Being on active duty in the armed forces can be terrifying enough. Nevermind throwing an underground temple filled with ancient evil into the mix.
But that’s where our protagonists of The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes find themselves. When a mission in Iraq doesn’t go to plan, four American soldiers find themselves stuck in an underground cavern, where not everything is quite as it seems. Salim, an Iraqi soldier also finds himself down there, alone. It’s not exactly the type of place you’d want to be spending quality alone by yourself, let me tell you.
House of Ashes is the third game in Supermassive Games’ Dark Pictures Anthology series. If you’ve played either of the previous two, you know the score. A story is presented by the mysterious and charismatic ‘Curator’, and during the tale the player, or players, will be able to take control of its characters and make choices. Ultimately, the fate of the characters is in their hands. You’ll decide the flow of conversation, make split-second choices on which way to go, and complete quick-time events. One wrong button press from you is all that stands between these characters escaping with their lives or meeting an untimely demise.
Man of Medan took us to a ghost ship out in the middle of the ocean, and Little Hope took us back in time to the age of witch trials in America. Grounded in the reality of the American army, House of Ashes feels the most realistic of them all, but as players of the previous games in the Anthology have learned, not everything is as it seems. We’ve been hands-on with around an hour of House of Ashes so far. And while it very much seems like an ancient evil is indeed lurking in the underground caverns we find ourselves in, we know that anything could still happen.
Each of the five characters in House of Ashes has their own story which will unfold over the course of the game. You’ll go some way to shape their personality yourself based on the conversation choices you make; will Rachel be amenable to her ex-husband Eric as they are forced to work together, or will she be cold and distant? And will soldier Jason act the part of tough guy, or will he let his vulnerabilities show to his comrades?
House of Ashes wastes no time in introducing its threats to the audience. Within minutes we see a mysterious, shadowy creature – something that’s definitely not human – run across the screen. It’s only a few moments later that a couple of the characters have a run-in with something that they can’t explain, either. But what exactly is going on? The game plays its cards close to its chest, drip-feeding tense moments to us as it slowly unravels its narrative. Our preview time left us with more questions than answers, but it has just made us all the more eager to play more.
There are some key technical differences in House of Ashes compared to the two previous Dark Pictures Anthology titles. Previously, the games featured a fixed camera to emphasise their cinematic feel. This time, there’s a 360-degree camera that players have full control over. It does allow you to get closer to the action; exploring your surroundings feels more immersive than ever, and investigating points of interest in the environment is easier to do. Rotating the camera can be a little unruly however, and controlling it takes a little getting used to. Along with moving the camera you’ll also have control over your character’s torch; sometimes that means you’re directing the only light source in an otherwise pitch-black cavern.
When you can see them, the environments you’ll find yourself in in House of Ashes are stunning. Ancient, grand sculptures tower over you while cavernous pits, leading into endless darkness, loom threateningly below. Just like the characters you’re controlling, you’ll have to watch every step, because you never know what’s going to be around the corner. Shining your torch around every corner might reveal something you’d rather not see – after all, House of Ashes lets us know right from the get-go that something terrible lurks in the darkness – but it’s worth doing just to take in the magnificent architecture.
We’ll have to wait and see how House of Ashes‘ story turns out. After all, both Man of Medan and Little Hope had seemingly supernatural stories that were explained away with logic by the time their closing moments came around. But having glimpsed the demonic, bat-like creatures that plague House of Ashes‘ cavernous spaces, it’s hard to imagine how anything other than good, old-fashioned mysterious evil could explain what’s going on. Whatever it turns out to be, we’re thoroughly interested to find out, and can’t wait to delve in further.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is coming to PlayStation, Xbox and PC on 22nd October.