Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: 10/22/2021
Also Available On
Supermassive Games have the ability to tell great stories and present scary atmospheres and settings. Until Dawn is one of the best PS4 games to date and I loved it. It seems that either their budget is lower, or they’re not taking enough time to finely craft these Dark Pictures stories because thus far they are B-grade horror at best that you quickly forget after the credits roll and House of Ashes is no better. There’s so much left open and unexplored in this paper-thin story that chugs at a snail’s pace until the last hour of the game.
I understand that adventure games like this need time to simmer and do a lot of story building. Life is Strange is a great series that does this very well without feeling boring. House of Ashes is mostly boring. The game drags the pointless story scenario by scenario without anything happening. You keep expecting something to be explained or some backstory to unfold or characters to grow and expand, but that never happens even once here. You play as a group of stereotypical U.S. Marines who are sent down into an ancient temple in Iraq to find some sort of superweapon. Immediately the characters start off unlikeable. Stereotypical Marines of every flavor here. The hard-ass who is rude and has a foul mouth, the jealous couple, the science nerd, the sensitive nerd with glasses who wears a helmet, and the voice acting that accompanies this is pretty bad as well. The guy who plays Jason sounds like he’s faking a mid-western Texas accent and it just sounds so cringy. Everyone sounds like they’re whispering at a high school play recital and it just feels so off.
It takes forever for the team to actually get down into the temple and start their mission. There are just tons of standing around and lots of backhanded comments to each other. The only plot within the group is that Rachel was married to Eric (the leader) and is now secretly dating Nick. Okay? And why do I care? There’s no backstory here, no history, nothing. The game just throws you into these characters’ lives like we already know them. They don’t have strong enough personalities to make you really become attached during the game and I just didn’t care or route for anyone. The vampires you fight take forever to show themselves and become revealed. There are few action sequences and when you do get into them laughably easy with just simple quick-time events and nothing more. This isn’t really a game, but an interactive movie at best.
Failing these quick-time events (you’d have to not be paying attention to fail them) is how most choices and paths change in the story. Sometimes there are dialog choices and I have to hand it to Supermassive for making these choices mean something every single time. They don’t waste a single one. There are choices I made at the very beginning of the game that affects the team all the way through the end and it makes me think back and regret those choices. This is a good thing as it means their choices and path system isn’t useless like most “choose your own adventure” type adventure games are (looking at you David Cage and your games). There are flashing points when you can control a character for all of 10 seconds that are collectible that you can find to unlock interview videos (yawn) and achievements. I tried to make an effort, but despite how little you control characters I still missed stuff. However, the story isn’t interesting enough and takes so long to pick up that I didn’t want to go back ever again. There’s nothing to care about enough here.
The visuals are actually quite good, however, the engine is poorly optimized even for high-end PCs, but again, it looks great. The monster designs are awesome too, it’s just too bad the characters look weird and ugly. I also don’t like that there’s no mystery here. Why are the vampires here? The beginning of the game shows a chapter of ancient people who worship or are trying to stop these vampires, but it’s never explained why or how. There are no explanations here. Even the few collectibles don’t tell of much that’s going on. Just, “Evil scary vampires, and we must stop them”. This game’s story is something you’d see on in the early 2000s on the Sci-Fi channel at 2AM and just watch it out of sheer boredom. Lots of shooting stuff, no one runs out of ammo, their packs hold infinite items, crowbars magically attach to their backs, and so on. It’s so hoaky I couldn’t help but shake my head or laugh at certain scenes.
Overall, House of Ashes is probably a fun entertaining game to look at and play with a partner or friend for an evening, but that’s it. You won’t get anything out of this game, and it’s not even really scary. The vampires look cool and so do some of the human vampires, but that’s it. Military stereotypes, unrealistic events, forgettable and boring characters, and a story that doesn’t go anywhere at all.