Supermassive’s House of Ashes, or The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes in full, is arguably the biggest videogame horror release this Halloween season. Bandai Namco is publishing it on current and last gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles as well as on PC, and we jumped in with the PS5 version.
House of Ashes is part of the Dark Pictures Anthology, which is a concept that we remember being launched during a press event a few years ago. After Man of Medan and Little Hope, the formula became recognizable, even though the stories and settings were completely unique from one game to the next. The consistent factors between those two games and House of Ashes are their limited interactivity and impressive production values, making the games feel like interactive Hollywood horror movies rather than traditional horror videogames like Resident Evil or Silent Hill.
House of Ashes is set against the background of the US Army invading Iraq. Your unit is searching for weapons of mass destruction, but your search is quickly cut short when you end up getting trapped underground in an ancient locations that turns out to be home to something a bit more ominous (and real?) than the weapons of mass destruction you’re looking for. It’s a setting that provides a big opening for themes like darkness and claustrophobia, and House of Ashes frequently and effectively capitalizes on this with its sense of atmosphere and foreboding.
The monsters that present themselves end up being a common enemy for the US and Iraqi forces, but after a few initial scares they end up feeling less and less imposing as time goes on due to some unimpressive creature designs. What starts out as a dark adventure with a mysterious undertone eventually moves towards familiar territory with a movie-inspired plot and more action than suspense. That’s not an issue per se as we were still on the edge of our seat thanks to a nicely paced and delivered story, but fans of a slow and scary buildup might feel disappointed.
The gameplay formula is largely unchanged from previous games in the series, presenting itself through scenes you can explore for clues or ways out as you talk to people and make decisions that affect how the story branches out – though eventually it’s more a case of determining who lives than giving you a dramatically different conclusion. The term “interactive movie” comes to mind, but when compared to – for example – games by Wales Interactive House of Ashes has an excellent playthrough length of over six hours.
Limited replay value and interactivity hurt these games, but House of Ashes is a nicely delivered piece of action horror with stellar production values. For those who enjoy horror movies and videogames, this is a great choice for some Halloween frights.