27/01/2022

๐Ÿš️ House of Ashes | XSX | Review | 7.5/10 | "The Dark Pictures Anthology Continues…" ๐Ÿš️ @TheDarkPictures #GameDev #IndieGame #DarkPictures Anthology

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Three games into the ongoing Dark Pictures anthology and, whilst it plays like the best entry so far, some creaky gameplay already feels like it may need updating to get the best of what this intriguing - and most of all, fun - series can offer.

Set in ‘90s Afghanistan, and mid-conflict between the US and Afghan forces, House of Ashes quickly sees things taking a turn as a group of mismatched soldiers on either side of the war get caught in an event that sees them tumble into an underground temple, rich with a history of monsters and bloodshed.


Following the formula of allowing you to play alone, with friends online or ‘passing the pad’ in order to play through the 5–6-hour narrative in whichever way suits your co-op setup, House of Ashes starts off well, getting the setup going and the action started in a way that draws you straight in.

Whilst the usual gameplay elements that we’ve come to expect are now a series mainstay; QuickTime events that completely alter the course of the story, items and choices that can make things take a drastic turn in a heartbeat as well as myriad other, smaller choices that may or may not lead to consequences further down the time, the visuals and general presentation feel smoother and more improved.


The crux of the story being that a group of would-be combatants fall into the temple and are keen to find a way out and far away from the monsters in pursuit means that the areas in which you slowly trudge around, idly reading scattered papers and casually lore-building does feel a bit arbitrary and takes the sting and pace out of what is mostly a solid and simple narrative.


In our playthrough, unlikely allies were made, mistakes were cursed and lives were lost, the claustrophobic locale means that the pairs of characters are always interacting, discussing and planning their progress, which makes the game feel more cohesive, especially when compared to the previous title – Little Hope – in which players were often scattered, leading to lots of ‘who are you, where are you and what are you doing?’ comments over headsets as it felt like you were pretty much playing separate games, with no correlation as to the links between characters in some cases.

Three games in and the world-building feels like it’s taking shape nicely, the end-of-chapter sojourns back to the curator (who looks alarmingly like Robert Patrick), who teases you with the vaguest of info, “Can I give you a hint? Yes…well, let’s just say that…some difficult choices will need to be made, hmmm?” – no sheisse, Bob! As, moments later I have to choose whether a beloved character (voiced by the awesome Alex Mallari Jr. - good) gets ripped backwards through a tiny hole in a wall, smashing his bones to a bloody pulp or if I should just leave him - bleeding out and drifting in and out of consciousness -  armed with only a pistol against a seemingly unstoppable  - and possibly supernatural - enemy horde. Ahhh choices, choices…


There’s also a late-game narrative shift that was handled well, possibly the best of its type I’ve come across in the genre, especially in a game such as this in which the story strokes are pretty broad, further proof that the team behind the Dark Pictures Anthology really have a handle on things, as each game released feels much leaner and more focused.


The ending here is also quite thrilling and delivered on the tension stakes. The only real downside – apart from tediously wandering around and looking at easy to miss objects and notes was a couple of serious instances that we had in terms of connectivity over the Xbox service. We were quite certain that the fault lay with the game as no other titles suffered and the headset connectivity never dropped out. It could have been a temporary fault, but it did happen on two separate sessions, so worth nothing if you intend to play online.

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