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The Dark Pictures Anthology: House Of Ashes Review – The Descent

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes has to justify its setting like few horror games do. While Supermassive Games’ disturbing anthology previously exploited teen horror tropes and Puritan-era paranoia with Man of Medan and Little Hope, House of Ashes looks deeper in terms of influences and geography. Set during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, its setting is a far cry from the ghost ships and witch trials featured so far in the series – tackling a recent conflict with ramifications that are still felt to this day. . Thankfully, House of Ashes uses the Iraq war as more than just a scary backdrop, focusing on both sides of the war as allegiances fall apart in the face of a more terrifying threat.

Much like its predecessors, the last of Supermassive also uses true myths and historical events to flesh out its supernatural elements. House of Ashes begins in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Akkad in 2231 BC. a god and plundered the temple of the main god Enlil. Naturally, this angered the Sumerian deity, who took revenge by invoking an invasion of the neighboring Gutian people. House of Ashes, however, departs from the Akkadian myth by making it a temple to Pazuzu, the king of demons. This grim twist and the appearance of spooky subterranean creatures pose a far greater threat to the remaining Akkadians than the attacking Gutians.


Fast forward to 2003 and a mission to find Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction leads a group of Marines to uncover the dilapidated Sumerian temple and the monsters hidden within. Throwing a group of heavily armed jarheads into a fight with supernatural disbeliefs is a classic genre trope, but it’s a new perspective for the cinematic horror brand of Supermassive. Switching from civilians to soldiers comes with a big change of pace when you encounter its antagonists. You’re still outmatched, and the Winged Monstrosities aren’t too bullet-agitated, but that doesn’t stop the cast from spending a real bucket of ammo almost every time you run into each other.

House of Ashes is never particularly scary, but it has more to do with game design than its cast’s powerful arsenal. The narrow boundaries of the temple’s labyrinthine pathways intentionally restrict both your movement and your field of vision, creating what would be a heart-wrenching feeling of claustrophobia in almost any other horror game. The problem is, you are never in danger when directly controlling a character. Peril only exists during fast-paced events, so aside from a few well-timed scares, navigating the game’s narrow arteries is relatively fearless. Creatures are also shown early and often, so all fear of the unknown is extinguished fairly quickly. That said, the elaborate action sequences that occur when you’re forced to take on the monsters are the most exciting and challenging moments in the series to date.

The Middle East is rarely used as a video game setting outside of your typical chauvinistic military shooter … some of the game’s topics – including criticism of the Iraq war – justify its setting.

Mechanically, your role in these scenes hasn’t changed since Little Hope. There are a variety of intense QTEs that can potentially impact the lifespan of each character. They’re usually pretty short, but you get notified in advance, and it even lets you know what kind of QTE is coming up. There are consequences to failure though, whether it ultimately affects something or results in the immediate death of a character. You never really know, and that ensures these QTEs remain scary throughout. The sympathy of each character also plays a central role in this perpetual tension, as you probably won’t be nervous if someone you don’t care about is in a perilous situation. On the other hand, House of Ashes is also a video game. Failure is ingrained in us as something to be avoided – instead, we’re supposed to achieve the highest score possible – so just trying to keep everyone alive can negate any feelings you have for their characters. in order to achieve the “best” end possible.

However, none of the actors are downright unpleasant, unless you intentionally lift them in that direction with your choices. There are five playable characters, with the story skipping between each of them at certain intervals. Eric and Rachel are the weakest of the bunch, mainly because their relationship with each other covers such busy ground. The couple have been married but separated for over a year, and Eric thinks it’s the best time to work things out and get back together. It’s inherently boring territory and has nothing new to say to make their story feel like more than a well-worn soap opera. Fortunately, the dynamic between the rest of the set is much more compelling.

The Middle East is rarely used as a video game setting outside of your typical chauvinistic military shooter, and these games are generally not interested in showcasing both sides of the conflict. Instead, they often perpetuate anti-Arab sentiments, playing on stereotypes and dehumanizing tropes that portray Arabs as little more than bloodthirsty insurgents. One of the playable characters in House of Ashes is Salim, a reluctant Iraqi Republican Guard soldier. Rather than lazily calling him a villain because he’s on the anti-American side, Supermassive does a great job of humanizing Salim and making him someone you care about and want to ensure his survival. Its interactions with the other characters result in the best, most poignant moments in the game, while some of the game’s other topics – including criticism of the Iraq War – warrant its setting.

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You will of course be leading these conversations yourself to some extent. Supermassive’s approach to choice and consequence is still present in House of Ashes, though the systems he uses are still just as opaque. Each character has different personality traits, such as “Abrasive” or “Commander,” which you can accentuate with your decisions. These traits will sometimes cause characters to act in a specific way when you don’t control them, but the game never tells you how your choices may affect each trait, so displaying all of this information seems pointless when your control over them is. full. roll of the dice. Your choices are also broken down into “Head” and “Heart” decisions, but again, the game never explains what that means or how it might affect potential outcomes. The best way to play is to simply make choices that are right for you. It would be nice if the systems that govern these choices were less impenetrable or hidden behind the scenes, but they don’t detract too much from the experience.

Despite these continued missteps, House of Ashes represents the pinnacle of the Dark Pictures anthology so far. Its setting and characters provide a new perspective for the series, while Supermassive’s penchant for creating tension through something as simple as a QTE is as ever so masterful. It might not be particularly scary, but its action sets are fraught with danger to the fate of its characters, and the final act sticks the landing with a satisfying payoff. The series may still be stuck in the stifling shadow of Until Dawn, but House of Ashes is a step in the right direction.

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