House of Ashes, the next game in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures franchise, just hosted a hands-off gameplay reveal and it seems as if the developers are focused as much on making up for missteps in previous entries as they are at telling a compelling story this time around. Given the content of the preview, I’d say they have a pretty good chance of accomplishing everything they’ve set out to do.

Ashes takes place in 2003, at the end of the initial invasion of Iraq by the American army. The plot follows a team of soldiers who head to the Zagros mountains in a futile attempt to discover hidden weapons of mass destruction, hoping to retroactively justify their incredibly illegal military push. The fruitless search is interrupted by an Iraqi ambush, and during the firefight an earthquake opens a hole in the ground, trapping the survivors in an underground temple full of hideous beasts hungry for their blood.

Yes, House of Ashes features real monsters.

Anyone who’s played the previous Dark Pictures entries, Man of Medan and Little Hope, will be all too familiar with their most popular criticism — that at each game’s climax, it was revealed that all of the monsters players had encountered were actually hallucinations caused by chemical weapons or mental illness. Supermassive Games obviously has no interest in getting a third strike from their die-hard fans, so a decent part of the House of Ashes preview was devoted to the not-imaginary beasts that will be stalking the player through the buried temple where the adventure is set.

While we weren’t treated to a good look at the monster design, Supermassive has made sure to make these beasts key to the promotional campaign. Not only did the presentation feature an extended clip featuring a monster attack, the designer specifically namechecked the films Aliens and The Descent as influences, and they even included a clip of a stunt performer doing motion capture for a beast throwing a giant piece of stone at someone. At this point, the advertising campaign may as well be ‘House of Ashes: This Time the Monsters Are Real‘.

Ravening beasts aren’t the only big change this time — the camera system has been completely revamped for a second time. Rather than the hybrid system Little Hope offered, House of Ashes gives players full third-person style control of the camera, allowing them to freely rotate and search the world to their heart’s content. This doesn’t mean Supermassive has lost their passion for cinematic presentation, however. In the eight-minute clip available, there were plenty of conversations and QTE sequences directed with all of the drama and intensity the series is known for.

Speaking of QTEs, Supermassive has gone out of its way to more effectively balance the difficulty this time around. This has always been a bit of a tricky issue for them — the best ending in Man of Medan was locked away behind a heartbeat-based QTE that was universally decried as too difficult, so in Little Hope the difficulty was dialed back so far that it was a breeze for most fans. This time they’ve eschewed the idea of a one-size-fits-all solution and added codified difficulty levels, letting players decide for themselves exactly how challenging they want things to be.

With its extreme gore, horrifying monsters and gorgeous presentation, The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes might be Supermassive’s best interactive movie yet — and of course, just like its predecessors, the entire game will be playable in co-op experience. Given the kind of extreme situations the teaser demonstrated, having some backup will likely be the optimal way to play.

Personally, I can’t wait to dig into the secrets that lay waiting beneath the mountains of Iraq. While the official release date is yet to be announced, look for more info on House of Ashes soon.

Daniel Weissenberger
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