The House on Highfield Lane

by Andy Joel

2021

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I can see my house from up here., October 6, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

On Highfield Lane stands a creepy house. Its windows seem to watch Mandy everyday as she walks past on her way home from school. As creepy houses' windows tend to do...
One day Mandy finds a letter on the pavement outside the creepy house's door. She decides to deliver it to whoever lives in the creepy house. As she enters the hall, the door slams shut behind her. As creepy houses' doors tend to do...

Mandy is a very engaging character, the polar opposite of a generic adventure hero. She has definite opinions and feelings and the player will know it. The author accomplishes this in various ways.
The game is written in the third person. I found that in some games this can be distancing, putting the player in the role of a mere observer. Here however, this perspective offers another road to immersion. Instead of forcing the player to roleplay, getting inside the head of the protagonist while being addressed as "You", The House on Highfield Lane gets the player to be a close companion of the PC, looking over her shoulder and guiding her while being complicit in Mandy's actions and decisions.
Mandy's movements and actions and the creepy house's rooms are described from her own very subjective viewpoint, giving us a more and more clear view into her personality. The descriptions are interspersed with bits of Mandy's interior monologue, showing us her unfiltered thoughts, swearwords and all.
This view we get of the protagonist's personality also evolves throughout the game, something seldom seen in puzzle-oriented IF. At first somewhat timid, intimidated by finding herself locked inside the creepy house, she becomes more brazen and unafraid as the game progresses. This is very nicely reflected in her interior monologue. Later in the game, her thoughts amount to: "What the hell, I've already come this far in some stranger's house, why not do this completely unappropriate thing and see what happens." (This is where the swearwords are very effective.)

Upon first entering the creepy house, there is indeed much to be intimidated by. What seemed to be an ordinary house in a row of equally uninteresting houses from the street turns out to be a grand historical mansion on the inside. Lifesize portraits look down on Mandy from the walls of high and spacious rooms.
Even more intimidating, and effectively disorienting to the player is the author's cunning use of space/geography. Once in the house, there are doors in directions impossible from the outside and upper storeys that should not exist. I for one had a lot of fun mapping the place.
What's very interesting here is that the player's growing familiarity with the map through further exploration closely mirrors Mandy's growing confidence as she wanders around the creepy house.

The House on Highfield Lane is very much a puzzle-game. The seemingly simple objective of delivering a lost letter leads to an increasingly complicated and improbable series of obstacles The flimsy plotline is naught but a pretense for presenting the player with a collection of puzzles. These are mostly intuitive but always have a clever twist. I had my fair share of "Aha"-moments while brainstorming about how to tackle this or that problem. Despite the sometimes surreal nature of the puzzles, they are held tightly together by the game's mood and atmosphere.

This brings me to a highpoint of the entire game: the splendid writing that binds it all together. The descriptions are clear yet evocative, there is more than one location with very memorable imagery, the author manages to provide poignant details without cluttering the mental image of the player. Mandy's subjective viewpoint adds the pepper and salt to the text.

I imagine that the game's finale might go two ways for any player. There's a convoluted revelatory backstory that seems thrown together after the fact rather than being the result of integrated worldbuilding, and the final problem is silly, to say the least. For me, it was a surprising, almost cathartis moment of hilariousness. Others may be disappointed by it.

You'll have to see for yourself. I very much recommend that you do.

(Yes, there are some small nitpicks. Some obvious verbs were not implemented {EDIT: I have been informed that this has been fixed} and at least one puzzle needed better clueing. Nitpicks that are inconsequential in light of the overall quality of this game.)