House of Ashes Review: A treat for Halloween
Supermassive Games’ next entry to their Dark Pictures Anthology had us on edge and strung us along for an amazing ride.
Halloween is all about getting together, turning out the lights and enjoying a scary good time — but did you know you can get that experience from a game? House of Ashes – a new and very timely release from Supermassive Games – is the intense, roller coaster, interactive story you never knew you were missing on Halloween.
A horror story set in history
Supermassive Games hit the ball out of the park with their story and the setting. The game’s prologue is set during the ancient Middle-Eastern Akkadian Empire, but the game is set in 2003 during the end of the Iraq War. This unique setting uses the region’s amazing history to create something truly terrifying: a crack military team trapped in an underground temple, facing an ancient curse.
The story itself is well-paced and fleshed out to its full potential in the 6 to 7 hour playtime, with plenty of twists and turns. The unpredictable storyline is bound to keep you guessing (and looking over your shoulder!). Beautifully designed sets, coupled with spooky and surrealist scenery create a really tense atmosphere. The fusion of history and the modern day war in Iraq creates a captivating story with plenty of scares and lots to discover along the way.
Plus – if you enjoy a well-designed monster, paired with fantastic sci-fi elements then House of Ashes is definitely a game you will love as much as we did. Supermassive Games have really stepped it up with this one, which we think might be their best title since Until Dawn (2015).
Did the cast sell it?
The appearance of Ashley Tidsdale among the cast of characters is a welcome surprise: and she definitely nailed her first role in the horror genre. Despite being mostly recognised for her work with Disney, Tidsdale was perfect in her role as the strong and confident leader Rachel. The rest of the cast do an equally brilliant job in their performance: with Nick Tarabay and Paul Zinno as our personal favourites due to their double act towards the end.
It’s crucial in a horror story to care about the characters, so you really feel that frustration and remorse if you lose one of them. Each character has their unique traits and ways of dealing with the situation at hand – their relationships develop and become more complex throughout the game.
As previously mentioned, we loved Tarabay and Zinno’s characters (Salim and Jason) and their brilliant relationship that comes to the fore during the final stretch of the game. The bond they create over shared experiences during the war, and the fact that they fight on opposite sides goes to show how important unity is during a horror story. Despite how difficult working with motion capture can be, the cast and team managed to create a really immersive experience.
Every choice has a consequence
This game isn’t your average horror game where you run in guns blazing, but it is a choice based game mixed with ‘quick-time-events’ and ‘keep calm’ sections. This mechanic includes pressing specific buttons before time runs out and a gameplay feature where your button taps match a heartbeat to remain ‘calm’. During dialogue sections, you will have either a ‘heart’ or ‘mind’ choice to select — or you can stay silent if you’d prefer. These dialogue choices will affect your character’s fate and their relationships going forward, and even early options can affect the ending!
These mechanics are both challenging and increase tension in the gameplay: especially the ‘keep calm’ sections where messing up might cause the death of a character! What’s especially unforgiving is that the game autosaves after each choice you make — so you’ll have to live with your mistake (or restart the chapter). Speaking of death, the game prides itself on having over sixty unique character deaths: so there’s no telling what will happen if you make a mistake.
When you’re not making a difficult choice that may or may not lead your characters to their demise, there are sections where you can explore, discover secrets and premonitions. Overall, there is so much to do in House of Ashes, you’ll find yourself replaying it to get different outcomes and unlock achievements!
Finally, something unique about this game (and all the previous Dark Pictures titles) is that you can play co-op with friends! This co-op can be played both online or in your own living room, so a Halloween night playing this game with your friends should be on your to-do list. If you decide not to play alone, you and your friends can play different characters not accessible during the ‘play alone’ mode. There’s more to be uncovered, and much more at stake if you pass the controller to that unreliable friend!
Stakester Grade: A
Overall, if you’ve been a bit disappointed by the Dark Pictures Anthology so far you can be sure that House of Ashes is going to buck that trend. It’s a thrilling and captivating game for players of all levels — even if you’re not experienced or the pressure is on, there is a helpful difficulty setting.
Treat (or trick) your friends to a great Halloween experience this year by turning on your console and putting this game on.