Game Over Online ~ Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle

GameOver Game Reviews - Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle (c) Got Game Entertainment, Reviewed by - Steven Carter

Game & Publisher Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle (c) Got Game Entertainment
System Requirements Windows, 450MHz processor, 128MB RAM, SVGA graphics card, 1.5GB HDD, CD-ROM
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Thursday, September 21st, 2006 at 11:55 AM

Divider Left By: Steven Carter Divider Right

Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle is a point-and-click adventure that shares many similarities with the two Dark Fall adventures. That is, it's largely the work of one man, Matt Clark, and it relies more on atmosphere and your imagination than it does on splashy special effects and fantastical puzzles. Plus, Jonathan Boakes, who created the Dark Fall games, helped out in this game (lending his voice to one of the characters, among other things), and it's nice that after achieving some of his own success, he's decided to help others get their adventures off the ground.

As Barrow Hill opens up, you're driving along in Cornwall, when suddenly your car stalls. You find yourself near the Barrow Hill stone circle. It's the Autumn Equinox, which means it's the longest night of the year, and quickly you realize that things are amiss. People are missing, and others seem terrified that something is out to get them. As you explore the nearby cafe and motel, you learn that an archeological dig recently started up at the stone circle, and that it apparently woke up some sort of ancient entity. That means you'll need to learn more about the stone circle, and hopefully clear up the mess before you go missing as well.

Large parts of Barrow Hill work pretty well. It uses a tried-and-true point-and-click interface, and so not only is it always clear what you're allowed to do (the interface, for example, shows when you can use an inventory object), but you should be able to jump right into the game without reading the manual and still know how to play. Plus, while you can do things that will get you killed, you're never forced to load your game. You're just moved to nearby a safe location, and so the interface is friendly as well as effective.

But the best part of Barrow Hill is the atmosphere. The events in the game take place during one long night, and since there is also a power surge, most locations are dark, and you have to wander around with only a lantern at your side as you explore your surroundings. This could be really annoying if Barrow Hill required a lot of pixel hunting, but it doesn't. Most of the puzzles are realistic -- they involve reading diaries and figuring out codes more than they do collecting odd items and using them haphazardly -- and so you're able to soak up the creepiness. The ambient sounds also work well in this regard, like when you're walking through the forest and suddenly you hear a sound off to the side, or when you pick up a phone and strange voice-like sounds come out. Most of the atmosphere is subtly ominous, as if there is something out there just waiting to pounce on you, but Barrow Hill also has a really good “gotcha” moment as well.

On the down side, Barrow Hill didn't have a big budget. That means that you're not going to see a lot of fancy full-motion video, and that a lot of events happen off screen. You never see anybody “disappeared” by the stone circle entity; you only see the end result. In some ways this works out, because it means you get to use your imagination to decide what really happened, but in other ways it makes the game feel lacking. Also, if you read through the credits, it looks like all the people who worked on the game were friends and family of creator Matt Clark. This doesn't make a lot of difference in most places -- except in the voice acting, which is generally bad. The people in the game often have to sound frightened, to the point where they're on the edge of insanity, and that's a tough note to sound, even for professional actors. With the amateurs used in Barrow Hill, almost none of the dialogue is believable, and it gets distracting after a while.

But overall, Barrow Hill is a nice enough game. It's a little short, and it doesn't have much in the way of puzzles, but it's an intriguing game, and it's fun to play through. I often mark my time when I work through adventures, playing a couple hours a day, but with Barrow Hill I got hooked, and I was interested to see how it ended. You're most likely to enjoy Barrow Hill if you played and enjoyed the Dark Fall games, but you might want to try it out regardless.

(34/40) Gameplay
(11/15) Graphics
(11/15) Sound
(08/10) Interface
(08/10) Storyline
(05/05) Technical
(05/05) Documentation


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