Burnhouse Lane Review – Light My Fire
Developed and published by Harvester Games
Available on PC
Burnhouse Lane is the latest outing from Harvester Games, developers of 2012’s indie horror hit The Cat Lady. A 2D horror adventure, the game is an uneven but ultimately engaging experience that aficionados of narrative-driven games may want to check out.
Burnhouse Lane follows Angie Weathers, a live-in nurse suffering from terminal lung cancer. Recently widowed, a chance phone call during an abortive suicide attempt sees her doing one last job on a remote farm in Devon, England. Entrusted with looking after an elderly farmer named George, Angie soon discovers a mysterious door to Burnhouse Lane, a decaying otherworld that’s basically Silent Hill by way of Weston Super Mare. Told to complete several arcane tasks, Angie must use her wits and judgment to survive the horrors arrayed against her and win back a chance at life.
Fans of Harvester Games will recognize the game’s distinct visual style, which mixes hand-drawn characters with Photoshop-mashup backgrounds that frequently veer into the disturbing or downright disgusting. Gameplay consists primarily of key-hunting, puzzle solving, and choosing dialogue options, with several achievable endings available. There’s also some very light combat and stealth on offer, which I’ll get onto in a second.
Without wishing to get too much into spoiler territory, one thing that threw me was how little time I actually spent on Burnhouse Lane itself. Initially, it looked like things were getting set up for something like Silent Hill 4: The Room or Fatal Frame 3, where Angie would have to navigate the dangers of the Lane and only occasionally return to the real world for a brief respite. In fact, the opposite is true, as the majority of the game takes place on George’s farm and the surrounding area.
This brings me back to the gameplay. While the puzzles are competently done, the stealth and combat are hyper-contextual and more momentary roadblocks than actual mechanics. This is a shame, as it’s not much of an evolution from Harvester Games’ previous titles, and I’d have relished the chance to explore Burnhouse Lane’s grotesque locales while managing health, ammo, and inventory space in true survival horror fashion. Other games like Lone Survivor and The Last Stand 3 have proved this can be done in a 2D environment, and it felt like a missed opportunity here.
The focus on having much of the plot take place in the real world also means that it frequently becomes more hammy than horrifying, and as a Brit who actually lives in Devon, it’s hard to take it seriously at times. I didn’t know, for example, that our tiny woodlands could allow a rampaging Leatherface-like serial killer to evade capture for years, or that so many people were packing heat in a country with strict gun control laws. Again, it seems like having Angie square off solely against Burnhouse Lane’s monstrous inhabitants would have been the obvious solution here.
On the technical side of things, the game ran fine even on my not-particularly-up-to-date PC, although the one recurring bug I did occasionally notice was an annoying doubling effect on the lower screen. Having said that, the devs have been putting out continual minor patches since release, so I shouldn’t be surprised if this is only a passing problem. One quality-of-life feature that would also be very welcome is a post-game chapter select option for those looking to achieve all the different endings.
Despite my criticisms, I can still tentatively recommend Burnhouse Lane. Harvester Games’ strength seems to lie in creating sympathetic protagonists, and Angie is no exception. Whilst there’s some truly corny dialogue and the game’s tone can shift wildly (especially when we get into the aforementioned crazed killer territory) I still became invested in Angie’s journey and some of the friendships she made along the way. Had the devs focused solely on this, and doubled down on the magical realism element of the Lane as an extension of Angie’s personal demons, we may have been looking at a modern masterpiece. As it is, whilst the story of Angie’s cancer has to sit awkwardly alongside axe-murdering shenanigans, her well-rounded personality and those of the supporting characters (here’s looking at you George, you kindly old bugger) means that the former’s earnestness shines through the latter’s inconsistencies more often than not.
Burnhouse Lane may not be perfect, but if you’re in the mood for some character-focused drama with a side of surreal horror visuals, you may want to consider taking a stroll down it sometime.