Barrow Hill: The Dark Path presents an interesting conundrum. It does a fine job emulating the style and gameplay of a ten-year-old game to which it serves as a sequel. In fact, its emulation is so thorough that you could easily consider this a satire of early 90s first person adventure games like Myst and The Journeyman Project, and, of course, Barrow Hill. The only problem is, I’m not sure it’s very fun.
Don’t get me wrong, The Journeyman Project is something I remember fondly amidst my early Internet adventures, and, had I played the original Barrow Hill, I’d have needed some toast, as it would have been my jam. Sadly, I seem to have been spoiled by things like dynamic backgrounds and character models.
Barrow Hill: The Dark Path follows the silent protagonist from the first game, coming back to the titular Barrow Hill on the Autumn Equinox for relatively unclear reasons. Soon, you learn of some wily teenagers who are messing with local superstitions, and in danger from a wicked witch ghost, because regular ghosts are for losers. Also, there’s a local independent radio host whose connection to said teens is tenuous at best.
To save the day you’ll have to click on things, do some reading, and click on even more things. Occasionally you’ll see a spooky ghost, who’ll say something weird and disappear. Players won’t feel particularly lonely, as you’ll quickly begin receiving phone calls from terrified teenagers and a very concerned radio personality (who insists on using some kind of video calling app, but not taping anything other than her eyes). The static backgrounds and repetitive ambient music try to set some kind of spooky mood, but the constant interruptions and terrible voice acting shatter any sort of immersion you may experience.
Looking at everything as a whole, one has to assume that all of this is purposefully bad. That Barrow Hill is attempting to replicate the feeling of a bad horror film with this game. In fact, when I saw the abandoned service station emblazoned with the offer of free hugs, I was pretty sure Barrow Hill: The Dark Path wasn’t trying to be taken seriously. Mind you, that was on the 3rd screen.
The key difference between a bad game and a bad movie lies with interaction. With a terrible film, especially a terrible horror film, you’re allowed to sit back and allow all the badness wash over you. You don’t need to interact with a movie to make any progress, and you don’t have to try and understand the catastrophe going on before you at all. Games require some level of interaction or else you’ll just be stuck staring at the same minimally animated background until the end of time, not to mention contorting your brain into whatever internal logic the game seems to ascribe to.
Life isn’t all bad up on Barrow Hill, however. Barrow Hill: The Dark Path is occasionally pretty funny. The terrible radio segments and the cringe-worthy teenage angst that is liberally applied to everything certainly gave me a nostalgic chuckle. That’s really what this game is trying to sell you on—nostalgia. However, while nostalgia is a great aspect and can make a person feel warm and fuzzy through happy memories and shared experience, it is too often used as the sole selling point of something.
Nostalgia is great if that’s all you want from a game. Honestly, if Barrow Hill: The Dark Path is for you, then there’s not much more you need to sell it to you. If you enjoyed the first Barrow Hill a decade ago and want to experience that again, the same way you experienced it then, then play this. It’s just what you want. Everyone else should just move on, this isn’t going to be what you are looking for.