LifeisXbox’s The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Review | Ever since Until Dawn graced us back on the Playstation 4 in 2015, I have had a fond love for all things from Supermassive Games. Even the VR Shooter Rush of Blood was one of the scariest things I have ever played and it didn’t even take itself seriously. The Inpatient was another one of those VR horror games from Supermassive that also did the narrative horror genre justice through its strong atmosphere and believable characters. However, none of these are part of the Dark Pictures Anthology that we all know today. The latest of these is House of Ashes. Another narrative horror adventure game created by Supermassive Games and Published by Bandai Namco.
From the people I have spoken to, they always seem hit or miss, and certainly in Man of Medan’s case that may be true, but Little Hope reminded me a lot of Silent Hill and played well, and this time, House of Ashes delivers a much meatier performance with more action, more story, and a new set of scares. If you are yet to play any of these games for yourself, they are best played in order.
ℹ️ | We played House of Ashes for 6 hours on Xbox Series X & Xbox Series S for comparison on performance. This game is also available on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4/5.
What we liked!
- The Story | With each new entry in the series, the first thing I look for is the story and its elements. As per usual, Supermassive does a great way of hiding the story and its twists until later on in the game. Writing this will be hard as I don’t want to give too much away. The game starts with an opening set 2200 years BC and an Akkadian King is sacrificing people to the Gods as he fears that the land they live on is cursed. The whole sequence ends with you all being killed by creatures you are looking to appease with said sacrifices. It’s a very structured and shielded intro that doesn’t explain much at all as the main story is where you will find a lot of the back story and lore throughout the in-game items. Cut to 2003 and you play a bunch of Marines set within the Iraq war looking for Sadam’s bioweapons. This turns out to be bad intel and you fall into the tomb from the opening many feet below with no way to escape. Instead, you and your band of brothers must stick together and fight your way out defending from the creatures in the opening sequence. It makes a lot of sense overall and the setting works well. The game was inspired by the story of Naram-Sin, a Mesopotamian king cursed by gods. Game director Will Doyle described House of Ashes as an “exploration horror” game, in which “a group of trained experts, beyond safety, with no backup, and they encounter something horrible”. Alien, Predator, The Descent, and At the Mountains of Madness were important sources of inspiration for the team.
- The Graphics | With the power of Unreal Engine on its side, House of Ashes also looks to be one of the best games in the series. It’s a visual step up from Little Hope thanks to its performance mode and quality mode setting. The tomb looks impressive every step of the way. We have sand particle effects falling as you walk, dynamic bounce lighting that reflects on the ways when your torch hits it. The way everything blends together is perfect. The team has done a great job here and the characters look great too. Performance mode retains the 4K resolution but drops some of the effects like the texture quality, depth-of-field, and so on. It runs the game at 60 FPS and this is pretty obvious in shots where the camera is panning across objects or the character is in motion. If you prefer 60 FPS, this mode is ideal for it, but still looks great overall. The quality mode of the game renders at 4K resolution but drops the frame rate to 30 FPS. Keep in mind that House of Ashes uses a cinematic resolution that crops the top and bottom of the screen. While this is a design choice rather than a budget one, it means the game doesn’t run at native 4K on any platform including PC but retains all of the effects that performance mode scales back on. It’s a great addition to having these options as not everyone will want to experience the game at 30fps, but personally, as the game is very cinematic I tend to choose the 30fps Quality mode with all the bells and whistles.
- The Music and Audio | With any cinematic game, you are going to need cinematic music and some great-sounding effects. This is one of the many areas where House of Ashes shines. Without going into spoiler zone, one of the best moments in the game sees Salim and Kolcheck banding together to fight off a horde of creatures in a desperate escape. As mentioned above, Unreal Engine has been utilised extremely well here and has some of the best audio control I have seen in a video game of this calibre. The usual audio is also well used in the game. The atmospheric drones throughout the tomb, the spatial audio from people talking in the distance and even echoing in tunnels are all here. The attention to detail is great and it adds a lot to the immersion, again, this is all great when you are playing a cinematic game. There is a lot to explore here and every new location feels alive with detail given how well the sound complements the overarching design.
- Controls & Mechanics Overhaul | House of Ashes is the third of the eight installments planned in the Dark Pictures Anthology series. Developer Supermassive Games listened to players’ feedback and introduced various gameplay changes, such as overhauling the camera system to ensure the players see more of the surroundings, introducing various difficulty levels, and adding in a graphics preset as mentioned earlier in the review. The game is also less linear when compared to Little Hope. Unlike the previous installments, the monsters featured in the game are not hallucinations, and the team had spent an extensive amount of time designing and motion capturing them resulting in a much higher quality product overall.
- Multiple Paths & Endings | One of the smartest hooks in any videogame is how to get players to replay our game and keep coming back. Supermassive Games achieves this by making all of your decisions count and as a result, making you go back and try different play styles. From my understanding, there are a handful of endings with multiple pivot points in which can affect the ending you receive. The game does a great post-credit scene in which the survivors are being interrogated by CENTCOM and it gives the player an individual look at what the character’s final thoughts are of the events that have unfolded. It demands multiple playthroughs and despite its pacing in some areas, it’s worth finding out how the different choices you make affect the overall story and its endings.
- The Dialogue | For everything the game does well, I still can’t say I am 100% on board with the dialogue. I understand that not everyone is a writer and some of the team are separated and working on the next installment The Devil Inside Me, but the writing can very cringe at times. It feels very unnatural in this sort of situation and drags you out of the immersion and on a couple of times will even make you laugh. I think the line delivery from the actors could also be better. I know some of the actors in the game are great at their craft and some of the actors are less experienced or up-and-coming, but this is where I think the game director should have spent more time ensuring the game was a little more polished and believable.
- The Length | This one is more of a personal gripe for me more than anything so take this with a pinch of salt. But, that being said, I am sure there are people out there who feel the same. When I enjoy something I want it to be longer. I want there to be more action, more exploration, more character development, more everything. At around 5 hours to beat it on your first playthrough I would have preferred a much longer experience with more things to do. I’ll cover this more in the what we disliked section but once again I find the game to be less of a game where certain mechanics can be used, and rather, find it more related to a walking sim in some degrees. Specifically in the later parts of the game where you will walk for about 10 feet and then be greeted by a 5-minute cutscene. It’s a very conflicting feeling which is why I said take it with a pinch of salt because I like the cinematic style, but I want to do things in the game also other than walk.
What we disliked
- Lack of core gameplay mechanics | Whilst some may argue that this is a narrative horror game I think it would be a great idea in future installments to give a little more control to the player. I would have personally liked to have done more of the interactions myself such as placing bombs, shooting at enemies. The reason I say this is because these actions can directly have consequences too. Placing bombs in the wrong area for example could cause an issue that plays out against me resulting in player death. This is just one example but you get the picture.
How long to beat the story | 5 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 15+ hours
Similar with | Man of Medan, Little Hope and Until Dawn, which is the Developers body of work.
LifeisXbox.eu is the largest Belgian Xbox centered website, your reading time is greatly appreciated! Please consider sharing this review with your friends on social media, that means a lot for us! If you are Dutch-speaking also consider joining our Dutch exclusive Facebook group Xbox Gamers Belgium. Feel free to use quotes for PR purposes.
Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.