The Prairie House

by Chris Hay (a.k.a. Eldritch Renaissance Cake)


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Number of Ratings: 7
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1-7 of 7

Atmospheric, slightly-wonky folk-horror, June 6, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

The Prairie House is an aesthetically pleasing Adventuron game with slightly wonky implementation Ė but I repeat myself! Most Adventuron games have lovely visual design but have a parser that doesnít provide the most helpful failure responses (it can be pretty fuzzy on whether youíve referred to an item incorrectly, or it just isnít there) and sometimes struggles with actions that are more than two words. Still, these foibles arenít too hard to come to grips with, and the effort is usually well worth it, which is certainly the case with this moody horror vignette set on the Canadian prairie. While the gameís various elements didnít fully cohere for me, this is still an enjoyable way to spend half an hour.

The plot here is fairly straightforward Ė youíre an academic who spends the night at an old field house, and spooky shenanigans ensue Ė but there are three well-researched bits of flavor that enrich the basic narrative. First, thereís a well-chosen amount of detail on the research; while you donít need to actively do anything, itís rewarding to explore the prairie, examine the various plants, and read about the standard practices and approaches to this kind of work. Second, the house youíre staying in was built and originally inhabited by Ukrainian immigrants, and there are some documents in the house that flesh out some of this history. Finally, many of the supernatural occurrences are drawn from the stories of some First Nations peoples Ė the authorís note cites the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe.

Since there arenít really puzzles to speak of, beyond finding a couple of keys and going through a well-prompted pre-bed ritual, the game does rely on this research to enliven what would otherwise be a fairly direct case of things going bump in the night. It mostly works, and I was definitely engaged as I wandered around the house looking at stuff Ė itís fun to learn about things I previously knew quite little about! Once the supernatural elements started kicking into higher gear, though, I wound up wanting a little more of a direct link between the research-y bits and what was happening in the game. There are definitely some allusions, but the game plays things pretty coy and ambiguous as to whatís actually going on. Thatís often a fine authorial choice, but in this case it left me feeling like the ending was a little anticlimactic, with the gameís disparate elements never being fully knit together in my mind.

I did mention some implementation niggles, and while some of them do seem like features of the Adventuron engine, there were a couple of oversights that could be worth correcting in a future release. X ME doesnít include a description of the PC, for example, which is a missed opportunity. X [document] and READ [document] are separately-implemented commands Ė itís usually not an issue because upon examining one youíre often asked whether you want to read it as well, but this isnít invariably the case. In my first playthrough, I missed an achievement, and some important flavor, because X BOOKS told me ďyou notice nothing unusual,Ē whereas READ BOOKS would have let me browse one of three different volumes. And when I tried to sit down in the armchair in the morning, the response indicated the game still thought it was night.

Still, I donít want to end on a negative note Ė and I should admit that I played the game without music, which is apparently an original soundtrack, so I suspect I would have entered even more fully into the mood with that playing in the background. The Prairie House is an accomplished game that offers a unique, compelling experience that goes beyond the standard haunted-house experience.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Atmospheric ghost story, May 13, 2022

While neither very wide nor deep, this is a lovingly-crafted game, and I adore it. The prose is confident and generally succinct. The original soundtrack goes a long way toward setting the mood. But the best thing here is the selection of items, and how they are deployed: not in service of puzzles, but rather in understated service of the vibe. With their elegantly simple artwork, the game's various plants and mundane household items are wonderfully evocative of our rustic setting - with the exception of our scientific instrument and electronic car key which clearly mark us as something of an outsider, subtly alienated from our surroundings.

All these little details, taken together, conjure up a certain place and a certain half-creepy, half-cozy atmosphere with sprezzatura. I felt like I was there, but I couldn't point to any one place where the author goes out of their way to say "You're here."

For as much as I enjoyed the atmosphere, the underlying ghost story feels oddly disconnected from what the player is doing for most of the game. It's unclear why, for example, we are awarded points for (Spoiler - click to show)picking a sunflower or (Spoiler - click to show)making an infusion, when neither of those things seem to connect to the mysterious events that end up transpiring. Of the seven things that award points prior to the dream sequence that blows everything wide open, they all contribute to the flavor of the game in meaningful ways, but only two of them seem to foreshadow the actual horror plot that is at the center of the game! I wouldn't go so far as to say this detracted from my enjoyment - for enjoy it I did - but I do think it represents a missed opportunity. A future game of this type would benefit from finding more ways to clearly connect its objects and actions to its underlying plot, whether thematically, logically, or symbolically.

- Rovarsson (Belgium), April 21, 2022

- Edo, April 13, 2022

- Ann Hugo (Canada), April 10, 2022

- MoyTW, April 7, 2022

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A chilling and well-researched ghost story in Manitoba, April 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is an Adventuron game set in the plains of Manitoba. It involves research about local plants and wildlife and about Ukrainians who emigrated to Canada.

It also contains a jumpscare, so fair warning! Scared me quite a bit. Just the one scare, though.

Overall, it's a well-done horror story that is elevated by the obvious research and care into the background details. It has 10 different achievements, of which I found 8.

*Polish: I didn't run into any parser problems, the art is well-done and the prose is smooth.
*Descriptiveness: A lot of vivid imagery and attention to detail.
*Interactivity: I liked the open-endedness of the achievements but also always had something to do.
*Emotional impact: Pretty scary, although 80% of it was the jumpscare.
*Would I play again? Yeah, I think I could.

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