The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes - The First Hour
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 12:16am 04/09/21 | Comments
We got to play through Supermassive Games’ latest installment in the Dark Pictures anthology. The first hour that is.
House of Ashes is the latest installment in Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures anthology series, interactive horror that has so far seen two installments -- the at sea terror of Man of Medan and the Salem Witch Trial inspired Little Hope. With each entry having a distinct look and feel in terms of narrative, the connective tissue comes from the focus on character-driven stories and the ability to play online with others, or with friends in the same room via the very popular Movie Night mode.
With House of Ashes we see the focus shift to modern day Iraq in what’s best described as a creature feature based on ancient Sumerian myth. In its tale we get to take control of and shape the fates of both American and Iraqi soldiers who stumble on an underground cave system and temple. One of those ancient locales that harbours a dark secret. ‘Natch.
Ahead of its release we had the chance to play through the first hour of the game on PC, which you can see below, in 4K.
Set in Iraq, 2003. In the shadow of the Zagros mountains a military unit comes under fire from Iraqi forces. The resulting firefight causes an earth tremor where both sides fall into the ruins of a buried Sumerian temple. With all communication severed, our protagonists are trapped in a terrifying underworld they must navigate to escape, unaware that something ancient and evil has awakened in the shadows and has found a new prey to hunt.
Shifting the action to the middle-east is one thing, but what makes House of Ashes feel different to the other entries is the addition of monstrous creatures found in the temple. Part Alien (the first iconic movie that is), part demonic invasion, it’s a different style of terror compared to the first two Dark Pictures. Even still, it retains the look and feel of an interactive movie with dialogue choices and branching paths. Being on the run from a menacing entity is quintessential horror, doubly so when it comes to videogame horror. And really, it was only a matter of time before the Dark Pictures series dipped its blood-soaked toes into the creature pool.
Shifting the action to the middle-east is one thing, but what makes House of Ashes feel different to the other entries is the addition of monstrous creatures found in the temple.
That said, the pacing is a little different than what you’d expected to find in a straight-up movie. The formula, that is the creature feature setup, kind of dictates that characters are introduced, things are going well, dread builds, and after a decent chunk of tension you finally get to see the monster in action.
“House of Ashes is a very different beast,” Game Director Will Doyle told us in a preview session earlier this year. “Little Hope was kind of a folk-horror, this is more action packed. And it draws from a different set of influences, we're looking at films like The Descent and Aliens, so it feels very different. The creatures themselves are horribly threatening, and there's more than one. The action involves our soldiers being in running gun-fights with monsters, and nearly always up against an overwhelming threat.”
“We're really trying to make you feel that the creature is out there,” Will added. “That you feel its presence and that it’s threatening you at all times.”
With copious amounts of shadow and only a flashlight or two available to light up corridors, developer Supermassive Games doesn’t immediately lift the lid on the creature(s) so much as it begins with a string of action/chase sequences to immediately spell out the supernatural undertones of the situation. Here we get to see both factions go up against the threat -- or, you know, turn around and run.
As a player and viewer you get enough looks and glimpses to know full well that the threat chasing you isn’t of this world -- which almost immediately rules out the whole ‘you must be seeing things’ vibe. So yeah, instead of a slow build (or even an ambiguous intro scare) there’s plenty of action before exploration kicks in for reals.
What we’ve seen in this first hour there’s definitely a level of polish and a number of underlying changes that make this third story feel different.
What we’ve seen in this first hour there’s definitely a level of polish and a number of underlying changes that make this third story feel different. House of Ashes might just be the most impressive Dark Picture to date, at least from a technical perspective. The arrival of a true third-person mode for exploration does wonders for conveying the isolation and dread that comes from walking through an environment drenched in, well, darkness.
The absence of light and the lighting on display is as technically impressive as it is immersive, with the full third-person control letting you choose what is given light or not. In terms of videogame interactivity that might sound like something from the original Xbox era, but when viewed in the sense of horror it does wonders for the immersion. Playing on a high-end PC this will no doubt reach a new cinematic level, visually, across PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X -- which will also support 4K.