[REVIEW] Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes – Eat dust!

Choices, our daily routine consists of making them. Condiments on top or on the side? Do I take the car or will I be a responsible human being by taking the bike for a change? Do I give that Iraqi sheepherder another breathing hole with my standard issue rifle or will I let him run off? Okay, the latter will probably not be one of the choices you’ll have to make any time soon unless you’re considering picking up House of Ashes.

When it comes to the concept of making tough choices and dealing with the aftermath, Supermassive Games has made it their modus operandi. Ever since the launch of Until Dawn in 2015, Supermassive has been synonymous with QTE-filled games and decision-making. We’ve grown accustomed to their goal to reach ultra-realistic visuals and storylines with more branches than an Alabama family tree. Picking up a Supermassive game means knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

Unfortunately, the reputation of the British developer has taken a beating in the past few years. With the bar set so damn high by Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures Anthology seemed to struggle to reach that bar. Part one – Man of Medan – was rather okay. Its sequel Little Hope literally gave us little hope for the future. Shoddy character development gave us no real reason to care for our mistakes, which is pretty much the goal of the concept. Luckily, Supermassive seems to have regained its mojo with House of Ashes, without changing too much of its known recipe.

Right off the bat, it’s pretty clear that Supermassive has taken some advice into consideration. Where character development meant the downfall of Little Hope, it definitely is the strong suit in House of Ashes. Ten minutes into the game, you’ll be familiar with most of the cast and their intentions. Lieutenant Eric King is “100% sure” he found Saddam Hussein’s underground weapons facility and is prepping a mission to dismantle it. His estranged wife – Sergeant Rachel King – feels like her marriage is a bust and hooks up with someone else. This someone else is Sergeant Nick Kay, a hopeless romantic struggling with feelings of guilt gained after the horrific acts of war.

Then there’s First Lieutenant Jason Kolchek, a typical jarhead whose first words as a baby seemed to be ‘Semper Fi’ and ‘Hoora’. Loyalty to the core is his game, even if it means distrusting people who mean him no harm. People like Lieutenant Salim Othman, an Iraqi soldier who just wants to celebrate his son’s birthday. Unfortunately for Salim, his captain is one of those men who can’t seem to tolerate Americans. Even with the war officially over, Salim is tasked with chasing off Lt. King’s task force. If only he would have listened to himself…

This in-depth character development immediately works to the game’s advantage. In previous installments of The Dark Pictures, I couldn’t give two shits about the person I was handling. House of Ashes deals with this a lot better, which is a good thing. You see, that weapons facility that was “100% guaranteed to be there”, isn’t. Instead, our military misfits stumble upon an ancient Sumerian temple with a history of violence. If you think the war has presented them with horrific events, oh boy. They are in for a serious treat, believe me.

As per usual, you are solely responsible for the death count in House of Ashes. How many of the five main characters live to see the Iraqi sun once more, that’s all up to your dexterity and decision-making skills. While QTEs mainly make you deal with direct threats, it’s the fuckton of dilemmas that might indirectly determine your early demise. To be fair, Supermassive is a master at disguising bad choices and making them look like the right ones. Just when you think you chose the humane thing to do, chances are that later revelations will prove you otherwise. After six hours or so, you’ll get the complete picture, showing you how badly you fucked it up. But you know what they say: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Then again, Supermassive Games probably had to endure the same thing. After months of writing and years of developing, now’s the time for them to discover their mistakes. Fortunately for them, there aren’t many. House of Ashes looks and ran well on my PlayStation 5, especially on Performance Mode. But that doesn’t mean that all looks bright and sunny. Dialogues can contain some weird transitions and characters occasionally seem to have the mumps from the looks of it. Unfortunately, the dialogue issues are pretty persistent throughout the anthology. And those camera stances… oh geez. Even with full control over them, the claustrophobic corridors of these Sumerian ruins can make them a real pain in the rectum.

But there’s also plenty to rejoice for. The QTEs for example are a lot more forgiving, should you choose them to be. If you opt for the lowest difficulty setting, prompts are presented beforehand, making it substantially harder to mess up. Those who seek to have a challenge cut out for them can also get it by dropping those assists. If you don’t want House of Ashes to hold your hand, it’ll gladly let go of you. Just don’t come crying when bodies start dropping left and right.

Plus, the choices you’ll be facing won’t necessarily be yours alone. Just like its predecessors, House of Ashes presents you with the option of going through the storyline in co-op mode. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you do so by the developer. I mean, making disastrous decisions together is always better than making them alone. At least you won’t have to carry the burden of your fuckups by yourself. The Curator’s scarce but harsh, passive-aggressive monologues won’t hurt that much when you know it was the other one making dumb calls.

All in all, House of Ashes is definitely the better of the three games in the current selection of Dark Pictures games. Where Man of Medan was plagued by the heritage of Until Dawn, Little Hope just fell short, leaving us with an underwhelming game. House of Ashes is the proof that Supermassive hasn’t lost their mojo yet, making the Until Dawn legacy rise from its ashes. A (mostly) strong cast and an intriguing storyline make for a much-needed redemption for the Dark Pictures Anthology. This is as close as the series can get to that blood-curdling experience that Until Dawn introduced us to.

Then again, if you have grown weary of endless decision-making and possibly lethal QTEs, House of Ashes won’t win you over. The Dark Pictures Anthology hasn’t taken a different path with this third installment. Even though everything looks next-gen and feels like it has more substance, the core of the game goes untouched. So if you feel like you’ve had your share of it in the past, you might want to save yourself the purchase. That’ll be the easiest decision you’ll have to make.

The Hoorahs
Finally a cast with decent background stories
QTEs are much more forgiving (but only if you desire it)
Mostly a visual spectacle befitting Supermassive's legacy
House of Ashes brings back that Until Dawn vibe we've been seeking
The Horrors
Dialogues can get weird and choppy
Visually, mistakes are definitely made here and there
Camera angle can be a drag