It may be a few months away, but there’s never too early a time to begin thinking about Halloween! If you’re looking to get in the spooky mood before the big day, you might be attracted by the prospect of a good horror game. House on the Hill is one such game; a recently released indie horror title, which offers four uniquely scary experiences in an almost anthology-like fashion, centred around one giant mansion just waiting to be explored.
Smash and grab
Opening in a dimly garage, the player character is introduced as a desperate criminal looking for their next big job. Working in conjunction with your mysterious partner – your companion throughout the game, constantly offering you tips and commenting on the world around you via a digital earpiece, your goal is to break into the titular house on the hill. A deserted Victorian mansion, this huge home houses a selection of valuable jewellery alongside a number of disturbing secrets.
One of the most intriguing and important elements of House on the Hill is its dynamic plot, with each venture into the house having its own story to tell. In the four chapters of the game the unlucky thief faces off against everything from a gas-mask wearing psychopath inhabiting a hastily constructed murder maze in the mansion’s basement to the spirit of a murdered wife dwelling in the attic and even some kind of bizarre mediaeval crab monstrosity from another dimension.
The creatures tend to be revealed near the end of each run, but as you progress through the mansion before then, you are surrounded with environmental clues hinting at the monster’s backstories and nature. For example, you can learn from objects on a desk that the gas-masked man of the first run was a decorated war veteran with a collapsing family, both factors which hint towards the source of his mania. Despite the enemies not being particularly unique in terms of originality, this surprisingly subtle approach to storytelling kept the adversaries a constant source of intrigue and had me eager to keep venturing back into the house time and time again for more answers.
Each of the stories ends with the game literally being rewound, like an old fashioned film cassette, showing an entertaining recap of all your choices up to that point. You will notice that each story is also subtly different from the last, with item placements changing and new areas of the mansion becoming open for exploration. Your companion also gains new voice lines, each chapter revealing a little more about his personality too. This continued character development helps give the otherwise disconnected feeling stand-alone stories a pleasingly engaging sense of continuity.
Some of the chapters also introduce their own unique puzzles and game mechanics which helps to keep things feeling a little more fresh on your repeated venture. The puzzles were, thankfully, always the right difficulty, being just challenging enough to feel rewarding without every becoming immersion-breakingly hard. Your auditory companion is always more than happy to spout some helpful tips, doing so sometimes only a few seconds into the puzzle.
Some might feel this abundance of guidance to be a little on the side of handholding, but it ensures even the casual players would never become stuck and helps keep your focus on the narrative being told. Although it would still admittedly be a nice touch if these tips were made optional, perhaps via a popup when you launch the game, to keep those players who were eager for a bit more of a challenging experience happy.
Besides the puzzles, the most interesting mechanic introduced is the certainly the game’s camera. As you would expect, the camera allows you to take photos of your surroundings, producing a Polaroid print which must be shaken to reveal a picture. These photos even take on a supernatural quality, often causing changes in the world around you. You can photograph the various paintings scattered throughout the mansion to reveal hidden, and often spooky, hidden variations. Later on, it becomes part of the game’s puzzles, being able to bring objects like hidden doorways into existence with a snap.
As you journey through the game, your progress is mapped not just by the mechanics you master, but also by a location in the mansion which houses plinths which are adorned with the items you have successfully stolen so far and counts down your progress towards the game’s dramatic ending.
Up in flames
Unfortunately, this progress in the game is nearly always hampered by the player’s movement speed, which has you ambling around the mansion at an almost incredibly slow pace. Luckily, in the game’s chase section your movement speed is dramatically increased, presumably to keep things from becoming comically underwhelming. Outside of these sections, I often found the snail-like pace to detract greatly from enjoyment of exploration so an additional always-present option to press a key to walk a little faster would certainly be an appreciated addition.
There also needs to be some more work on the game’s translation which, although by no means unintelligible, houses infrequent but noticeable spelling and grammatical errors in subtitles. Furthermore, whilst the game’s voice acting is solid for the most part, the audio mixing definitely needs work. Sometimes voice-lines are far too quiet to hear over the background audio or suddenly, and startlingly, increase in volume between playbacks.
I also found the game’s occasional reliance on jump scares, particularly in the second chapter, to feel a little cheap but they are thankfully few and far between and so don’t really detract from the overall experience.
House on the Hill is an undeniably promising experience. Each of the four stories it presents may appear a little cliché to horror veterans, the game’s unique narrative flair carries just enough new ideas of its own to keep the experience interesting throughout and coming in at just over £5 with the tantalising possibility of future improvement updates and content additions; House on the Hill is a title that’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.