Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: April 2006
Note: Originally published 20 April 2006
Barrow – A burial mound. Typically used thousands of years ago to honor the great men at the time. Some barrows are simply large piles of dirt over a grave. Others contain rooms and chambers. Sometimes the barrows were marked with standing stones, or menhirs.
England has thousands of barrows and standing stones (the most famous of which is Stonehenge). The county of Cornwall is especially rich with these artifacts from the past. In fact, they have a small town named Barrow Hill which contains, you’ll never guess, a barrow with standing stones.
Over the last several years a team of archeologists have been studying Barrow Hill. So Matt Clark and the team from Shadow Tor Studios went out to join them. They took many pictures of the mound, stones, buildings, textures, foliage, everything. Bringing it all back, they modeled what they saw and made an adventure game (http://www.barrow-hill.co.uk/) about… a group of archaeologists studying the barrow and disturbing something which should not have been disturbed.
The game is out now via web purchase and it is just wonderful. It is a classic adventure game which gradually reveals a good story while exploring a beautiful setting and solving rational puzzles.
Barrow Hill has a wonderful creepy feel to it. Perhaps not as intense as Scratches or Fatal Frame, but there is enough going on to remind you that this isn’t just a moonlit walk to go picking gooseberries.
The story is a good one and they play it out at just the right pace for me. While several people get killed in it (people have to die in a ghost story or no one would believe it), there is no gratuitous violence. You simply come across their bloodless remains. There are quite a few “BOO!” moments, but when my daughter finally saw the monster she couldn’t stop laughing. A few good scares with no problem sleeping afterwards.
The graphics are lovely. Most designers can render exquisite furniture, but plants come off as artificial. Shadow Tor had just the opposite effect. You can see from the screenshots just how beautiful the foliage is. The plants and trees are perfect. Moss and lichen grow on weather stained brick walls. It is the coffee cups and ketchup bottles that need work.
What is truly amazing is when you look at their website and see photographs of the original buildings side by side with the rendered game copy. It is just unbelievable.
The sound effects are spot-on from the chirping of an authentic Cornish cricket to the rustling in the bushes which doesn’t quite line up with your movement. Are you being stalked?
Voice acting is good, if a little stretched. Accents are believable and the actors knew the context of their lines. But there is the occasional scene where you have to listen to “What's that? It's coming for me! Gasp! Oh no!...” over and over. It's good to start with, but after the initial shock you just want to say “Fine, get on with it.” Still, I wish most games had this little to criticize.
Game play is the good old-fashioned 2D slide show. Usual complaints about not being to look in every direction I would like are balanced by the wonderful resolution that is used. Hot spots are of adequate size. The only complaint is that some of them change with time. There are some spots which indicate that you can use an object, no surprise there. But there are other spots where the cursor is neutral – nothing to do here. Then, when you come back later in the game, there are new hot spots which weren’t there before.
During most of the game it is fairly obvious what to do next. You find a key to a desk so it is reasonable to go check out the desk. But every now and then you have to go back to where you have already been just to see if something changed. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often and the action is fairly continuous. Good pacing.
The puzzles are all reasonable. They fit in perfectly with the story – find a way past the locked door, re-assemble the torn letter, etc. Most are simple and easy, but there are major puzzles which require you to assemble clues from various sources and pay attention. But as I said, they are all reasonable.
Bottom line? I really enjoyed this game and expect you will too. There is nothing in this game that you can point to and say that it was a breakthrough, but it is all consistent and consistently good. It is thoroughly enjoyable and doesn’t turn south on you halfway through. Add all that to the fact that it’s an independent developer and I would be remiss if I didn’t give it an A-. This deserves a place on your shelf.