Review – Dark Pictures: House of Ashes

Overview

Developer Supermassive Games
Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment
Genre Horror
Platforms PC (Reviewed) , PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S.
Release Date October 22, 2021

Dark Pictures: House of Ashes is the third game in the Dark Pictures series. They are developed by Supermassive Games, known for their work not only on the Dark Pictures Anthology but also their other horror games, such as The Quarry and Until Dawn. The hallmark of Supermassive Games is the more cinematic focus on game design, which revolves around a choose-your-own-adventure film with minor exploration elements. While the series is less reliant on traditional gaming mechanics and leaves much of the action relegated to quick-time events, the game still has a lot to offer for fans of narrative-driven games.

Content Guide

Spiritual content: The game initially has the player believing that the events unfolding are caused by the supernatural. Hence, they refer to monsters as demons and think it is the judgment of a god. Allah is occasionally mentioned by an Iraqi soldier, one of the main characters in the story. There is also a depiction of a pagan Mesopotamian religion that involves human sacrifice to please the gods.

Violence: This game never shies away from violence. At the very start of the game, a face is looking at the camera, and it is then revealed that it is a severed head. Due to the game’s open-ended nature, this was the goryest instance I found while playing the game. House of Ashes does have a large amount of blood, most notably when a character falls into a lake of blood preserved from the multitude of human sacrifices in ancient Mesopotamia. Additionally, there are instances of characters getting impaled, mauled, shot, and other brutality-inflicted injuries on civilians. One instance of violence is an American soldier beating an Iraqi civilian with his gun butt, and another mentioned instance of an accidental death that causes a couple of characters PTSD.

Language and Crude Humor: Since the game follows soldiers, there is a lot of swearing and crude humor. There are two characters early on that make a lot of dirty jokes about women and each other’s mothers. These jokes tend to be rather vulgar; however, during a particularly offensive-sounding joke, the soldier’s commanding officer cuts them off. Swearing in this game involves every curse word minus the c-word. There are multiple instances of f**k, b***h, s**t, and d**n. Using the Lord’s name in vain was also present, often mixed with swearing.

Sexual Content: There is a fair amount of crude sexual humor at the beginning of the game after the prologue, as mentioned in language and crude humor. During the prologue, two male characters are shirtless; however, this is due to them wearing historically accurate clothing. While not overtly sexual, there is a scene of two characters kissing early on, which is further complicated by the fact that one is already married and plays into the story.

Drugs and Alcohol: There is mention of smoking, and one soldier starts to use a cigarette but doesn’t have a lighter.

Other Negative Elements: Since this game takes place during the end of the Iraq War, there is the potential that the game could harm soldiers or others struggling with PTSD. Additionally, there are instances of characters encouraging people to break the laws of war to protect themselves. Another negative element that the game explores and later resolves is a particular soldier’s hate of the Iraqi people and thinking they are all the enemy.

Positive Elements:  Since the player controls the characters, the choices they make can uplift each other and help them. There were many times in the game where being supportive or heroic saved the lives of others and allowed the group to function better overall. The game also showcases overcoming prejudice against people based on their race.

Review

The Dark Picture Anthology has the player aiding the cryptic and enigmatic Curator looking to finish half-written stories in his collection. This time, the player will work with US Marines during the end of the Iraq War. The characters all have their backstories and personalities, which often overlap in sometimes unexpected ways. The main objective of the game is to locate a weapons storage area that Saddam Hussein supposedly left. The player will then have to make calls that align with their morals and ethics, and sometimes, a small choice can have a significant impact on the story later on. The series is well known for making players think a choice is minuscule and then have it come back substantially.

Gameplay is very untraditional in Dark Pictures: House of Ashes, as it’s more of an interactive film with light exploration elements. Exploration is limited but does give the player a chance to find clues that could be useful down the road, along with pictures that can provide brief cutscenes of a possible future outcome as a warning. The caveat with pictures is sometimes, especially near the end of the game, they typically do not apply to this game but to the next in the series. The choice-making and quick-time events are always interesting. There are even case scenarios for whether you mess up a quick time event or don’t make a choice during a decision-making part. There are various types of multiplayer, such as movie night, which allows for local multiplayer by each attendee controlling characters with the same controls as the host or by offering vocal feedback on the choices they want to make, and the host inputs it. The final multiplayer form is through a friend pass, which allows another online player to join your game, controlling separate characters and making their own choice separate from you.

Dark Pictures: House of Ashes follows suit with other Supermassive Games games with very realistic graphics. The character models often look close, if not identical, to their actors. This is most notably seen with Rachel, Ashley Tisdale’s character.  There are some complaints about the re-use of character models with alterations throughout the series; however, these are often not noticeable unless the player is looking for them. The game’s most substantial element of visuals is the masterful use of lighting in their environments, as they often add ambiance to the environments, giving them more feeling.

The sound direction of the game is professional and high quality. Since many of the voice actors are experienced with their craft, there were never instances that felt awkward or poorly delivered. The sound effects of the game were all masterful as well. The gunshots sounded like the proper guns, and the ambient sounds throughout the game did a fantastic job of establishing the atmosphere. The monster sounds are incredibly haunting and can be very intimidating.

Overall, Dark Pictures: House of Ashes was a great experience. Almost every element of the game was high quality and felt very polished. The main plot twist was a bit disappointing, given the direction they took for the monsters; however, it did not ruin the experience or overshadow the positive elements. Much like the other titles in the series, the game gives the player an experience and characters that are memorable and entertaining.

The Bottom Line

 

House of Ashes has a lot to offer fans of narrative-driven games who desire to be immersed in a good story.

 

8

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Logan Smiley

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