Supermassive Games created The Dark Pictures Anthology as a means to deliver more choose-your-own-adventure-style horror games much like what they did with Until Dawn. The latest installation in that series is House of Ashes, a story set deep in an underground cave somewhere in the Middle East. I was given the opportunity to play a small slice of The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes ahead of its release this October.
Below the surface
As revealed in trailers and development updates from Supermassive Games, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is set in 2003 Iraq, with the backdrop of the war between United States soldiers and Iraqi forces. After a firefight breaks out, members on both sides are unexpectedly plunged into a deep underground cavern that hasn’t seen any human activity in centuries. It also happens to be home to some bloodthirsty creatures.
The section of the game that I got to play was fairly early on, but it wasn’t the very beginning of the game. The characters were already trapped underground and separated from one another. Nick and Jason were the first characters I met, two US soldiers that are trapped in the cavern. After some brief exploring, we came across another soldier that was suspended in the air, wrapped in the cables from what seemed to be a parachute. Already quite wounded, I had to make some quick choices as to how to save him.
The game presented me with a series of decisions while trying to save the wounded soldier while simultaneously trying to escape the creature giving us chase. Without getting into spoilers, there were instances where I was given a quick time event, but it wasn’t always in my best interest to execute it. I was forced to think and react in the moment, a hallmark trait of the franchise.
Another segment of House of Ashes saw Eric and Rachel, two members of the United States armed forces, exploring what seemed to be a temple within the cavern. It was here that I found a tent, as well as other gear from an excavation team that had ventured through the cave well over a century prior. There were letters and pictures from the past group that I was able to read and examine in order to learn more about what was really going on.
This section also played up the character dynamics in House of Ashes. Rachel and Eric were in a romantic relationship prior to the events of the game, and Eric clearly longs for a reunion between the two. Playing as Rachel, I could either lean into our past and imply that there was hope for our relationship, or keep things strictly professional and focus on the task at hand.
These decisions soon had impacts outside of just how it made the characters feel in the moment. An Iraqi soldier found us, and began firing. As we attempted to escape, a couple strokes of misfortune led to one character’s life being in immediate danger. The choices I made earlier in regards to the relationship had an influence on a character surviving that particular sequence.
If you’ve played Until Dawn or either of the Dark Pictures titles, you know that player choice is the driving mechanic, and that any major story beat can go a number of different ways based on those choices. I replayed the three sequences from my preview a couple of times and found that alternative dialogue options had a very impactful and noticeable change on what happened to characters.
It also changed how the characters felt about one another. Whenever you make a decision, the game updates stats for every character. From the pause menu I was able to see not only the traits that describe the character I was playing as, but also their relationships with all of the other characters. There’s a log of every positive and negative interaction that any two characters have had over the course of the game.
What’s done in the dark…
The first time I previewed The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, the developers told me about all of the features and mechanics that players would have at their fingertips when exploring this new horror story. In my latest preview, I got to go hands-on and get a feel for the game and its cast of characters. It’s only a small taste of what the full game will be, but The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is shaping up to be a unique entry in Supermassive Games’ horror series.
This preview is based on an early preview code provided by the publisher. The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes will be released on October 22, 2021 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.