Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Barrow Hill for PC

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I got Barrow Hill a long time ago.  I was in the market to get something different.  It looked interesting enough.  You have to uncover the secrets of a small town.  Little did I know that it was a puzzle game that was pretty much impossible to solve without serious help.

The game begins with you driving a car through an area called Barrow Hill.  Your car suddenly stalls and you can’t walk back to where you came from.  This means that you have to walk into town where you find a gas station/restaurant/hotel.  When you approach it, you find a running car, but no people around.  When you go into the lobby of the restaurant/gas station, you find someone hiding in the office.  He’ll only open the window for a minute or two and tell you something, sometimes vital to continue, sometimes not.

There are other areas to the game, such as a broken-down jeep and another building, but you have to find a lantern and a book of matches first.  The guy in the office says that he has the lantern, but doesn’t open up to give it to you; you have to figure out that the lantern is in another room next to an empty matchbox.  (You have to go elsewhere to actually find matches.)

There are plenty of things to look at from pamphlets and brochures to cupcakes.  The pamphlets, brochures, notebooks and other written material often have useful information, but there’s no way to tell what’s what.  It’s like those word problems you got in high school where they’d give you five sentences, but only four were necessary to solve the problem.  Here, you’re given maybe 20 pages of stuff, but only two or three sentences may be necessary.

For instance, there are phone numbers on some brochures.  When you finally get a cell phone to use, you can call the numbers only to get answering machines.  What’s frustrating is that you can’t take any of the written material with you.  You have to either write down large quantities of information and hope that some of it is useful or hope that you remember where you left the necessary information.

I ended up quitting only because I kept having to use a walkthrough to get to the next stage.  It was so frustrating to have to quit the game, go online and jot down the next few steps only to realize that I was stuck again.  There are no in-game clues and the guy in the office was rarely helpful.  There was one instance where he gave me a code for one of the hotel rooms.  Beyond that, he would go into paranoid rants about how something was out to get him.  (If you didn’t do anything new, it was often the same rant as before, making it very repetitive.)

There were also several radios that had to be tuned to a certain station for you to get important information, but you couldn’t take any radios with you and the information also tended to be repetitive until you were able to progress in the game.  (I found that not being able to take important items with me made the game very difficult.)

Progressing through the game was hindered by the fact that you’re playing the game at night, so everything is dark.  You need to get the lamp working to be able to progress to several new areas.  Every time you go to one of these areas, the game doesn’t automatically take out the lamp for you.  You have to open up your inventory again.  Also, since it’s dark, you can’t always make everything out.  There were several times that I knew something was in a certain area, but I had to move the mouse over the entire screen to find the item or I realized that I was looking in the wrong area or facing the wrong direction.

The game is what’s called point and click, which means that you have a series of images that you move through.  You can usually rotate 90 degrees at a time by clicking the cursor on the left or right.  To move up or down, you sometimes have to zoom in on something to be able to get to the appropriate screen, which made movement awkward.  One thing that I found especially awkward was that you can’t step backwards.  This means that you have to turn around 180 degrees to go back where you came from.

The rendering definitely could have been better, especially where the guy in the room was concerned.  When you dealt with him, he was represented by a few still images that changed to give the impression of him moving around.  It was very choppy and exaggerated.  (So far as I know, you never get to see yourself, so there was just the one character you had to look at.)

The buildings and other objects weren’t that bad.  Many of the items looked realistic, but the scenery was often dark and it was hard to tell if there was a pathway outside or if it was just too dark to see anything.  When I was inside, I was could often see everything.  At least, I thought so.  I don’t know if I was missing anything important.

The reason I quit was that the game was difficult on pretty much every level.  The lack of characters to interact with means that you’re on your own.  There’s no one to give you important information.  There’s no one to care about.  I sort of figured out that you have to hunt for an archaeological team which seems to have disappeared, but may have just fun off with everyone else unless they disappeared, too.

The game is a little creepy, but not very much.  There was one moment when a bird flew out of nowhere and startled me.  Other than that, leaves were rustling and wind was blowing.  That was about as scary as it got.  Overall, there was no emotional investment.

This was the second game I’ve played recently where everyone disappeared, but I didn’t really care what happened to the people of Barrow Hill.  I bought the game for $20 and I have to say that it was pretty much a waste.  I can’t seem to find any stores that will let me sell it to them.  I’m hoping that I can at least get some of the money back by writing a review here. 

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