It After a confusing firefight, the American team collapses and ends up in a subterranean temple, where strange creatures turn out to be more deadly than any enemy. Especially in the beginning you get the feeling that you are in a story that can be summed up in an exaggerated way by the well-known heavy trailer voice: “They were looking for weapons of mass destruction. What they found… was much worse…” (Dun dun dunnnn)
The characters are not only strongly acted, but also credibly written. Here the choices you make in the quieter moments are human and the reactions sound true. Each character has its own distinct character traits, wishes and fears, which are also shaped by the choices you make.
Like previous installments in the series, this is much more of a movie than a game, changing the course of the story in both dialogue and action. Everything counts as a decision, meaning you’ll need to switch off your “standard gamer brain” for a while. To give an example: the game contains many quick-time events, so you have to press the right button within a short time. As an experienced gamer your reflex is to always do this and to ‘win’ the qtes. But that’s not always the best decision, like during the ‘shoot-qte’s’, where you can suddenly use your weapon and the sight turns red as you move it over the target. But this isn’t Duck Hunt: whether or not to shoot is a decision that has major consequences. You could just kill someone who is completely innocent. Or not firing on an unarmed person can mean something for the relationship with others who are witnessing this moment.
The beauty of the way in which the game tells the story is that sometimes you just instantly regret a decision, which only strengthens the bond with your character and the story. Mainly because there’s no way to undo the decision other than starting from scratch.
Unfortunately, there are some elements that detract from the experience. There are some small, annoying bugs in the game that sometimes force you to restart the game. For example, it happened once that there was suddenly a penetrating buzz that continued even when returning to the main menu of the game. Only really closing the game and starting it again ensured that the (relative) calm returned. Fortunately, the autosave function is fine and you do not lose any progress.
There are also (on the PS4 version we played) quite a lot of short loading screens that you get from the experience. The loading moments are fortunately over quickly, but are killing for the tension. It’s like watching an exciting movie on Netflix and suddenly the app has to buffer. So that’s just a shame.Smaller problems, such as pop-in of the textures and the occasional weird camera moments, are a lot less problematic, but beauty flaws that take you out of the fantasy and make you realize that you are playing a game.
And then there’s The Curator. This is a mysterious character that appears in all Dark Pictures Anthology games. In the middle of the story, the game then switches to an old library where this dignified gentleman addresses you, the player, about what has happened. If we are very honest, this Curator is becoming more and more redundant. Especially because House of Ashes moves by at such a nice pace and with so many interesting events and layers, The Curator’s performance feels a bit like a scene is suddenly shown in the middle of the film Aliens in which someone in a leprechaun suit looks at the viewer and says “Plopperdeplop, is this going to be okay, boys and girls?”
The Curator may well be the mascot of the Dark Pictures Anthology, and he probably has a lot of fans, but for this game, we think he should have put a book in a corner read and leave us alone. That’s also because it’s such a great, exciting horror game. You don’t want interruptions. You want to know what that strange temple is, what those monsters are and if the lieutenant colonel can save his relationship. Oh yes, and whether the Iraqi soldier Salim will see his son again.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes combines everything you need from a nice exciting action -horror movie expected: A great setting with a really interesting backstory, characters you care about and an invisible threat that occasionally really scares you.