The Dark Pictures Anthology gets better with each installment.
Sure, Man of Medan was good and set the tone nicely, though it didn’t quite reach the same lofty heights as its spiritual predecessor, Until Dawn.
Little Hope played with some interesting themes, and even featured the man who will be Adam Warlock, but you still felt like the franchise had room to grow.
House of Ashes, however, has kicked things up another gear and not only tries to get under your skin with psychological horror, it also does an excellent job with its characterization.
Led by Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame, you find yourself in the midst of the Iraq War and at one of its most critical moments as a breakthrough on Sadaam Hussain seems imminent.
However, not all is at it appears once the small force lands at the co-ordinates. What seems like a significant lead turns into something completely unexpected.
This edition of The Dark Pictures has absolutely leant into the supernatural. There’s been hints at it previously, and suggestions we could go down this road, but we’ve gone from dipping the toe in the water, to plunging headfirst.
That’s a good thing. I’ve enjoyed the grounded feel the series has had up to now, but it’s a testament to the confidence of the developers and that they feel ready to let the series embrace the previously unspoken elements. It’s really opened up the franchise potential for future instalments.
And the game has found a unique way to present it as well, providing players a spin on a familiar horror thriller trope but told from a different perspective as part of an unlikely setting.
As you progress, you’ll find uneasy alliances, unspoken secrets, and unexpected outcomes awaiting you throughout, and best of all there are several different paths to take leading to different endings and plot points.
What House of Ashes does so well is make each of its diverging paths feel natural to its core. I never really felt like there was an obvious, necessary choice in each exchange and could definitely see the story sensibly splitting depending on how you choose to approach the situation.
And depending on what you decide, there are some really well written and directed exchanges between the game’s cast. For instance, the game highlights for me actually came from Jason and Salim, opposed to the game’s cover leads, as both try to figure one another out and understand each other’s respective backgrounds.
What House of Ashes also does surprisingly well is match up its supernatural element with the real world. The game‘s second half could definitely go completely off the rails based on how it opens but Supermassive do a great job of keeping the pacing strong, ensuring the plot delicately walks that line without falling off, while allowing the players to uncover the secrets steadily.
It’s not going to be for everyone, of course. Man of Medan did a good job of keeping the survival horror experience relatively purist, whereas this opens up an entirely new perspective for the series.
Yet the links have been peppered through the games to give you clues through paper clippings and inscriptions. There’s even a brief showing of a familiar location in this instalment, which shows these incidents are perhaps even more connected than we first thought.
In fact, this particular installment resonated with me more than the others because I got some serious Eternal Darkness vibes from it. The use of light, the camera angles as you navigate tunnels, the unique cast of characters, scenes between them and settings they find themselves in. Even that which hunts you. This is the closest I’ve felt to the game in years, which is a huge plus in my book!
It actually pays homage to a few games as you move through to its conclusion, even past Supermassive Games titles, which shows the progress the studio has made and the strides it continues to make.
I’m also a big fan of how Supermassive have introduced gunplay. As you’d expect, weapons are much more prevalent here than previous Dark Anthology titles. So in addition to the usual QTE button presses such as the heartbeat and impulse taps, you now have to steer a trigger to the right location and tap the right trigger before the timer expires.
With the immediate in-game response based on your actions, it all adds to the seamless transition between movie time and game time, feeling natural for the series.
House of Ashes is really enjoyable and that’s even after a second playthrough because the content can differ so drastically. For me, unquestionably, this is the standout Dark Pictures tale so far and if the preview of the Season One finale at the end is anything to go by, I feel very confident in saying the future is very bright … and dark in equal measure.
+ Good for multiple playthroughs with plenty of unique content between them
+ New mechanics smartly implemented
+ Story is well paced
+ Brilliantly acted with series-high characterisation
– Not a huge shift visually and mechanically from previous installments
– Some slight slowdown between scenes
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is now available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox
Played on Xbox Series X
Code Kindly Provided by Bandai Namco