Before it begins its descent into a world of disturbing, fantastical horror, Burnhouse Lane presents a heart-wrenching and highly believable sequence of events, an opening gambit as devastating as anything I have played, yet deeply rooted in reality. Stepping into the shoes of terminally ill, widowed agency nurse Angie Weathers, gameplay kicks in just after she lights a ciggie and rejects a job offer from her employer over the phone.The first thing you are asked to do is manoeuvre a chair for the protagonist, until a green light indicates it is in the required position. This is the spot where Angie intends to hang herself.
What happens next is the start of a strange, supernatural journey for our heroine. Regardless of which option you choose, an ethereal force won’t let Angie walk away, nor will it allow her to die. Even when you succumb and kick the chair away, the beam above cannot take the weight, and she lives to see another day. At this point, the decision is made to accept the offer of employment, with a view to earning enough to vicariously fulfil the dying wish of her late husband, and see the beautiful cherry blossoms of Japan.
The new gig is, on the surface, as a live-in carer to an old boy ensconced in the Devon countryside. This idyllic scenario takes a distinct left turn when Angie discovers a portal to another dimension behind a creepy door in the basement of the farmhouse. It transports her to the purgatory-like alternate reality known as Burnhouse Lane, where she is challenged by a mysterious feline to endure a veritable gauntlet of five horrific tasks, which if completed, will grant a cure to her lung cancer. As gaming scenarios go, this is a doozy.
Gameplay is a combination of side scrolling platforming and exploration set between Burnhouse Lane and the farmyard. There are puzzles, items such as keys to be found, and branching dialogue paths that affect the direction of the story. There are even combat sections that are evocative of other survival horror titles from days past – if you are a fan of the creepy and macabre stuff like this, then you will recognise these when they occur.
There is no dressing up the fact that there are some very disturbing sequences and adult themes at play, which I will not spoil here. There is a very good reason that you get a content warning when you boot this one up, something that Switch gamers may not be used to. Pikmin, this ain’t. It touches on things that some of you may find abhorrent or disgusting and unable to deal with.
As the plot thickens, things do also become a bit hammy and suspension of disbelief becomes impossible, particularly if like me you are English and know what actually goes on in the Devon countryside. Harvester would have you believe that it is a lawless land packed with firearms and crazed serial killers. It also becomes apparent that a lot of the game is actually taking place in the “real” world, as opposed to the vastly more interesting, monster-infested Burnhouse Lane.
This macabre, arcane horror is helped along nicely by the extremely effective soundtrack, which has a splendid post-rock feel, and is deployed with a light touch. Voice acting is a mixed bag, but there is some sterling work on display for Angie and kindly farmer George. The visual style is also a treat, employing a clash of styles which blends quirky hand drawn characters with backgrounds and environments that almost appear photoshopped.
The gameplay is not the most dynamic exploratory platforming you will ever experience, but it is soaked in atmosphere and intrigue, as well as being memorably disturbing to the point where I found myself thinking about it during a recent restless night. If like me you are like a moth to a flame for this kind of oddball folksy horror, then I would advise you to take a look – just be warned, it isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Looks and sounds lovely
Intriguing, genuinely disturbing plot
May be too disturbing for some
Combat isn't great