Every autumn for the past three years, Jason Graves has provided us with a new horror soundtrack. The latest soundtrack, made for the third instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology, House of Ashes, is as remarkable as the previous examples. Nothing unusual about it since the composer has already accustomed us to the fact that he has never actually made an obvious nor boring score. Furthermore, Graves is a horror music specialist, as many critics and gamers report.
Graves is a horror music specialist.
The House of Ashes plot takes place in Iraq in the early 2000s, just after the United States invaded the country under the pretext of it possessing weapons of mass destruction (something that was never actually proved). The game tells the story of a squad of Marines who are sent on a mission to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but who subsequently find that there is no such weapons and who awaken ancient evil instead. Hunted by the Iraqi soldiers and vile creatures dating from Sumerian times, the Marines must do everything to keep themselves alive.
House of Ashes is, for me, the best part of the Anthology so far. Its dialogues and story are well written; its characters are true-born, having their own problems and issues. The fact that the locals in the game speak Arabic and not English with an Arabic accent is also praiseworthy. Furthermore, the game does not portray heroic Americans and bad, uncivilised Iraqis – as Hollywood movies often do. It shows both sides of the conflict and the motivations of both groups of soldiers. The remarkable sound design of House of Ashes, along with its music, is yet another great feature of this production.
The House of Ashes OST is a wonderfully balanced mix of synthetic and organic sounds. There is no actual theme here, just various kinds of slowly pitched up-and-down sounds, creepy sweeps that originated from a funny sound of a dove recorded by the composer and then processed. The end result is genuinely terrifying, especially when the music accompanies us in dark caverns filled with ancient monsters. We can also hear lots of tribal percussion similar to that used in the score for Far Cry Primal in tracks such as Eclipse, The Ancient One or Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The latter track is a dynamic combat-style one, where electric guitar riffs and Eastern vibes (also appearing in Semper Fi) are present. The army related motives played by English horns and snare drums can also be heard in the reflexive and beautiful theme for Rachel. As in Jason Graves’ previous horror scores, an orchestra is used (Assault, Into the Light) as well as a cello he recorded himself (Semper Fi). All of these are steeped in thoroughly planned electronics that makes a scary accompaniment to our Marines’ underground experience.
The House of Ashes OST is a wonderfully balanced mix of synthetic and organic sounds.
The soundtrack corresponds well with the game’s scenes and sound design. Barney Pratt, the audio lead, did a great job once again and, in my opinion, sound design for House of Ashes is the best among the Anthology games. The terrifying clicks made by the creatures, the right implementation of reverb and well-executed voice acting – skilfully combined with the music – is what defines the good audio for any horror game. I only wish that the sounds used for the weapons were more impressive, since they all sounded rather muffled, with exception of the RPG and the heavy machinegun.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Jason Graves does not make bad soundtracks. The House of Ashes OST, although simpler than those of previous games in the Anthology series, is yet another horror score with nothing to complain about. I really hope future games in The Dark Pictures Anthology will receive audio and musical design that is as interesting as those already released.