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June 2021

The Dark Pictures Anthology

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: Oct. 22, 2021


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Dark Pictures Anthology: Episode 3 - House of Ashes'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 27, 2021 @ 9:30 p.m. PDT

The Dark Pictures Anthology is a series of stand-alone, cinematic horror games, designed to present a new terrifying experience on a regular basis.

The Dark Pictures anthology is a neat idea. It's effectively a series of self-contained horror stories that share the same basic engine and developer. Rather than a unified connection, they're mostly an excuse to create horror "movies" that are interactive and have tough choices and multiple endings. The Dark Pictures: Episode 3 - House of Ashes is the last of the currently announced entries in the anthology, and our pre-E3 2021 preview gave us a chance to check out a bit of the pre-release horror.

In an interesting twist for a horror movie-slash-game, House of Ashes is set in 2003 during the height of the Iraq War. The cast is a mix of American and Iraqi soldiers who end up suddenly trapped deep underground after an earthquake sends them into what they suspected was a hidden chemical weapon storage space. Instead, it turns out to be an ancient temple belonging to the Mesopotamian king, Naram-Sin. The temple may have been buried for millennia, but that doesn't mean it's abandoned — mysterious creatures roam the halls.

The primary cast is compromised of five members. CIA operative Rebecca King (played by actress Ashley Tinsdale), Rebecca's husband Eric, a pair of relatively dim-witted American soldiers named Jason and Nick, and an Iraqi soldier named Salim. Based on the previous titles, you can expect to play as all five over the course of the game and for all five to be potential heroes and potential victims. What we've seen so far doesn't seem to separate them much from the standard horror movie cast, but does it need to?

As in the previous games in the series, House of Ashes is what is effectively a playable horror movie. Rather than something like Resident Evil, your primary gameplay consists of making character decisions and completing quick time events (QTEs), but sometimes, those things aren't as easy as they seem. For example, in the brief demo that we saw, Nick and Jason encounter an injured soldier. Nick has to perform a QTE to keep the soldier silent long enough for Jason to administer morphine. However, if you mindlessly complete the QTE instead of listening to Jason, Nick will accidentally smother the man while trying to keep him quiet. We learn that success isn't always built on doing something, and sometimes inaction is an option.

Part of what made this fun in the previous games and could very well be the case here is that there's a lot of variety in outcomes. The games have a main plot that they follow, but what you do can significantly impact how things play out. Characters can leave or die very early, entire plots can be skipped, and the characters' fates are in your hands. It's not clear what Nick's accidental homicide will lead to, but it could be anything between an accidental success or something that determines if he gets left behind at a crucial moment.

The Dark Pictures franchise also tends to play with this by allowing for multiplayer. There is both a two-player online Shared Story mode and a five-player local co-op Movie mode. These allow different players to make different choices for different characters, which is a nice way to assure the same kind of thought processes that lead to horror movie disasters.

Of course, if you want to play alone, that is still a very valid choice. People who preorder the game will also get access to a Curator's Cut, which allows you to control different characters during the game's scenes and see outcomes or actions that you might not have seen in your first playthrough.

For the most part, House of Ashes retains the same signature Supermassive style. This includes photorealistic graphics that remain some of the very best you'll see, often approaching the point where they can be mistaken for a film. New to House of Ashes is more control over things. When moving characters around, you can move the camera yourself instead of the game locking positions, and you can turn on and off a flashlight to better illuminate your surroundings, but at a cost to speed. There are even options to make QTEs easier or harder if you want.

Overall, House of Ashes looks like a solid ending to The Dark Pictures anthology. The unique setting mixed with the freedom of choice that the franchise offers means that it will be worthwhile to play through at least once or twice. Add to that the ability to play with friends, and House of Ashes can be a great party game for when we can finally hang out in person again. Hopefully it'll live up to its predecessors when it's released later this year for the PC and all PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

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