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The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Takes Itself Way Too Seriously

Dark Pictures Anthology House of Ashes

If there’s anything worse than a poorly-made horror movie, it’s one that tries to portray itself as being thought-provoking or deep. Much of The Dark Pictures Anthology can fit neatly into these two boxes, but House of Ashes truly takes the cake. What little appeal House of Ashes had? It bogs it down by a ham-fisted attempt at political commentary on the Iraq War, followed by a genre-breaking plot twist that felt entirely unearned.

House of Ashes starts off as an exploration horror set against the backdrop of the 2003 Iraq War. All playable characters are in the U.S. military, save for a lone member of the Iraqi Republican Guard. After an earthquake drops the soldiers into a previously-hidden ancient Sumerian temple, both sides find themselves forced to reconcile their differences and find a way out. However, the soldiers must also fight against monsters awakened by a firefight that broke out just moments before.

Dark Pictures Anthology House of Ashes review

House of Ashes is visually impressive. The realistic environments and depth of field are also vastly improved compared to the previous Little Hope. But these graphics are undercut by shoddy animations that are arguably worse than the last entry. Facial animations are a particularly noticeable example. This problem’s likely exacerbated by the game’s comparatively well-lit environments. Characters’ eyes will swim around unnaturally, unfocused on the people to whom they’re supposedly talking. In some cases, characters will also move to put away a weapon or item, only for it to reappear in their hands just moments later.

In a similar vein, the writing is only marginally better than previous titles. There are some pretty glaring inconsistencies with some of the characters’ interactions. I would often make a narrative choice only for the character to say the exact opposite a few scenes later.

House of Ashes also makes a feeble attempt at de-politicizing conflict in the Middle East. It does so primarily through interactions between the blatantly racist marine Jason and Iraqi soldier Salim. Which is a shame, because the scenes involving the two characters also feature some of the game’s best writing. Very few interactions bother highlighting the atrocities of the conflict, even though the game’s premise revolves around weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps even worse, the theoretical WMDs used as justification for invading Iraq are forgotten at the end of the story. All of this leads me to ask: why did Supermassive choose the Iraq War as the background for this game?

Dark Pictures Anthology House of Ashes review

Without spoiling anything, the latter half of the game left me baffled and confused in the worst way possible. The game reveals some significant information about the origins of the monsters, but does so in a way that feels entirely unearned. Not only was there little to no indication of where the story was leading, but it seems as though Supermassive Games couldn’t even come up with its own unique twist.

This isn’t a total surprise, considering how Little Hope borrowed concepts from Silent Hill. Until Dawn was also an homage to horror films of the 1990s. However, House of Ashes goes a step further. It shamelessly rips entire monster designs, environments, and plot points from a certain popular movie franchise. This would have been fine, had it been a B-movie take on the genre that reveled in the absurdity. But because it takes itself so seriously? House of Ashes ends up feeling like an imitation of the very films it tries to reference.

The result is that House of Ashes fails to adhere to any coherent central message or genre. It squanders whatever potential it has with a story that lacks focus. And it compounds its narrative issues with a cast of unlikable characters. Gameplay elements and accessibility features see no changes, save for prompts that finally warn you when a quick-time event is coming up. At a $29.99 price point, it might even be a fun game to heckle with friends. Just don’t expect any Oscar award-winning writing here.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.

Andrew Kiya
Andrew Kiya is a mixed Japanese writer, streamer, and activist. Born in Japan, and raised in both Japan and the United States, he is forever waiting for the next Ape Escape game.