Image Credit: IDGB Press kit online
WARNING: This article will contain spoilers for The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes.
As promised in our general overview of The Dark Pictures Anthology, here is our review of House of Ashes, the third instalment in the series.
The prologue starts in 2231 BC where two ancient warriors from opposite sides of a war named Balathu and Kurum have to work together to try and escape the monsters you will later fight in the main game. Your choices have no consequence on who dies and who survives. At this point in the game, both characters are destined to die, you simply choose who will die last.
The main game is set during the 2003 Iraq war where you will find yourself running from a race of monsters who have been largely dormant and trapped in the ancient tomb you were exploring in the prologue. Your mission (as you’ll find out fast) is to make the right decisions so none of your five playable characters die.
Graphics, Artwork and Atmosphere
While House of Ashes is a darker game with both the amount of unstoppable death and lower light levels of the tomb you are exploring, the flashlight, torch and lighter mechanics were perfectly executed. Depending on which character you are playing at the time, you are able to produce an item that will light up your immediate surroundings. The attention to detail from the developers is stunning. Inside the walls of the tomb ancient texts are inscribed on the walls, sand moves under your feet, water perfectly ripples as you wade through it and even larger rooms have various statutes or subtle details creating an immersive atmosphere. Even the amount of light each item can produce feels realistic with the area each lights up being just enough to appreciate the work that has been put into designing each room.
Even though it is quite apparent that you are being pushed from area to area, you don’t want to rush. In our first playthrough even beyond finding hidden artifacts that built up the plotline, we found ourselves exploring each room and commenting on the detailed nature of each area. A highlight has to be the final cavern where you discover the colony of monsters you have been running from. This area is vast, well-designed and most of all intricate, which leaves you appreciating the effort the development team put into making this final cavern, shortly before you blow it up!
As I previously mentioned, the enemies you are running from in House of Ashes are real, unlike Man of Medan where they are a part of your imagination. While the storyline isn’t too complex it does the job. In essence, you think you have found a chemical warfare facility before realising it’s an ancient temple filled with monsters eager for your blood. 50 years before the game is set, archaeologists were also exploring the same temple. The tension between Iraqi and the US troops complete an immersive storyline.
Not only that but the innovative ways in which you collect information about the archaeologists that found the tomb previously is refreshing. Plot information is gathered through audio logs, artifacts, finding items such as a WW2 machine gun and unsent letters which never made it back to the families of the architects. These help to paint a complete and emotive story.
Furthermore, the developers manage to find the perfect balance of story content and quick-time events so that you have time to understand and comprehend the story but are also kept quick on your feet and engaged.
As I previously discussed in my article on the Dark Pictures Anthology as a whole, decision-making is a key element. Making the wrong decision can get your characters killed, and change the story for the worse.
Of all three titles that have been released in the anthology so far it seems the decisions in this game have the most effect, many in ways that you wouldn’t even consider at the time.
One great example of this is a decision that must be made to whether Eric will cut a rope preventing his wife Rachel from falling into an abyss to save himself, or keep trying to pull her up. We didn’t cut the rope and this decision keeps both characters alive for now, revealing later that Rachel fell into water when the rope eventually snapped. However, cutting the rope would land Rachel on a rock, killing her instantly.
It’s decisions like these that truly make this title an excellent acquisition, and if we were to have one criticism it would be that these games aren’t longer and all eight haven’t been released yet.
In total it took us just over six hours to complete the game in one sitting using couchplay making it perfect for a flat horror night.
Overall I found the game to be the best so far in the series. It found the perfect balance between jump-scares which often triggered quick time events, and exploration of the tombs you were trapped in to uncover the story. Adrenaline spikes and the need to think about situational choices make House of Ashes more than a game, it is a true horror experience well worth the money for around £25.
Can you beat our first playthrough? We managed to keep three of the five characters alive, losing Eric and Nick.