Among Ashes is original, intriguing, and terrifying | Hands-on preview

by on April 11, 2024

Horror is such a difficult genre to reinvent, and to do something that hasn’t been done before is a rare occurrence within the video game medium. After playing the demo for Among Ashes, I found that I haven’t been this excited to play the finished product in a long time. Not only does it feel fresh, it has that eeriness and mystique few developers seem to manage. Although quite the different style of game, it reminded me of Davey Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide in the way it made me feel: excited, exposed, and engaged in the ideas it through at me right out of the gate.

Although the demo isn’t particularly long, it does everything to show you what Among Ashes is. It’s a first-person horror within a first-person horror, cleverly done and easily interchangeable. You start off in front of your computer playing a Quake-like game when a message pops up on a Messenger-style program from a friend telling you to download a game he’s found online. It’s set in the early 2000s, and everything about it feels you’re sat in front of your PC with the way your desktop is laid out. It feels authentic, but it’s also one of the ways it starts to make you feel uncomfortable.

Upon loading up the website where you get the game, a message from the developer pops up through one of those old custom-made websites someone wouldn’t be seen dead creating these days. The message is unnerving and you get the impression something isn’t right, but maybe it’s being done for effect – to make people play the game through drawing up interest. Regardless, you download it and after a few moments, it’s time to play. Booting up Night Call, it feels like you’re walking the manor in the original Resident Evil, albeit in a country house in the middle of rural England.

Everything from the way you take damage via a traffic light degradation system to saving your game through notepads and not typewriters feels like Resident Evil, but that’s the point. It’s a vessel for what is really going on, yet it still feels authentic to play. You forget it’s a game within a game until your friend’s message notification pops up in the corner of the screen. “Have you met the girl?” he said, and although at that point I hadn’t, I was waiting for that moment to arrive. In the meantime, I explored the halls of the manor, met some creepy rich asshole in his study, shot some zombies, and solved a genuinely fascinating puzzle.

The puzzle was solved thanks to the clues given to me by my buddy, as he explains there’s a game-breaking bug involving the puzzle and proceeded to give me the answer so it didn’t happen to me. It’s very meta, but never in a forced way, and you start to get immersed in what’s going on in Night Call you forget about the room you’re in until something happened that gave me an anxious feeling in my stomach. I’m sure a light flickered in my room when I saw a body walk across the hall in Night Call, but I’m still not sure. That’s where the cleverness comes in and the two worlds start to bond into a terrifying state.

So the girl. I’d gotten to a point where I returned to the study I’d solved the puzzle in before, looking for the man who owns the manor and who’s wife turned into a zombie earlier in the game when a little girl stood at his doorway. Suddenly, she bolted towards me and I shit myself, taking a breather as I stood away from my computer and decided to explore the house I was living in in 2001. After heading to the kitchen and seeing pizzas and videotapes strewn across the house, I heard a bang and saw a letter appear underneath the door. After picking it up I turned around to see that little girl was standing there, in my world, with that same creepy look on her face.

I have no idea what’s going on in Among Ashes, but I’m so invested. There are so many cool ideas going on between both worlds that I haven’t been this excited for a horror game in a while. The authentic visuals of old-school survival horrors make Night Call such a cool game to play, but the peeling back of the curtain makes you nervous and scared. We all play these kinds of games, but the difference is we can turn them off and they’re gone. I think that’s what makes it such a clever concept; the fact we all understand how games work yet never think about what would happen if reality merged with them.

Among Ashes is coming to PC, and you can play this demo on Steam from April 15th as part of Steam FPS Fest.