The Dark Pictures Anthology, developed by Supermassive Games and distributed by Bandai Namco, is a series of horror games based on strong and complex narratives, in which the players are the main players.
The series began in 2019 with the release of Man of Medan, and last month saw its third episode, House of Ashes, arrive. Pplware has already had the pleasure of experimenting.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is a game series developed by Supermassive Games, which are characterized by two main aspects. First, a strong narrative component, usually based on a terrifying mystery. On the other hand, they are games that feature gameplay based on taking actions and dialog options.
These two aspects fuse together almost perfectly in House of Ashes creating a game experience that is more like an interactive book, in which the adventure and evolution of your characters depends on who reads it.
The action of House of Ashes takes place in the year 2003, in the middle of Iraq. However, the beginning of the game takes place many years ago, in the middle of the Sumerian empire, and where we are told that a curse falls on an ancient local ruler and that, apparently… endures in time.
After that first moment of the game, where we also realized the main mechanics that we will find in House of Ashes, we are transported to the future, to the year 2003.
It is a time when American troops (and other countries of the international coalition) invaded Iraqi territory and tried to wipe out Iraqi troop pockets still loyal to Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
An extremely dangerous time where there was much evidence and suspicion that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, but little evidence of it.
It is precisely during a mission to discover a cache of these Weapons of Mass Destruction that a unit of the American Special Forces embarks and that we follow in the game.
The location of this hideout is somewhere in the Zagros Mountains in eastern Iraq.
Upon arriving at the scene, the American troops are attacked by an Iraqi detachment and in the heat of the conflict something unthinkable happens. The entire area where the attack takes place collapses and the troops on both sides are swallowed up by the earth, landing inside a long-buried Sumerian temple.
Isolated from communications with the outside world, the protagonists (Americans and Iraqis) find themselves trapped in these eternal catacombs where something ancient and malevolent has awakened. And woke up to hunt…
These are the dice thrown for a horror adventure where moments of tension abound. Moments that are so much related to the Ancient Evil that awakened and hunts our protagonists, but also heavier moments considering the relationships between the different characters.
I would like to make an aside to indicate that, in the chapter on creating the game’s characters, Supermassive Games did a very creditable job. Although not all the protagonists have had the same attention (I regret that the Iraqi Salim has been somewhat forgotten), each one presents its own story and posture.
Right from the start, the game presents us, through cutscenes quite well involved in the gameplay, each of the characters and their motivations. It’s something commendable, because, in addition to being a way to explain certain future behaviors, it also brings a greater emotional density to each one and makes players create bonds (or not) with them.
In other words, the game presents us with the history of each character as well as their motivations, and this is important, as during the game, virtually everyone will be forced to endure horrible discoveries and make difficult decisions between sacrifice and survival to overcome life-threatening situations.
One of the main fears that this type of game has, about its gameplay, is related to the fear that it becomes a game too static and with little adrenaline. House of Ashes dispels those fears in a very interesting way. The game manages to alternate moments that are more leisurely and that enhance scary situations, with others that are more stirred and with more action.
That balance is competent, and House of Ashes takes full advantage of it. I think, however, that having a military aspect, the game could present more combat situations, or the use of weapons. They do exist, but they are frankly few.
But returning to the choice system (whether during the action or in a dialogue), House of Ashes is quite competent and works in its task of guiding the adventure and the characters in a certain direction.
Virtually every available option entails a distinct outcome, a cause-and-effect system that may or may not be harmful. It is up to the player to consider (in the short amount of time they have) the potential effects of their decisions.
I think, however, that these same options would not always be the ones I would take myself. Of course, this is explained by the fact that the game has (several) scripts, but I would like to have a wider range of options on certain occasions.
As you’ve noticed, I’m avoiding talking too much about the Ancient Evil that the protagonists encounter in this Sumerian temple. I believe it will be much more interesting, discover it for yourselves, because the game is very well written. The narrative is quite interesting and grabs us, always waiting for one more discovery or explanation.
But more. In addition to the narrative that it presents and that leads the player to discover the origin of this Ancient Evil, House of Ashes also addresses other different and very interesting themes.
Issues such as trust in times of stress, work overcoming family loyalty, betrayal, revenge… many issues end up being addressed more or less deeply in House of Ashes. And at certain times, there are even times when we can try to correct (or not) these more personal issues.
Teamwork is usually the best option, but like many other aspects of House of Ashes, the choice depends on the player and it is this continuous decision-making process that shapes the story until its end. By the way, House of Ashes allows players to go through the campaign alone, or in cooperative mode.
In the game, we alternate between several characters, each facing their own decision-making systems. One of them is Salim, an Iraqi soldier who also finds himself trapped in this same nightmare. With the evolution of the adventure, and of our options, Salim’s attitude and posture in the face of the horror that surrounds them and in front of the American soldiers, will be shaped. And it’s interesting to see that happen, based on our options. It’s really like an interactive book… our options help to write the story of each of these soldiers trapped in this deadly labyrinth.
An extremely interesting and well implemented detail in House of Ashes is the positioning of the cameras. With a very careful presentation, Supermassive often places the cameras in dramatic locations, especially in intermediate cutscenes, which helps to create very exciting moments of suspense.
As for the camera, there are some occasions when its placement may not be the best. Often caused by the player himself, since, since he is free, with the movement of the characters he sometimes gets into awkward positions, noticing a certain resistance to straightening again.
On the other hand, the light and shadow effect is extremely important, given the context of the game and the development team knew how to take advantage of it. In a very competent way there are several moments when our nerves are put to the test when, with just a lighter, for example, we walk through corridors completely dark and where frightening sounds approach.
There are still other moments in House of Ashes where we have to press buttons, either repeatedly, or at the right timing to make something happen, or where we manage to dodge an obstacle….although these situations are perfectly in context of the game and the narrative, I believe that they only sin by appearing without prior notice. In any case, this makes the player have to be permanently alert to the action, as these moments can arise at any time.
In order to further contextualize the origin of all that Evil and why there is evidence of other expeditions previous to that Sumerian temple, the game offers a vast series of collectibles that we find scattered throughout the scenarios. These are letters and videos that we found and that help us to understand all the terror that surrounds us.
A final word for the Curator, an interesting character who comes across as a sort of host for the game. Addressing the player directly, in an extremely interesting approach, this character, in addition to kicking off the action, occasionally appears in the middle of the story to give hints, or just create mystery and leave us more captivated by what follows . It reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s Fifth Dimension that always had a small presentation of the theme.
Despite being a short game, with the fingers of one hand and little else, the hours needed to finish it, it is a captivating story with good moments of tension and reflection.
With a gameplay very characteristic of the series, which competently follows the action, the game requires the player to make decisions that could mean life… or death for the characters.
Lovers of this type of interactive adventure will certainly enjoy House of Ashes.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes
- Very well told story
- Moral and ethical dilemmas
- Characters with content
- Actors’ voice system
- Some camera issues
- Lack of any militaristic action
Source: Pplware by pplware.sapo.pt.
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