The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Hands-On Preview – A promising course correction

Posted on September 4, 2021

One franchise that I’ve been rooting for with bated breath over the past few years is The Dark Pictures Anthology series. An anthological horror series from Supermassive, the team behind the cult classic Until Dawn? Surely that’s literal gold. Unfortunately, we’re two entries in and that hasn’t quite proven to be true. Man of Medan and Little Hope alike disappointed a little. The next upcoming venture in The Dark Pictures Anthology series, House of Ashes, didn’t quite convince me with its last look. Stepping out of fresh from a one hour hands-on with the title and I’m ready to be proven wrong (or burned once more).

In such a brief time, my preview experience let me truly get into the thick of it. Amidst violent warfare on Iraq’s surface, an eruption left members on both sides falling deep underground into ancient ruins and caves. It’s here that horrors, both supernatural and human, await. In this look, I finally get more of an idea of what threats these forms take. Pursuing you through both tight cave channels and wide open throne rooms are what can only be described as giant as all hell bats, using their sonar hearing to follow you relentlessly.

I’m frankly quite excited by the prospect of having more foes and fears to overcome than any Supermassive entry prior. In my last look at House of Ashes, I couldn’t help but take one look at these armed to the teeth, suited up soldiers and wonder where the real worry of danger would come from. In practice, weaponry is used sparingly, with gunplay moments only serving as periodic quick-time events.

The sparing use of gunplay makes sense contextually, you’re controlling characters absolutely stranded. Who knows how long they’ll be stuck down there before they’re (hopefully) rescued? What’s to happen if they were to engage in gunfire in a gaseous cavern area? Of course they’d want to be a little conservative with their supplies.

“I’m frankly quite excited by the prospect of having more foes and fears to overcome than any Supermassive game prior.”

House of Ashes will let you explore in some new ways for the anthology. Ditching the fixed camera approach, players can now control and look around their surroundings more. Still, it creates this interesting divide.

A flashlight equipped or a thrown flare in the distance only goes so far in those moments when you’re navigating tight passageways. Here, the camera is drawn in ever so close to your back, with limited movement allowed, scarcely able to see more than a few feet ahead of you. It’s in these moments that the creeping dread kicks in, wondering whether it’s friend or foe waiting at the end.

The other exciting thing going for House of Ashes is that, unlike the prior Dark Pictures Anthology forays, this looks to have at least some characters I can see myself growing to care about. Two key characters in-game are Rachel and Eric, two star-crossed lovers who have a complex history they’re trying to make work… all the while being stuck in what feels like the literal Underworld. Oh, and Rachel is played by Ashley Tisdale. Hell yes. Give me her as a final girl.

Offering tense, horrific moments deep underground and tough choices, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes looks to be a thrill. In my playthrough, it looks like I already fumbled greatly, losing Rachel. What this indicates is the exciting stakes that’ll be on offer. It might not be the be-all and end-all horror game of 2021. I may even still have some hesitations. But I’m still willing and ready to be there for the ride, no matter how bumpy it may be.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes arrives October 22 on PC via Steam, Xbox One and the Xbox Series consoles, PlayStation 4 and 5. Do you have what it takes to delve into the underworld?