Anyone who played Supermassive Games’ other narrative-driven horror games, such as Until Dawn and Man of Medan, will know what to expect from the latest Dark Pictures Anthology entry, House of Ashes. For those who may have not dabbled in the developer’s previous cinematic adventures, House of Ashes is essentially an interactive horror movie, of sorts, with gameplay revolving around story-changing dialogue choices, exploring creepy environments, hitting the right buttons in quick-time events, and making life or death decisions that can wipe out the cast entirely.
While Until Dawn may have been a homage to teen horror flicks like Cabin Fever or Friday the 13th, House of Ashes is more of an ode to the likes of The Thing or Predator, delivering a more mature horror experience that focuses on the creature-feature aspect of its inspirations. Due to the nature of games in this genre, the story is always the most important aspect in these games, and thankfully, House of Ashes is as intriguing and it is horrifying.
The plot follows a military task force that stumbles upon an ancient evil while investigating an underground cavern during the Iraq War. It’s full of commentary about war and invasion into places you don’t belong, which works on multiple levels, quite literally and figuratively. However, despite the admittedly heavy setting, the game is still as self-aware as other entries into the Anthology and continues its B-grade horror schlockiness, which is fantastic. If you’re a fan of a cast of colourful characters losing their minds in paranoia, getting taken out one by one, and not knowing when the next jump scare is coming from, you’re in for a treat with House of Ashes.
Of course, the question of ‘how much gameplay is there?’ will always be a concern for some gamers, but those who understand what these games are about will know that they’re more about the atmosphere and immersing you in the experience, and House of Ashes does that brilliantly. From skulking through the darkness in ultra-realistically lit caves to having to make dramatic decisions of who to save and who to let die, the game succeeds in giving you legitimately interesting scenarios that don’t feel forced in other more open-ended games. You know you’re on a rollercoaster ride, but one where you can’t see the tracks.
And thanks to this confident, narrative approach, the game has an extremely strong presentation. Everything from the lighting and character models to the voice acting and musical score is sublime and feels top-tier despite the movie monster subject matter, which is brilliant but known to be a little goofy at times. This fantastic presentation is kept up consistently throughout its 6 hour playtime, which obviously can be revisited for numerous playthroughs thanks to the multiple endings and branching decisions you can experience each time.
While Supermassive Games has been trying to recapture lightning in a bottle after the brilliant Until Dawn, the studio has managed to achieve its spiritual successor with House of Ashes. While it’s part of their horror anthology and follows many of the same beats and mechanics, it also stands on its own two feet and delivers a compelling cinematic-driven experience that horror fans and old-school point-and-click adventure aficionados will appreciate. You’ll have to fight hard to keep your cast of heroes alive, and even harder to not put House of Ashes down.
House of Ashes is available on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.