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Thursday, May 27, 2021

‘The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes’ Sees a Significant Revamp to the Horror Game Anthology Series [Preview]

After getting the first real look at House of Ashes, the third entry in the narrative horror game series The Dark Pictures Anthology, Supermassive Games have clearly listened to player feedback on what does and doesn’t work with it. As the anthology makes the jump to next-generation consoles, it transforms into a truer evolution of the Until Dawn formula.

Gone are the fixed cameras outside cutscenes and conversations; now, exploration is encouraged with a player-controlled 360-degree camera. The complaints about the ‘threats’ players faced in previous games? It’s been addressed with a genuine, very monstrous danger to the latest cast of potential victims. Along with some general tidying up of QTE mechanics and new difficulty settings, this is already a major departure from 2020’s Little Hope.

What does stay the same is thematic. House of Ashes blends evils of the past with a fairly modern cast. Set in 2003 Iraq during the war, a team of American operatives (including Ashley Tisdale as CIA operative Rachel King) is sent in to uncover a possible weapons silo in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction. After a firefight with Iraqi soldiers at the site of this silo, an earthquake causes the ground to collapse, trapping both sides underground in a long-buried temple built by real-life historical figure Naram-Sin of the Akkadian Empire.

So no WMDs, but a long-lost temple is surely a juicy discovery? Sure, if said temple wasn’t built as a failed attempt to appease the Gods and rid Naram-Sin’s people of a curse. The big discovery these unwitting intruders will make is that the ruins are overrun with some ferocious subterranean monsters out for their blood. The reassurance is there from Supermassive; this is no illusion; these bastards are real.

So the two warring human factions must team up to survive this hellish descent into history. As in previous entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology, the player switches between five different characters throughout the story (with alternate perspectives also available in the returning Curator’s Cut). There are no fail states if a character dies; the story continues without them. You can finish the tale with everyone alive or none of them; it all depends on the player’s decisions along the way.

The anthology structure has allowed Supermassive to have a healthy selection of horror sub-genres and influences to pick from. Not to mention the hook of each episode is based on some historical mystery or event. The most obvious nod in House of Ashes is towards Neil Marshall’s The Descent, but the developer notes Aliens, Predator, At the Mountains of Madness, and the historical fall of Akkad as the historical context also being key elements in House of Ashes‘ structure.

In a short gameplay segment shown to us, we got to see two American soldiers, Jason and Nick, as they first wandered the newly-discovered underground caverns. Nick is the character in the player’s control, and he tries to reunite with Jason at the start (with a subtle nod to the infamous Heavy Rain ‘Jason!’ shout). Jason spots an inhuman shape in the gloom of the cavern, but the creature skitters off before he can get a good look at it.

Once reunited with Jason (Nick’s superior), the pair bicker about what Nick thinks he saw but are interrupted by a scream. It turns out it’s one of their squadmates, tangled up in wires and bleeding profusely while his colleague stands by helpless. As Nick and Jason try to cut the poor sap down, the other squad member is dragged into the darkness by an unseen force. It seems the entity Nick saw earlier has brought some friends, and they’re quite hungry.

The remaining trio escapes for a moment, and what follows is a tense QTE where Nick tries to stifle the screams of the injured soldier while Jason attempts to stem the bleeding. All the while, the creatures are screeching away, clearly still hunting for them. There seems to be an implication these creatures are either blind or poorly sighted, relying on sound to hunt, which could throw up some interesting encounters and moments of tension.

I’m intrigued by the changes made in House of Ashes to the formula of The Dark Pictures. While Supermassive clearly has a vision for this ongoing project, it’s admirable that it is open to tweaking it on a game-by-game basis. One of my small issues with the previous entries was that the exploration felt limited by the fixed camera system. Here in House of Ashes, Supermassive’s decision to fluctuate between tight claustrophobic spaces and wide-open explorable caverns gives a best of both worlds approach.

With Frictional Games tackling desert caves, lost temples, cosmic horror, and screeching beasts lurking in the shadow in last year’s Amnesia: Rebirth, I’m curious to see a different take on it with a more cinematic effort. We’ve seen relatively little of House of Ashes so far, but it is already showing promise as the entry that sees The Dark Pictures hit its stride.

The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes is out on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X/S, and PC later in 2021.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3666879/dark-pictures-house-ashes-sees-significant-revamp-horror-game-anthology-series/

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