Looking for a horror game to give you a scare this coming Halloween? Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle is a pretty solid choice to fill that void.
Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle is a first person Point-and-Click horror game that relies very heavily on a scary atmosphere and environment. It was developed by Shadow Tor Studios and published by Iceberg Interactive (Steam) and Got Game for PC. I’m not sure if there is a difference between the 2 published games, but for this review, I’ll be focusing on the Got Game version.
As you begin the game, you see that our nameless protagonist is on a leisurely drive through the Cornish landscapes heading into Barrow Hill. Fun fact, this setting is actually based on real geographical locations in Cornwall, England. We learn from local radio DJ, Emma Harry, that tonight is the Autumn Equinox. Autumn Equinox is an important date in the pagan calendar and forecasts many hours of darkness. As the DJ invites us to spend these hours tuned in with her, the main protagonist’s car breaks down at the entrance of Barrow Hill. Unable to go back in the direction he came from due to mysterious forces, you need to solve the mystery of what is happening on the Hill.
You soon discover that Barrow Hill houses an ancient burial site, with an entity that has been long forgotten. The locals are upset due to an archeologist, Conrad Morse, digging in the Barrow Hill site. They are superstitions around disturbing the site. We quickly learn that something is amiss when we reach the first location within the game. Upon learning that the unknown entity may have been potentially released from the burial site, the player is tasked with using hidden notes and items they find to restore peace to the hill.
As stated previously, this game is a first person point-and-click adventure. The player faces a direction until they click on one of the sides of the screen. If you want to get a different perspective in a room, you click on the right or left side of the screen. It takes a bit to get used to it, but it’s pretty easy to move around.
The game itself is also fairly non-linear. You can begin searching for end game MacGuffins as early as you want. There is plenty of intrigue and lore to keep the player interested in the games events. Exploring Barrow Hill is a fun experience because there are plenty of hidden items to find within the game. This even includes Easter Eggs. However, n every item has a purpose, but it’s still fun to find them anyway.
The puzzles the player has to solve range from simple to challenging. Some are pretty easy to figure out, for instance, assembling a metal detector, while others are pretty tough, for example, finding the appropriate items to uses for the offerings. The last puzzle can be a real pain to figure out. If you didn’t collect enough information, you may receive the bad ending; however, if you pay attention to everything you read up to this point and figure things out, then you will be awarded with the good ending.
I wish there was more to say about the gameplay, but it’s just pointing and clicking. There are certain scenes where you get to mix objects/items to make new items but it doesn’t change anything in terms of the gameplay mechanics.
I have to first get this out of the way, I really like this game. This was one of my first point-and-click games that I have played and it set the bar for me. It is in first person perspective so it’s a departure from games like Darkseed or Harvester and it also has great atmosphere so there’s always a feeling of tension.
I don’t exactly know what is it that I really gravitate towards (the graphics, the ambience, or the gameplay), but the game plays well and is all around fun for me. The environment gives off a creepy vibe, one that leaves you wondering if something is going to pop out at you. That’s where this game shines and where it also falls a bit flat. Aside from the spooky environment/atmosphere and the feeling of isolation, there isn’t much to worry about in terms of entities chasing after you.
The amount of things that actually pop out at you are between slim and none. There are exactly two spots where jump scares are programmed to occur, but they don’t hurt you or otherwise hinder your progress. That being said, there is a chance that the player is able to run into the Sentry Stone. The Sentry Stone is the unknown entity that I alluded to before. While the two jump scares don’t amount to much (it’s literally just a critter scurrying across the screen), the Sentry Stone adds tension to an otherwise empty game… for the most part.
The Sentry Stone is an instant game over if it crosses your path; however, you really don’t have to concern yourself about it. Throughout my playthroughs of the game, I only stumbled across the Sentry Stone when I purposefully went looking for it. The Sentry Stone can pop up sporadically but I personally had to seek it out.
That being said, after a somewhat humorous cut-scene that introduces the Sentry Stone, you are left worrying about whether, or not, you will run into it on the main paths. This brought me back to a sense of dread as I had to worry about running into the entity. If the player does run into the Sentry Stone and gets a game over, worry not because you will be brought back to the screen right before you ran into it. If you progress to the next screen, then you’ll get the game over again. If you move to another area, it will go away.
Both endings to this game actually left me a bit confused. Both are just a bunch of quick cuts of a city/Barrow Hill and there isn’t really much to differentiate between the two, in my opinion at least. Similar to the ending scenes, the animations used to denote talking characters is a series of jump cuts between various pictures. Sometimes the animation is depicted via stop motion as well. I’m not sure if it was intended to be funny or not, but I found it pretty humorous. It adds charm to the game and provides a memorable experience. I will say this; the jump cuts/stop motion is done 1000x better than Psycho Killer. Guess that doesn’t say much though.
I can forgive the lack of scares throughout the game because of the feeling of isolation and the creepy atmosphere of the game, which are the most important parts of a horror game in my opinion. I mean, horror games don’t work if you’re not invested in the environment you’re set in. Even though the game does fall into tired clichés of throwing something into the player’s face and yelling “Boo!”, it’s a rare occurrence and doesn’t subtract from the overall experience.
The only downside for me is that I don’t quite understand either of the endings. I understand there’s a proper way to satisfy the Sentry Stone/legend, but I never understood what was implied by the ending cinematics.
I originally purchased this game from Best Buy in around 2009 or so. Luckily, it has been released on Steam so now everyone can go out and enjoy it. I would highly suggest checking this quirky game out. It’s only $8 (at the time of writing this), and it frequently goes on sale.
So, is this game going to “WOW!” anyone that hasn’t played it yet? Probably not. The graphics are dated and the interface isn’t the best, but I’m admittedly biased about this game because of the fond memories I have playing it. Ultimately, the game still provides a creepy environment and challenging puzzles.
In my biased opinion, I give Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle 4 sentry stones out of 5.