The horror adventure games that Dark Pictures Anthology offers every year are medium at best, and the third work in the series, “House of Ashes”, remains as it is. Although it has a cool opponent and enjoyable moments, its panic and overall lack of adventure make it a terrible and outstanding impact.
If you are new to the series, “House of Ashes” is essentially an interactive horror movie. Players can watch long cutscenes and press the surprise button to prompt them to make instant actions immediately. An untimely button press can send the character to the early grave and exit the story forever. I have always liked that this immerses me in the scene and ensures that the controller never leaves my hand. However, for those who lack a quick trigger finger, this design can be frustrating, which is why I like the new customization and accessibility options. Simple, normal, and hard modes allow players of all skill levels to enjoy the story leisurely or intensely as they see fit. The great thing is that you can also adjust the speed at which the prompts appear, how long they last on the screen, and assign all interactions to the same button. House of Ashes does a good job of opening the door to players who do not have Spider-Man-like reflexes or who want to absorb their stories with less pressure.
Another great additional feature is the 360-degree camera control, which can provide more freedom of exploration. It makes searching for information that is essential to gameplay or the premonition of potential death feel more natural, and makes me want to wander around more. However, what is annoying is that the character turns around like a tank and moves slowly overall. The flashlight mechanism allows you to illuminate the area at the expense of moving speed, but I am disappointed that the game has never used this feature to deal with panic. There is enough light in many areas, I don’t let mine.
“House of Ashes” is set in Iraq in 2003, and tells its story with the United States’ controversial war against the country as the background. While searching for Saddam Hussein’s so-called chemical weapons, a dysfunctional U.S. Marine Corps and an Iraqi soldier were trapped in an underground temple. Trapped, they must cooperate to survive the ancient army of monsters lurking in it. Although you can find historical elements on the fringe, the game largely avoids deeper political dialogue beyond “war is bad” and “uniforms are just uniforms”, which I think is the best. It finally promoted the theme of “The enemy of the enemy is my friend”, and it worked on the surface. I understand this without worrying about Supermassive messing up its sensitive themes.
If you want “House of Ashes” to scare away your pants, you will most likely be disappointed. Although these creatures look great and the design is intimidating, I rarely find the game disturbing. “House of Ashes” feels more like a supernatural action thriller, it constantly throws killers at players after a short assembly, while relying on some predictable and ineffective jumping scares to scare them. In other words, once I succumbed to the goal of the House of Ashes and frolicked with popcorn-eating monsters, I had a lot of fun, and this story had enough intrigue and exciting moments to make me want to watch the crew go deep into the beasts. Unfortunately, it ended with a disappointing revelation. It overturned the premise of these beasts. It evaporated any residual fear I left behind.
The internal problems and interpersonal conflicts of a small number of playable characters have caused dramatic changes, some of whom feel stupid. The love triangle between Rachel (Ashley Tisdale), her separated husband and her subordinates becomes the main conflict. Considering this situation, it feels strange to open the package. Faced with bloodthirsty, almost invincible creatures, is this really the time you want to sleep with? It didn’t go to any meaningful place, and made the three love birds look like paint without much personality other than romantic affairs.
The dead Iraqi soldier Salim became my favorite character because his motivation to return to his son is understandable, and he has the ability to see the forest from the trees in terms of cooperation. Surprisingly, the intolerant “America First” Jason also grew up in me. I found his thought-provoking trauma and gradually accepting Salim, although cheesy and cute. These unfortunate souls may not hit all of them, but the overall strong performance supports them, and the impressive graphics of the game is still a bright spot.
The House of Ashes has never scared or surprised me, but I still think it is a respectable thriller that should allow one person or up to four friends to spend a fun night through the controller. If you have liked “Anthology” so far, you may also benefit from it. However, if you have been waiting for The Dark Pictures to reach the height of “Until Dawn”, please do not hope for another year.