The House on Highfield Lane by Andy Joel
If you’d like to see the other games reviewed this year, head to the main page.
Look, it’s probably to my detriment but if you point me at a haunted puzzle house, I’m there. Any which way you fall on the horror/puzzle spectrum ought to be entertaining.
The introduction of The House on Highfield Lane was promising - a genre-staple growing anxiety from “I definitely won’t go in that spooky house”, to “Okay, maybe I’ll go close just for this one thing”, to “Ah nuts, I have to go into the spooky house”. Fantastic! I liked Andy Joel’s writing here.
Once inside the house, the game expectedly pulls the rug from under you and you’re trapped. From there I expected a bit of exploration and clever puzzles, but the rest of my experience was just… flat.
It occurred to me late at night that The House on Highfield Lane wasn’t a haunted house. It was the ghost of a haunted house. Less substantial. Somewhat detached. But nevertheless reminded you of a haunted house.
The writing felt competent and occasionally evocative, but always felt one step removed. After I was in the house, I didn’t feel lead anywhere. I didn’t get a sense of the house or the previous occupants. It felt like a collection of rooms rather than a house. Most of the horror faded away for me.
In another sense the author lost me. In all my wandering around, I felt like I had no handle on any puzzles. I had found a few because the artifice of puzzle can be obvious, but they were all dead ends. I knew I was missing items but I wasn’t sure why I needed to solve any particular puzzle I came across. The observatory, for example, had some mechanism to align the telescope. To what, I wasn’t sure. Why? Also unsure. My progress with that puzzle was laborious and the game wouldn’t meet me halfway. So I wandered the house again.
I’m not ashamed to reach for a walkthrough. The clues come as InvisiClue-style hints that you can delve deeper into to be spoiled more. Each section has a heading. None of the headings made sense to me, except in the abstract. The walkthrough seemed full of things I couldn’t find or didn’t see any reason to chase down.
Overall, the game had promise but I think it needed a tighter experience. It needed fewer rooms with more stuff to do in each. It needed an ergonomic polish before publication.
I didn’t finish it. I just grew so detached from it that I played another game.
That said, I hope to see more from the author, but perhaps after tightening up their next game with a big editorial knife you could chase someone through corridors with.