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At the end of the Iraq War, Special Forces hunting for weapons of mass destruction unearth something far deadlier – a buried Sumerian temple containing a nest of ancient and unearthly creatures. To survive the night below they must forge a brotherhood with their enemies from the world above.

House of Ashes is the third installment of The Dark Pictures Anthology series and its first season. It is an interactive horror game developed by Supermassive Games and 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 on October 22, 2021.

Plot

Prologue (2231 BC)

Akkadian Balathu is about to kill Gutian Kurum as a sacrifice, but is stopped by a guard who says that the king is demanding his presence. In the throne room, Naram-Sin says that sacrifices are needed to win the battle against Gutians, starting with a Gutian woman. After killing her, Balathu is sent to battle. At the same time, Kurum manages to escape from the cage by killing the guard.

An eclipse begins, and with it the battle of the Akkadians and Gutians, which leads to the awakening of something sinister underground. Balathu and Kurum meet again in the throne room and form an alliance, together trying to escape through the catacombs. However, there they are attacked by creatures and, despite attempts to fight back and escape, they presumably die.

Main Story (2003)

As soon as the prologue ends, the player is introduced to the Curator, who introduces himself and explains the game mechanics.

In the present day in Iraq, the US military gathers at camp slayer - Lieutenant Colonel Eric Edmund King, his wife and CIA field officer Rachel King, Rachel's lover Sergeant Nicholas "Nick" Kay, First Lieutenant Jason Kolchek, Corporal Nathan Merwin, Eric's assistant Dr. Clarice Stokes, and Lance Corporal José "Joey" Gomez. They all gather in the briefing room, where Eric explains that with the help of Caelus, a satellite program he developed, something like an underground storage facility was found in the military zone, where chemical weapons can be stored. Having explained the plan of action and prepared, the squad is sent to Target LZ. Meanwhile, Iraqi Lieutenant Salim Othman comes home with a present for his son Zain on his eighteenth birthday. However, he is approached by Captain Dar Basri, who informs him that the Americans are coming, forcing Salim to go into battle.

Upon arrival, the US military inspects the huts for an entrance to the underground, but is attacked by an Iraqi patrol, killing Joey. Suddenly, an earthquake starts, plunging both the Americans and the Iraqis into the underground of the Zagros Mountains. While both sides explore around the caverns trying to find a way out, they encountered sinister creatures that hunt them. Meanwhile, Rachel and Eric stumble upon Naram-Sin's temple and discover the remains of a group of British archaelogists known as "The Randolph Expedition", before being ambushed by Dar. Eric and Rachel will then try to escape through a giant chasm, where both of them get involved in a tough situation. Eric can be killed here while Rachel will always fall into the chasm nevertheless.

The player meets with the Curator again, who briefly discusses the relationship between the characters and the fate of Rachel, Eric and Merwin. He also can offers a bit of advice to the player saying that the path from Hell to the Light is long and hard.

Eric reunites with Nick and Jason. Suddenly, someone sabotages the generator and having repaired it, the group begins to search the ruin in search of an invader. To Nick's surprise, they hear Joey and, looking for him, stumble upon Dar. During the skirmish, Dar causes a small collapse, separating Nick and the others. Walking through the caves, he finds another creature, but Salim catches him. He says that they must work together, thanks to which they manage to kill the creature. Eric and Jason take their place and everything can lead to the fact that Salim is taken prisoner, he manages to secretly escape or he kills Eric. Back at the temple, Nick and Jason fortify the temple by placing bombs. At the same time, Eric interrogates Salim, but the conversation turns to relatives or does an autopsy of the creature's body. Using the UV lamp that Eric wanted to use for inspection, he accidentally sets the creature on fire.

Rachel is shown surviving the fall by landing in a pit of blood. Trying to find a way out, a creature begins to chase her, but Clarice saves her, blocking the passage. They climb the top of the chasm, but halfway through the path, Clarice becomes ill and Rachel notices a movement in her throat, realizing that she has been infected by the creatures. At the top, they realize that the chasm is on the other side, but Rachel gets there with a rope. Clarice may get across the chasm, fall while trying to cross the chasm, be abandoned by Rachel, or voluntarily refuse to go, knowing that she can't be healed and she may hurt someone.

While examining the outside of the temple, Jason and Nick find an electric pole and offer to use a radio. At this point, Jason is attacked by Joey, who has become infected. Eric arrives to his aid and uses a UV lamp on Joey, who lights up and falls into the chasm. When he falls, the guys realize that there is a swarm of creatures below. While patrolling the perimeter, Nick finds the archaeologists' radio. It turns out to be broken and Nick can try to fix it, but it will fail, or the healed Merwin will help them and fix the radio, the Americans will be able to call air support. However, during the repair, the radio begins to beep endlessly, attracting the attention of the creatures. Moreover, they are again attacked by Dar and during the shootout Merwin dies and Eric can die.

The group escapes to the temple and begins to close the doors, but they hear Rachel and let her in with Clarice (if she was not abandoned). Eric realizes that Rachel was cheating on him with Nick and they start beating each other, but Rachel manages to defuse the situation. If Clarice went with Rachel, she will feel bad again and upon learning that she is infected, Jason decides to kill her, but Rachel can dissuade him.

The creatures try to get into the temple and while the guys are holding the door, Rachel runs to fix the generator, which starts to shut down again. The group escapes into the catacombs, before this firing back from the creatures who have made their way. During the escape, Rachel and Eric may die.

Having destroyed the hallway, the group reaches the sacrificial chamber, where they again face the Iraqis. Hearing the approach of creatures, the heroes head to the next room, but Clarice again becomes ill and can continue to be taken with them or abandoned. In the chamber, the group is ambushed by a swarm of creatures and they begin to fight back. While doing so, they also encountered The Ancient One, who is an infected Balathu/Kurum. The group is then quickly wiped out by the creatures. Dar dies and Eric can be killed by Clarice while Salim escapes.

Jason and Salim meet and decide to work together. They find some cells which have becomes the archaeologists' medical bay, from where they descend into the caves and find an elevator leading deep down. Before descending, Jason leaves a mark to the rest of the protagonists.

The Curator intervenes and again comments comments on the relationship of the characters and their fate, and then sends the player back to the game. Before that, he says that they will meet the next time the heroes cross the finish line or bury what is left of them.

Meanwhile, Eric returns to the chamber and finds Rachel and Nick awake. There they are again attacked by The Ancient One (alone or with Vampire Rachel). Escaping from him, the group reaches the cells, where Eric can die fighting the Vampires. Before going after the others, Eric and Nick ask Rachel to finally choose one of them. Rachel chooses her husband, her lover, or rejects both, after which the group follows the guys.

Taking the elevator down, Salim and Jason find themselves on a giant spaceship. While exploring it, they find several cocoons and Balathu's/Kurum's body preserved in a fluid. To their horror and shock, he turns out to be alive, despite the fact that half of his body has decomposed. Salim realizes that it prevents decomposion and aging because of the fluid, and then kills Balathu/Kurum out of mercy. Passing by a heap of cocoons, one of the Vampires awakens and attacks the guys, but they are saved by the rest. Having escaped to the Star Chamber, Rachel becomes ill and she sees hallucination about how the space ship crashes to Earth, realizing that the Vampires are aliens. Realizing that she is infected, she can commit suicide, be shot by Jason, be cocooned, run away and become infected later on or Eric uses a UV lamp on her to help get rid of the parasite.

After reaching the motherlode, Nick decides to go and bomb it. However, it turns out that there is a much larger motherlode than this and Nick can retreat or go there, risking his life. After blowing up the motherlode, the protagonists run to the elevator, but because of the Vampires, Salim lags behind the others. They can abandon him, wait at the elevator or Jason will run to rescue Salim. While climbing up back to the surface, two protagonists from the group can be attacked by an infected Clarice/Rachel in the caves.

The protagonists finally get out to the surface, but there is another trouble awaiting them - the eclipse begins and the Vampires rise onto the surface. The protagonists run into one of the hunts, fighting off the Vampires and The Ancient One (If he was not killed previously) for a total of 6 minutes. If the radio was fixed, air support arrives early to help the heroes fight the Vampires. Finally, the eclipse ends and the Vampires are burnt to death by the sun. All remaining survivors will then wait for air support. If air support wasn't called earlier and the radio wasn't fixed, Salim will walk home by himself. As air support comes, the group remains calm and happy as the helicopter flies into the sun.

The Curator will then comment about the result of the adventure. Before leaving, the Curator will tell the player about their next story which will take place in a hotel where they will "have a decent night sleep and find it hard to escape", before claiming the player that they know the way out.

Ending

At Camp Slayer, two people known as Miller and Brooks arrive to discover the remains of the Vampires while also witness the interrogation of the heroes. Whoever dies has their body laid inside a bodybag on the table. They then claim that the government has covered up this incident.

After-Credits Ending

After the credits, a teaser trailer for the next chapter of the anthology, The Devil in Me, is shown.

Gameplay

As the first installment in the anthology to appear in the ninth generation consoles, House of Ashes also features many new mechanics.

In Man of Medan, some players complained about sudden QTEs, which made the game too hard, while in Little Hope, some complained about QTE Alerts, which made the game too easy. Therefore, in House of Ashes, three difficulty levels have been added: Forgiving, Challenging, and Lethal. Players are now able to adjust the speed of QTE executions and Keep Calm! segments to their liking, even while in a playthrough.

The camera has been completely replaced by a floating camera and can be rotated 360 degrees (which, however, is not very convenient in narrow tunnels). There is a flashlight function that allows the protagonists to explore dark locations, but at the same time slowing them down. Characters usually use flashlights on their guns, but sometimes use alternative illumination sources such as lighters and torches. The mechanic of switching between protagonists per chapter, first used in Little Hope, is present in House of Ashes. However, it is only present in combat scenes in which more than two protagonists participate. The switch also only lists the playable characters' name.

Normal QTEs haven't been changed, but aiming QTEs have been changed drastically - the player must figure out where to aim without the use of an icon. The only indication of completion is the crosshair turning red and shrinking when landing on a specific target. The timer takes the form of a bar located on the bottom of the screen, which will slowly shrink itself to the center for timeout.

The Bearings have been redesigned. While in previous games the bearings were designed as a compass in a skull, in House of Ashes they look like a raven and can be flipped like a book, similar to Until Dawn's Butterfly Effects mechanic.

Characters

House of Ashes follows five main protagonists, who fall underground during an unexpected earthquake and end up in an ancient Sumerian temple. The playable characters are four Americans - three military personnel and one CIA agent - and one Iraqi soldier.

Supporting characters and antagonists include: other members of the American unit and Iraqi patrol, figures from ancient Middle-Eastern empires, and underground monsters living in the caves of the Zagros Mountains.

Playable Characters

Supporting Characters

Antagonists

Vampire Humans

Soundtrack

See "Music" for a cleaner view of this content:

In-Game Music

  • Eclipse
  • Semper Fi
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • The Sword and the Shield
  • Rachel
  • Bloodbath
  • Assault
  • The Ancient One
  • City
  • Strange Aeons
  • Cocoons
  • Into the Light

Credits Music

Trailer Music

Development

The team took inspirations from Aliens, Predator, The Descent, and At the Mountains of Madness. Game director Will Doyle described House of Ashes as a creature feature and an "exploration horror" game about an ensemble cast of "trained experts"—"beyond safety" and unable to get backup—in a "critical" mission somewhere secluded, where they encounter threats that Doyle characterises as "horrible" and "inhumane".

The developers spent an extensive amount of time designing the creatures, the most complicated of their kind that they have made, and the monsters were brought to life through both motion capture and hand animation. Executive producer Dan McDonald, in an exclusive interview with PCGamesN, added that the developers focused on determining the monsters' physiology to achieve an "otherworldly" effect, which they did by using "a bunch of props, stilts, and other things".

During interviews with the Supermassive team by magazines Polygon and Game Informer, McDonald claimed that while the game is set during the Iraq War, war and politics were "not intended" to be the primary focus, but they tried to treat the setting with respect nonetheless. To this end, Supermassive Games consulted military specialists and Arabic speakers during the game's production to ensure if their depiction of 2003's Iraq was "grounded in reality" and the plot's script was of good quality. The setting of Iraq was chosen due to the location's abundance in myths and folklore that the team could incorporate in the story. Furthermore, they believed that the Iraq War being the setting would give an "interesting" starting point to help flesh out the protagonists and build complexity and nuance, allowing the opportunity for "interesting" character motivations, relationships, and dynamics.

Jason Graves returns in The Dark Pictures Anthology to compose the soundtrack for the game. Created during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the score consists of various string and percussion instruments, including hand drums and distorted guitars, as well as flutes and synthesisers. Audio director Barney Pratt utilised a mix of film and game music editing techniques to create a cinematic and immersive atmosphere for House of Ashes, and his team wanted the style of the game's score to be shaped by the plot and gameplay.

The first footage of the third installment in The Dark Pictures Anthology appeared in Little Hope's gold framed picture. Not only that, a small teaser from House of Ashes would be shown after the end credits. There, the protagonists of the new game were shown and soon their names were revealed: Rachel, Eric, Salim, Nick, and Jason.

In the teaser, several helicopters, in one of which is Rachel, are flying in the mountainous area and landing. Nick and Jason are then shown shooting in a dark cave. At the same time, a voice-over (Jason) tells someone (Eric) to start believing in God, since they were attacked by an unknown threat. Towards the end of the teaser, the voice changes and the new character (Salim) says that in Sumerian myths, the souls of the dead are sent to the House of Ashes, where they are plagued by demons. At the same time, it is shown how Rachel, being in a huge pool of blood, finds a statue of Pazuzu. She hears clicking sounds and turns around in horror. The teaser ends, announcing the title of the third installment and the release year - House of Ashes, 2021.

On May 19, 2021, another teaser trailer was released promoting the first gameplay reveal on May 27. It was released along with a short introduction with Will Doyle, who briefly talked about new mechanics, characters, inspirations and threats. The gameplay itself lasted 7 minutes and both already known characters and new supporting ones (Clarice and Merwin) appeared in it.

On June 10, a story trailer was released, in which the main threat was fully shown and the release date was announced - October 22, 2021. On September 3, 2021, a 40-50 minute demo of the game was released to various content creators and game reviewers. In addition to the previously shown chapter, it was possible to play for the rest of the protagonists and even kill Eric.

On September 22nd and October 14th, an exclusive interview with main actress Ashley Tisdale, who plays Rachel, was released. She was chosen because she could portray a "tough" personality but simultaneously be able to show a "soft side". Kimberley Wallace, who writes for Game Informer, points out that House of Ashes, like other games in the anthology, contains one high-profile actor that stars as their game's lead, and she brings up Shawn Ashmore and Will Poulter as evidence of this.

Reception

General reviews for House of Ashes

House of Ashes received "mixed or average" reviews from critics and "generally favorable" reviews from users, according to Metacritic.

The characters of House of Ashes were the subject of commentary for many critics. One of the protagonists, Salim, received widespread praise from audiences - Rachel Weber, writing for GamesRadar+, wrote that some of the characters felt like "good impressions" of human beings, citing Salim as a character she "really wanted" to save, and Richard Wakeling from GameSpot commented that the developers did an "excellent job" at making Salim a sympathetic character and cited his character dynamics as being the game's "best and most poignant moments". Jordan Devore from Destructoid agreed and considered him as the "most likeable" and "relatable" of the cast, and he also calls Salim the "most pragmatic" due to his willingness to put aside conflict in order to escape the temple. Tom Orry from VG247 thought that Salim stood out from the cast due to his backstory and personality, and Cass Marshall from Polygon added that Salim's character motivation of returning home to his son throughout the story, his "enormous vampire kill count", and his relationship with Jason was what made him stand out.

Trivia

References

References to House of Ashes appear in other installments of The Dark Pictures Anthology:

House of Ashes contains many references to other installments in The Dark Pictures Anthology:

  • Man of Medan, first installment:
    • Jason nicknaming Eric as "the skipper" when asked about his opinion of him by Nick may be a reference to Fliss, the skipper of the Duke of Milan.
  • Little Hope, second installment:
    • Roadside diner from Eric's flashback. This reference makes House of Ashes the first game that mentions another installment, which also plays an important role in the game.
    • The key used by Kurum looks the same as the one which Megan locked her relatives with.
    • Ad of the beer brand "The Singing Nickel", which was drunk by James and Vince.
  • The Devil in Me, fourth installment:
    • A newspaper references the execution of serial killer Manny Sherman, who murdered at least thirteen women.
    • A book in a box beside Rachel's desk is titled "Mind of a Killer".
    • Nick's shirt having a printed word "Chicago", where Holmes' Murder Castle took place.
    • The drug dealers encountered during The Raid have the compass symbol on the back of their sweaters.
    • Salim's dialogue in Strange Aeons about how the Vampires turned from architects into killers.

Other

  • House of Ashes is based on the kingdom of Akkad and Sumerian mythology, particularly touching on the story "Curse of Akkad".
  • The title was trademarked before the release of Man of Medan, although its theme and arrival in the anthology were completely unknown.
  • The skull in the game's cover has sharper incisors. This may be a hint that the prominent antagonists of the game are vampires which have notably sharp incisors.
  • This installment represents many firsts within the anthology:
    • The first to be available for new generation consoles (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S).
    • The first with difficulty settings.
    • The first with a different composition of the main group (Four male and one female protagonists).
    • The first to not take place during the year of release.
    • The first to feature actual historical figures (King Naram-Sin of Akkad, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush) excluding ones mentioned by the Curator in previous installments.
    • The first to feature supernatural threats.
    • The first which is not named after a major location in the game.
      • According to the mythology book and Salim's words, House of Ashes is an underworld where human souls are tormented by demons. This has a figurative meaning, as in the game characters fall to the underground where they are attacked by Vampires.
  • Although House of Ashes is the third game in the The Dark Pictures Anthology by the release date (released 2 years after Man of Medan and a year after Little Hope), chronologically it is the first game in the anthology (set 16 years prior to Man of Medan and 17 years prior to Little Hope).
  • Most of the characters are named after vampire-related famous writers and characters, although the names have been slightly changed.
  • So far, House of Ashes has one of the longest timeskip and time-wise bearing (The Ancient One), which starts from 2231 BC and ends in 2003, making it lasts 4,234 years.

Gallery

Videos

Navigation

Season One Man of MedanLittle HopeHouse of AshesThe Devil in Me

References

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