House of Ashes Review - Supermassive has found the light

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Games are such a fascinating medium. Although stories tend to be universal, there are some games that just feel like they wouldn't quite work in any other form.

This is the line that Supermassive Games has managed to straddle since their breakout hit, Until Dawn, in 2015. Now, half a decade later, they've brought their unique flair to one of the best horror games this year.

Why does it work?

There are so many tiny features of House of Ashes that probably shouldn't work but just do. Disney Channel star Ashley Tisdale in a serious horror role. A story about, and somewhat allegorising, the Iraq War. A Supermassive game with guns. These all might put off a casual viewer but they manage to stay grounded and interesting throughout.

Although not the best character in the cast, Ashley's character, Rachel, is both interesting and caught in enough melodrama to make Tisdale's tone shine.

House of Ashes
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You control five central characters throughout the main story: four American soldiers and one from the Iraqi army.

Set in 2003, you and a special team are investigating a mountain looking for WMDs, only to find a small outpost of Iraqi civilians. This is where you get into a gunfight with Iraqi soldiers and the final member of your group, Salim.

The Story

The mountain gives way and you are trapped in a tomb built by Akkadian forces over 2000 years prior. Here, you must give up your Nationalistic allegiances to get everyone out safely or cower in fear and prejudice, only to die alone to the deadly creatures stalking the tomb.

Although setting it during the Iraq war is a very risky choice that could end in insensitive depictions and not very nuanced showboating, it doesn't. House of Ashes actually does a remarkable job at reaching into that humanity at the core of every person to present five central characters with developed lives, idiosyncrasies and faults.

Upon meeting every member of the group, you are given a rundown of some of their biggest traits and their relationships with each member. Eric is cool and levelheaded but also insecure. Jason is courageous but intolerant. They have their own attributes that affect your choices but which one you choose is ultimately always up to you.

House of Ashes
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House of Ashes places such a large emphasis on your choices and that's part of what makes playing the game work. Any character could potentially die at any moment. You can find premonitions throughout the map that hint at deaths and if you really look into it, you may be able to stave off the reaper once more.

That being said, part of the joy of these games is just letting your decisions happen. If someone dies, you have to pick yourself up and move on. Every tiny action has consequences and, sometimes, small setbacks stop you from making even bigger mistakes.

These decisions change your characters and their relationships throughout the game and this is something made even better with a friend. The movie night option allows you and a partner to pick which characters you want to play and make your way through the game together, passing the controller at pivotal moments. It almost turns the game into its own performance art, picking options to shock or comfort your friend who has to take over after you.

Pass the controller

There's this game people play in improv circles. You have to build up a story by adding one sentence at a time. The key is you can never say two sentences in a row. It's a story through collaboration. House of Ashes takes this concept and runs with it, allowing you to make a story together, living with the consequences of your actions.

Fortunately, the story is great. It has layers to it that makes replayability much better, with you piecing together bits of the puzzle and figuring out what has gone wrong. The dialogue can be a little cheesy, though, and some of the small decisions don't fit quite as well. These issues are also topped off with some iffy animation and not quite enough gameplay.


This all being said, the moment-to-moment gameplay is engaging, topped off with great baddies and some intense music. All of the characters work within the story and not only justify their setting but actively add to it. You can clearly see motivations, flaws, and what makes them tick.

House of Ashes
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You can understand these people and that's what makes this horror so engaging. I didn't want to get to the end solely to beat the game, I wanted to see these people grow. I wanted to see what was causing all this pain.

House of Ashes Verdict

House of Ashes sits in a very specific niche, one that Supermassive haven't been able to fully capture since Until Dawn back in 2015. Luckily, the series lows have led to one of the highest peaks they've ever achieved. Even with its issues, House of Ashes is one of the most fascinating and engaging horror games I've played all year.

RealSport Rating: 4 out of 5

We played House of Ashes on PlayStation 5 and Review Code was provided to us by Bandai Namco.

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