Set at the start of the Iraq War in 2003, House of Ashes follows an American Special Forces group on a dangerous mission that has them closing in on an area containing several supposed weapons of mass destruction. A few short moments later, they capture some nearby townsfolk for a “peaceful” intel chat but the opposing soldiers begin fighting back, resulting in the ground beneath each combatant collapsing into an ancient Sumerian temple. Cue the horror.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The five main cast members, lead by none other than High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale – yes, the one that screams like a human siren – all perform their roles quite well. Although I don’t know why Ashley’s character, Rachel has this weird fish-eye thing going on? But anyway, our protagonists all play off of each other with such ease and really come across as likeable and endearing characters. Plus, fans of the series might just pick up on a familiar face or two. However, even as the cast isn’t fleshed out as they could be, you’ll still legitimately want these guys to survive until the end.
When it comes to the main story, it’s actually not that interesting. Compared to last year’s entry, Little Hope which had an extremely compelling narrative arc and flow, House of Ashes ultimately feels like a noticeable downgrade. It’s not Man of Medan levels of bad, but it just doesn’t have much of a lasting impact. The story is simply too rushed, too basic and too cliche to warrant repeat playthroughs. It is intriguing how sometimes intentionally failing certain QTEs in House of Ashes can lead to a variety of different outcomes. Although even with the series’ staple branching pathways and the Curator’s Cut edition which further expands the narrative, you can’t help but feel like the story is somewhat lacking.
A Simmering House of Ashes
That all being said, a handful of new gameplay aspects like being able to change the difficulty at any time, choosing exactly how and when QTE prompts appear, and a cross-gen connectivity feature between the PS4 & PS5 versions for Shared Story are all welcome additions. It was genuinely leaps and bounds more entertaining trekking through the game on PS4 with fellow TBN horror fan, Dillon on PS5. And it performed just as good playing solo, with a variable framerate between 30-60FPS for both modes.
However, there were a few technical hiccups here and there, both online and off. To name a few: every single player character – without fail online – would suddenly freeze in place before picking up an item, a loading screen would casually appear mid-cutscene for no apparent reason, or occasionally the game would just straight up flub the timings for QTEs. Which of course, were always the important ones. I also noticed a litany of yuck-looking textures and pop in, with a handful of blatantly repeated lines and animations for good measure. But even though these errors stuck out like your brother’s stinky smelly socks, they didn’t detract too much from the fun factor overall.
Lighting Up The House of Ashes
Since House of Ashes is mostly set underground with a distinct lack of ambient light, it is quite cool then how the player can toggle their flashlight on and off to find hidden secrets and pathways. I know how dumb that sounds said out loud, but when you couple that with a now constant 360° controllable camera during the on-foot sections, the literal darker areas of the game become much more intimidating.
As a whole, I’d say the horror is more in line with the second half of Until Dawn than the other Dark Pictures games. And it’s all handled fairly well, with a gamut of varied set pieces that’ll really keep the player on their toes. There’s none of that repeat jump scare stuff from Little Hope either, which further helps to keep things fresh. Plus, there are over 60 unique deaths, so fans of the series can go to town here.
Since House of Ashes is a cinematic experience that’s only about 4 hours long, with an average at best narrative and cast of characters that aren’t as in-depth as the previous entry, it’s honestly hard to recommend. Fans of The Dark Pictures Anthology will no doubt eat this up, but for newcomers to the franchise, it might just be too high of a hurdle to jump. The horror elements are well-executed and the inclusions of a changeable difficulty and extra accessibility options are great, although a host of technical issues both online and off can’t help but take the player out of the experience to a certain extent. Here’s hoping the next entry in the series can deliver on all fronts.
House of Ashes belts out some decent cinematic horror, but at the same time, the whole adventure is rather forgettable. The characters are quite fun to watch and the variety of death animations are certainly amusing. Although since the story itself isn’t very memorable, it’s hard to stay invested.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Bandai Namco. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.