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Dark Pictures: House of Ashes Preview

Dust to Dust...

Thanks to the kind folk at Bandai Namco and Supermassive Games, DashGamer was given an early preview of the studio’s upcoming sequel to The Dark Pictures Anthology in House of Ashes. As timely as it is, and due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the preview was a hands-off presentation, hosted by Supermassive Games Director, Will Doyle. Explaining that the follow-up entails a plethora of new features, Doyle was not shy in sharing some interesting details about the title. The campaign itself does deviate slightly from an aesthetic point-of-view, but continues to carry the traits of the Dark Picture series, with each character’s path being imperative to how the entire story plays out. Most of its mythology dates back almost six thousand years, in a loose retelling of events that took place in Mesopotamia, a historical region of Western Asia which Iraq now presides within.

Circa 2,250BC, the self-proclaimed God King of the Akkadian empire Naram-Sin, was said have cursed his people with war, famine and plague after the emperor had defied his Gods, upon invading a temple belonging to Enil, the God of Earth, Wind and Storms. This act would not go without punishment, as the almighty scourged the King’s people. In an effort to reclaim his Gods’ trust, Sin would architect and construct a temple as a peace offering to the angered deities with hope that they would show mercy on his innocent, and alleviate the populace of the aforementioned curse but is met with neglect. As tyranny ensues, Akkad falls burying Sin and the temple deep below the desert sands. The temple is discovered millennia later, during the height of the Iraq War in 2003 with U.S. operatives sent overseas after it was detected that weapons of mass destruction may have been stowed deep beneath the surface.

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Will Doyle, Game Director.

Portrayed by actress Ashley Tisdale, our lead character is CIA Officer Rachel King, who is sent along with a squadron of Marines and Soldiers to infiltrate the supposed underground storage unit, where its presumed these weapons are kept. As they arrive to the warzone, they encounter Iraqi forces that are quick to surround them, only for a coincidental earthquake to plunge them well below surface level. 

The group’s expedition take them through the catacombs of the Sin’s ancient temple, where they find riches and majesty beyond imagination, but are confronted with something more sinister. While they may have been deployed in hopes of finding artillery, what they least expected was to come face-to-face with a nest of blood-thirsty creatures. Of course, this is where Dark Picture’s narrative tends to shred the fabric of realism in favour of fantasy and horrific folklore.

While it’s made clear that the threat of Iraqi Soldiers still remain evident above them, a small group of the aforementioned militants are also trapped with the U.S. operatives. Ultimately, this leaves pride and prejudice at the door, with unlikely pairings working cohesively to escape the extremely dangerous situation that threatens both crews. Traditionally, the Dark Pictures Anthology introduces us to our five main playable characters from the very beginning, but in House of Ashes, we’re only given four from the onset. King, her husband Col. Eric King, and Privates Jason Kolchek and Nick Kay. It’s sometime later in the campaign that we’re introduced to our fifth party member, Iraqi officer Salim Othman, as he engages in a heated battle against one of the mystery creatures.

Credit: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment 

Doyle says that the title pays homage to some of the greatest in cinematic action-horror, drawing inspiration from Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), and The Descent (2005). American novelist H.P. Lovecraft’s genius was said to have been a major part of House of Ashes’ creativity and imagination with 1931’s At the Mountain’s of Madness, particularly cited. The teaser unlocked at the end of Little Hope, shows Tisdale’s character separated from her crew, swimming through a river of blood and other remains while she keeps a firm grip on a flaming human thighbone, as she traverses deeper into the mysterious labyrinth. While this is occurring, members of both the US and Iraqi military forge their alliance, placing aside their pride for humility and respect. This plays in part to House of Ashes’ extensive mechanics that are familiar to previous Anthology entries.

Will you choose to be compassionate to your fellow man? Or will you selfishly take the antagonising route and look out for yourself? The choice is up to you, but just be aware that each decision comes with their respective implications. Each choice reconstructs alternative routes towards the campaign’s climax – choose wisely. A neat improvement made in response from the community, is a difficulty setting that now tailors Quicktime Events, allowing players the ability to carefully strategise, but to also enable those that need leeway to execute and initiate said QTE. Another plus – especially for myself – is an overhauled camera rig. Say so-long to the fixed over-the-shoulder viewpoint, with the development team implementing the 360° Camera for heightened exploration. 

In addition, we’re able to control each character’s flashlight, exposing hidden secrets within the tomb, but imposes a slow-down, purposely to impede your pace. Crumbling corridors, paths and hallways are designed to be as claustrophobic as possible, only to lead into vast areas where you may feel vulnerable. Open areas with little-to-no vantage points for safety are precisely placed for preface, and may lead you into untimely situations. Multiple modes make their comeback, with Shared Story allowing players to experience the campaign online, Movie Night for those that are looking for a more intimate approach allowing five player couch co-op, and the inclusion of a pre-order bonus in House of Ashes Threatrical Cut and Curator’s Cut.

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Curator’s cut will run a similar campaign, only to have characters fall into similar situations of different party members, and deliver their individual take on the circumstance. Some real neat Behind-the-scenes footage was shown in-studio, with an actor portraying the unknown beasts that roam the temple. Dressed in mocap uniform, and rigged with a harness, the actor emulated the creature moving on all fours at ghastly speeds. The expeditious pace was then demonstrated in a 10 Minute Demo, where Jason Kolchek and Nick Kay had just fallen beneath the surface, and had briefly sighted one of the monsters crawling from the crevices in this tomb’s broken walls. The design of these creatures are said to be very real, very threatening and very dangerous. Sounds delightful.

From a graphical standpoint, the title looks marvellous. Astonished by how real the characters looked at first glance, I was immersed by its in-game cutscenes so-much-so that I forgot I was watching a demo and not a movie. A next gen version of the title will be released with enhanced graphical fidelity, and overall performance. I cannot express how excited I really am for this entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology, but from this preview alone, my anticipation has escalated beyond excitement. A very promising outlook for the franchise, and its future, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes releases in 2021 for XBOX, PlayStation 4/5 and PC.

House of Ashes - Bandai Namco

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House of Ashes is the third installment of The Dark Pictures Anthology series. It is an interactive horror game under development by Supermassive Games and to be published by Bandai Namco Entertainment for a multi-platform release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and, for the first time, on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in 2021.

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