The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes Preview
We get an early look at the next chapter in horror game anthology
It's not every day that a studio is both willing and able to commit to an anthology of games. Most of the time, you hope for the best with your debut, and if things go well then you can talk to the team and the publisher about the future. But in the case of The Dark Pictures Anthology, developer Supermassive Games and publisher Bandai Namco were able to agree on at least three games to be released. Following their successful horror formula that made its debut with Until Dawn, the developers released Man of Medan in 2019, and followed up with Little Hope in 2020. These shorter, standalone horror stories haven't quite reached the same level as Until Dawn, but they thus far succeeded at keeping players on the edge of their seats. The third chapter, The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes is set to launch later this year, and we had a chance to get a hands-off preview demonstration of the game.
The demo was introduced by Will Doyle, game director at Supermassive Games. He spoke about the facts of this chapter – it's still focused on giving players choices, in a multi-path narrative horror adventure with multiple endings, and all characters are in danger of losing their life. As the third game in the Anthology, returning players will be instantly familiar with the mechanics and structure, but since the games are standalone, newcomers can also easily jump in.
House of Ashes will take players to 2003, at the tail end of the Iraq war. The story will begin with a group of US military vets being sent to a suspected location of chemical weapons depot. Upon their arrival however, they are attacked by some remaining Iraq forces, and the battle is interrupted by an earthquake that sends some members of the unit down into the caverns below. In these caverns the group discovers a large Temple, from the times of The Akkadian Empire. As the group tries to find its way back to the surface, they will have to contend with the Iraq soldiers above, as well as a dangerous group of unknown monsters that lurk below.
The cast of House of Ashes will include five playable characters. For the usual touch of Hollywood, Rachel King is a CIA agent who is voiced and motion captured by actress Ashley Tisdale. She finds herself trapped in these caverns with her husband Eric King, as well as marines Jason Kolchek and Nick Kay. The fifth playable character will be Salim Othman, an Iraq officer, and a point of reflection for the team as they must either learn to work together or face certain doom alone.
Much like the previous games, the new chapter will offer a few different modes of play. You can experience the story on your own with the Theatrical or Curator cuts (the latter includes extra DLC by offering new scenes and character perspectives). Or you can play with others in local multiplayer by passing the controller amongst five friends in Movie Night mode. Lastly, you can still play online with another person via Shared Story.
While House of Ashes will follow a familiar formula, the game does aim to introduce some new features. Based on fan feedback, there will be a difficulty setting added, so players can scale up or down the challenge of Quick Time Event prompts. There will be a new flashlight button, which lets you look around the area without moving the character around. And last but not least, the game will make a big change by switching away from the traditional fixed camera angles, and will now offer players control of the third person camera as they explore. This will also be the first title to appear on the new console generation, where developers promise improved loading times and higher quality visuals.
We had a chance to look at an early sequence demo from the game, just after the characters get caught in the collapse. The demo followed Nick, who found himself in the sand caverns and separated from others. The story cutscenes looked solid and about what players have come to expect from the Anthology. However when the player gained control of Nick, he was now freely able to move the camera around – however it looked fairly awkward on a number of occasions. Making a drastic change like this can certainly take time, so hopefully it won't be an issue in the final release. After making his way through some passages, Nick reunites with his superior Jason, but not before encountering some mysterious noises and movement in the dark. They spend a few moments arguing about what Nick may have seen, and this demonstrates the same dialogue choice wheel that fans will be familiar with.
Shortly thereafter, they move ahead through the underground temple ruins, and hear a scream of someone. They rush ahead to find Marwin trapped by some wire and bleeding, as Clarice tries to free him. As the two men work to assist, they finally get Marwin down, but in that moment Clarice gets suddenly snatched away into the darkness. In a panic, they begin to run and drag the injured soldier with them – but he won't stop yelling. They find a spot to set him down, and a QTE appears to hold down on his wounds to pause the bleeding. When it doesn't work, Nick tries to quiet the soldier while Jason attempts to find and inject him with morphine. But for one reason or another, Nick is too stressed out, so he inadvertently suffocates Marwin while trying to keep him quiet. It's a QTE event, so it's unclear whether that's a player choice or a scripted story event. On this, the brief demo wraps up.
Supermassive Games have found themselves a cinematic horror formula that works, and their unique approach of multiple smaller adventures seems to be paying off. These aren’t genre-defining experiences, but they are engaging and frequently chilling – and you can't ask for much more from this genre. The Dark Pictures Anthology has been arguably getting better with each new entry, so this new third chapter will hopefully hold even more promise. The change to free camera is perhaps the only question mark at the moment, as the rest of the experience and gameplay seems to be following the same well established formula. The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes will be released sometime this year for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5.