The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes Hands-on Preview
Playing through the latest entry in the Dark Pictures anthology has quickly become a favourite yearly pastime in my household, so I was excited to get the opportunity to check out a preview of this year’s entry – House of Ashes – ahead of the game’s release next month. It’s due near the end of October (so, near Spooky Christmas aka Halloween), which will once again be a fitting time to experience the chills that await. This time, the horrors are to be found underground, in the ruins of what seems to be a buried temple that was under previous excavation.
As is often the case in this anthology, it seems that the game will touch on two different time periods – one surrounding the events of the original research into the temple, and one set closer to the present day. The preview picks up just after the prologue (which, if it’s following the pattern of the previous entries in the series, is likely to be set at least a few decades in the past – but that’s just a guess), and centres on a group of soldiers in 2003 Iraq, during the Iraq War. After an earthquake, the group is plummeted down into the ruins of the temple and separated, left to navigate the dark abyss with limited equipment, and in some cases, life-threatening injuries.
With the exception of one character, Salim, whose background isn’t explored in detail but who is certainly intriguing, the group seems to be composed entirely of American soldiers. The Americans, at least at the early point in the game, form two conveniently organised groups. We have Rachel (Ashley Tisdale, the token Recognisable Actor) and Eric, who clearly have a whole past and a heap of drama surrounding them. There’s some big unfinished business between them, and it seems like they’re going to be the couple of this latest entry. Am I here for their relationship? I’m not sure yet. The preview foreshadowed that while Eric might be interested in rekindling their romance, Rachel has options. One is Eric, but the other is Nick, who forms half of the game’s other stranded pair. Nick and Jason, our other two soldiers, are tasked with caring (or not caring) for the incredibly injured Merwin, who has truly just lost a lot of blood. It’s clear even from the preview that there are going to be some big choices in this game, and I’m already excited to see how they’re going to play out.
Of course, this is a horror game, and the horrors aren’t limited to the stress of navigating personal relationships or the fact that buried ruins (or really just caves in general) are kind of inherently terrifying. In what seems to be record time for the series so far, some of our protagonists are introduced to the monsters of the game. Or at least, one of them. I don’t want to spoil it too much here, but appropriately for its Sumerian Temple setting, the spooky mystery seems to be somehow related to a Mesopotamian demon, who is more well-known than I originally realised when I first heard the name. Rachel, upon finding a statue of the demon, recognises it immediately, chastising Eric (who hasn’t heard of them) with a scathing “don’t you watch horror movies?” and I’m sure many horror fans will have a similar reaction.
In terms of gameplay, House of Ashes is unsurprisingly very similar to the games that came before it. You’ll guide the protagonists through various areas, investigating objects, and making crucial choices in the heat of the moment. Quick time events may impact who lives or dies throughout the story, but past games have taught us that relationship (and even personality) management might be just as important. This game will see the return of the three familiar modes – Play Alone (for those who want to go it alone in single-player), Movie Night (for those who want a pass-the-controller experience in a room with up to four friends, with each person controlling a different character) and Shared Story (which allows you to play online with a partner, with each of you experiencing different parts of the action). Premonitions are back too – objects that you can pick up in the environment that give you a glimpse into a possible future for the characters. Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they show you things to avoid, sometimes they’re just confusing – but they’re always intriguing, giving you an insight into what’s to come.
The preview section was definitely just long enough to leave me with a lot of questions but also get me excited about how the story might unfold. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities here, and I’ve come to learn that no matter the direction they take, each of the Dark Pictures games tends to provide a fun, interactive horror movie experience. Despite a heap of commonalities, both of the entries so far (and also, it seems, this latest offering) have their own personality and unique twist, and I’m very much looking forward to (and am obviously terrified by) what the complete House of Ashes game will bring.
Jess is a writer and researcher who loves games with good puzzles, good stories, and a tendency to punch you straight in your feelings. She is one of the directors of not-for-profit organisation Queerly Represent Me and is particularly interested in games told from unique perspectives that highlight themes or characters from groups that are often underrepresented. She also just really loves coffee, hot chips, and terrible superhero TV shows, and is always secretly hoping that one day the world will give her a good Sherlock Holmes game.