Hope that gameplay reveal for House of Ashes has whet your appetite, because we’re bringing you notes on a keynote preview for the game. Welcome back to the next, and third, title in The Dark Pictures Anthology, brought to you once more by Supermassive Games. If you haven’t seen the gameplay reveal, then don’t miss it below:
Now, for those of you who love speculation, proceed with this preview for House of Ashes. If you’d rather walk into it blind, then here’s your warning that the preview may contain potential spoilers.
House of Ashes launches “later this year”, for Xbox series X | S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4 and PC Digital.
Presenting today is Will Doyle, a Game Director at Supermassive Games UK. Normally they would have wanted to do roadshows to get the game to you fans out there, but obviously, the current world climate makes that unfeasible. As always, they’re looking for new ways to frighten, challenge and surprise you throughout the Anthology, with the fate of five characters in your hands. I found it interesting he mentions you’d be controlling the fates of five characters, though I’m not sure how much of this is confirmation that each game will always have five playable characters.
In any case, the branching plots and multiple endings return, and House of Ashes is once again based in real world fact or legend. For reference, Man of Medan is based on Ourang Medan, while Little Hope explores the Salem and Andover witch trials. You can watch the original teaser for House of Ashes from the end of Little Hope below:
In 2003, at the close of hostilities in the Iraq war, a group of US Special Forces, Air Force and CIA are on a mission to unearth an underground chemical weapons depot picked up on satellite, due to suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). You’ve seen Ashley Tisdale’s character – Rachel King – wading through a river of blood and bones, holding a human thigh bone for a torch, with monsters in the shadows for company. Prior to that though, they were simply attacked by holdout Iraqi forces, when an earthquake breaks the ground from under them, whereupon they discover a vast underground temple dating back to the ancient kingdom of Akkad.
Congratulations, you’ve found your WMDs: a lair of ancient monsters. Now here’s a mystery for the ages.
Obviously Doyle isn’t going to spoil too much of the story now, but here’s the gist of the setting – the lands of modern-day Iraq were part of Mesopotamia, a historic land considered the cradle of civilization, with written records dating back almost 6,000 years ago. The temple that is center stage in House of Ashes was build by the self-proclaimed God King of the Akkadian Empire, Naram-Sin, who reigned around 2,250 B.C.
Now, with such a lofty title, he had upset the gods, after ransacking a temple belonging to Enlil, god of earth, wind and storms. The gods then retaliated with a curse, bringing war, famine and plague on the kingdom. He built the temple to appease the gods to lift the curse, but they leave him on read. The kingdom falls, and the temple gets buried over time. At first glance, it’s got that mood you can mistake for stereotypical portrayals of Egyptian pyramids, with equally cursed things buried them. In this deadly field trip, our crew are trapped underground with two sets of enemies to face: hostile Iraqi forces, and whatever the hell that’s lying in the shadows. Fortunately, they do get the option to ally with at least one of the Iraqi troops, Salim Othman. The pragmatic man, who’s definitely seen some shit, goes “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Our cast this time are:
- CIA officer, Rachel King and her husband, Colonel Eric King
- Marines Jason Kolchek and Nick Kay
- Iraqi officer, Salim Othman
Rachel’s clearly more familiar with her ancient history, being able to recognize cuneiform writing and Pazuzu’s figure. We’ll see if that can help her survive though.
For House of Ashes, they’ve taken inspiration from the films of Aliens, Predator, and The Descent, alongside the works of H.P. Lovecraft, especially the At the Mountains of Madness novel. Some of you have already recognized The Descent vibes, so watching and reading up on the rest might prove highly interesting if you haven’t already.
ABOUT THE GAME
In the preview, House of Ashes is described as an exploration horror, featuring our group of experts in their respective fields, in a remote location with no back-up, and only monsters in the dark for company. In this story of loyalty, duty, and trust, and facing an unknown threat, these characters will need to decide if they’re saving only themselves, or setting aside their rivalries to survive. What risks will you take so that nobody gets left behind? Will there be place left for compassion when all hell breaks loose?
The threat is real, and Doyle calls the monsters some of the most complicated creatures they’ve made yet, saying they’re a “very believable, threatening”, and there’s a whole nest of them our intrepid explorers have stumbled into. Not only will there be claustrophobic and closed environments in the tunnels you will need to traverse, the game will also often open up into vast spaces. We want you to feel exposed, vulnerable and threatened, to get the feeling you’re being watched at all times by creatures you know nothing about. We also want to reveal a place unknown to the surface, a place of majesty and mystery, undisturbed for millennia.”
The core game mechanics haven’t drastically changed, but they’re always looking to improve and are grateful for the community’s comments in helping them focus on areas. Here’s the rundown given with the House of Ashes preview:
- No more fixed cameras. Cameras are now all 360-degree player-controlled camera for more immersive exploration
- Exploration is assisted with a toggle-able flashlight to help you sweep the dark for secrets
- Interactable items will still have the glowing mark
- Your flashlight can help you uncover new paths, but it will slow you down some. You will be needing it in the darker areas of the catacombs
- Difficulty settings added
- Easy, Medium, “no-holds-barred difficult”
- Doyle acknowledges these can get highly divisive among the community
- Speed of QTEs can now be customized to suit your needs
- First title with enhanced editions for Next Generation consoles
- Marked improvement in graphical fidelity
The four main modes are back:
- Shared Story: Play it online with a friend
- Movie Night: Up to five players in one room
- Single Player
- Main Theatrical Cut. Nick is your starting POV
- Curator’s Cut (pre-order bonus). Start with Jason instead
- Curator’s Cut for seeing other perspectives and scenes not normally seen in Theatrical Cut
Details will gradually be revealed through socials, so keep your feet on the ground (ha ha) and stay tuned. Meanwhile, enjoy this textual preview for a sequence of House of Ashes gameplay.
We join the crew looking over the satellite footage. The outline is given, and they set off in the helicopters. When they land and infiltrate the houses there, they find nothing but shepherds, Nick calling it a bust. Before anything else happens, though, one of the extraction helis gets shot down by a rocket, chaos ensues, the ground breaks open, and when we rejoin Nick in the Sand Caverns at 1902 HRS, at a depth of 52 feet. He calls out for his pals, Merwin and Jason, and throws a flare into the dark tunnel before him.
Calling out again, Jason responds, his voice echoing in the distance. As he continues on, we see something scuttling into the dark. We’re still relatively close to the surface, and sunlight can stream down onto Nick. Something in the dark moves away from Nick once more, and he sure ain’t feeling it. The tunnels open up to the temple ruins, where Nick reunites with Jason. One of the statue’s broken hands lie here, and they admire it briefly. Jason quickly lays out the plan: get back topside, regroup, and call for Medevac. It seems obvious to him there are no weapons to be had, but they’re in enemy territory. Nick seems stunned as he looks around, and Jason snaps him back with a curt “Sergeant Kay!”. In this case, it doesn’t look like Jason is inclined to listen to his buddy.
Nick tries to tell Jason he saw something, with his superior officer sounding very disappointed in him. “I knew you weren’t ready,” while Nick continues insisting about the creature. Jason quite unkindly tells him to zip it, essentially ending the conversation. In the pause that follows, the camera looks around the space, letting you admire the structures around you. Nick once more attempts to get Jason to believe in him, to no avail. They at least work together to pull open a door, flooding your ears with pained screaming. Recognizing the voice as Merwin’s, the duo rush to the scene.
Merwin’s with another squad member, Clarice. Merwin’s hanging upside down by wires, and he doesn’t look good. They fumble for some morphine to help the guy when they cut him down, as Nick tells Clarice to keep watch. She doesn’t know it yet, but she gets snatched into the darkness, followed by clicking noises and screaming. Understandably, they don’t want to stay, and they haul Merwin along with them, as he bleeds all over the ground. There’s a brief shot of a wedding ring on Merwin’s finger; with all the blood and the lines on his face, his odds are extremely low at best.
All the while, Merwin’s constantly groaning, and the sounds are very likely attracting the creature. Nick covers his mouth to try muffle the sound as they try to jab the morphine into him. With the QTEs being failed, Merwin dies from suffocation, even if the bleeding didn’t do the job. Jason and Nick quickly move out, and Merwin’s body gets dragged off-screen.
There are quick flashes of other scenes, from gunfights to a chase sequence, and perhaps even the specter of Naram-Sin himself.
That’s about it for the House of Ashes keynote preview. I hope I’ve done a sufficient job in describing what I saw in the presentation to you fans out there. Once again, I’m not an especially big horror fan, and I like to see these games as ‘mysteries’, spiced up with the fear of the unknown, supernatural, and what have you.
I wonder how many people are going to walk away this time? We’ll soon find out, won’t we?