that disruptive to ruin the experience. Most importantly, I did enjoy what I feel has been a well executed story, keeping me hooked till the end. With the anthology’s standalone nature, House of Ashes is worth getting for the ride.
Review code provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Played on both PS4 and PS5.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes
A quite masterfully executed thrill ride in what some may call a proper return to form.
- Storytelling has stepped up a notch for both characters and narrative
- Improved sense of scale
- Still doesn't feel like scary horror
- Performance issues need to be addressed for future titles on this scale
Keep your guns close, and eyes wide, and strap right in for the ride.