The Dark Pictures Anthology: House Of Ashes Review – A Respectable Reign Of Mild Terror

The Dark Pictures Anthology’s yearly offerings of horror adventure games have been middling at best, and House of Ashes, the third entry in the series, retains the status quo. Although it has an interesting antagonist and entertaining moments, it lacks the scares or adventure that make it stand out.

If you’re new to the series, House of Ashes is essentially an interactive horror movie with players watching lengthy cinematics and hitting surprise button prompts to make split-second actions at a moment’s notice. One wrongly timed button press could send your character into a premature grave or outright kill you. This kept me interested in the scenes and made sure that my controller was always with me. This design can be frustrating to those who lack a fast trigger finger. That is why I like the accessibility and customization options. All skill levels can enjoy the story in Easy, Normal, or Hard mode. It’s great that you can also adjust how fast prompts appear, their duration on-screen, and assign all interactions to the same button. House of Ashes does a great job of widening its doors to players who don’t possess Spider-Man-caliber reflexes or want to absorb its tale with less pressure involved.

The 360-degree camera control is another great feature that allows you to explore more freely. This makes it feel natural to search for game-essential information and premonitions about possible deaths. It also made me more curious. However, it’s irksome that characters turn around like tanks and move slowly overall. A flashlight mechanic lets you illuminate areas at will at the expense of movement speed, but I’m disappointed that the game never takes advantage of this feature to use in its scares. There are many areas that have sufficient light so I didn’t bother to add mine. 

House of Ashes unfolds in 2003 Iraq and uses the United States’ controversial war on the country as a backdrop to tell its story. While searching for Saddam Hussein’s supposed chemical weapons, a dysfunctional squad of U.S. marines and one Iraqi soldier become stranded together in an underground temple. They must work together to overcome the legion of old monsters that lurk within, and they are trapped. While you can find historical elements along the edges, the game largely avoids wading into a deeper political conversation outside of “war is bad” and “uniforms are just uniforms,” which I believe is for the best. It ultimately serves to push the theme of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and works in a surface-level sense. Supermassive didn’t fumble its sensitive subjects matter. I understood the concept.

If you’re hoping for House of Ashes to scare your pants off, odds are you’ll be disappointed. Although the creatures are impressive and their design is intimidating, the experience was not overwhelming. House of Ashes is more like an action-thriller that lobs its monsters at you after a brief build up and relies on few predictable jump scares. However, House of Ashes felt more like a movie about a monster-munching monster, which I found entertaining. The story is filled with enough intrigue to make me want to dive into the belly of this beast. It ends with a shocking revelation, which completely rewrites the concept of these beasts, and that wiped out any remaining fear.


There are a few characters that can be played, but they have internal problems and inter-personal conflicts. This creates drama. Some of it is silly. As the main issue, Rachel is divided between her estranged husband (played wonderfully by Ashley Tisdale) and her subordinate. This seems like an odd thing to discuss given the circumstance. In the face of bloodthirsty, nigh-invincible creatures, is this really the time to hash out who you’d rather sleep with? It doesn’t go anywhere meaningful and makes the three lovebirds look like dopes who don’t have much personality beyond their romantic affairs.

Salim the lapsed Iraqi soldier became my favourite character. This was due to both his understanding of the importance of returning home to his child and his ability for cooperation to distinguish the trees from the forests. Surprisingly, the intolerant “America #1” Jason grew on me too; I found his sobering trauma and gradual acceptance of Salim, while cheesy, endearing, nonetheless. These unfortunate souls may not all hit, but strong performances across the board back them, and the game’s impressive graphical presentation remains a highlight.

House of Ashes was not scary or unexpected to me. However, I found it to be a decent thriller that would make for a fun night with friends or alone. If you’ve enjoyed the Anthology up to this point, you’ll likely get a kick out of this too. But if you’ve been waiting for The Dark Pictures to reach the heights of Until Dawn, don’t get your hopes up for another year.

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