The Body As A Temple Of Doom

HIGH Bloody Mary and her sweetheart.

LOW The third chapter, boringly premised and absurdly presented.

WTF I defeated a spider by knocking it into a shallow hole? You know they crawl up walls, right?

Angie Weathers is dying of cancer and there is little mystery as to why, since she smokes every chance she gets. Too late to fight it by conventional means, she takes one last job in hopes of fulfilling her dead husband’s travel dreams. Instead, she finds herself in Burnhouse Lane, a purgatory for the dying that offers her a slim hope of living on.

Burnhouse Lane primarily plays like a 2D anthology-style adventure game, albeit one bedecked with horror themes and tons of gore. In order to save herself, Angie must complete tasks that lead her into horrific experiences in the real world, while simultaneously dodging the terrors residing in the purgatorial dream world of Burnhouse Lane.

It must be said that both spheres of action are intensely gory, to such an extent that I don’t think anyone would enjoy Burnhouse Lane other than gore enthusiasts, or those like myself who are generally unbothered by blood and guts.

The chapters are mostly atomistic, with new villains and scenarios in each one, mainly threaded together by Angie herself. Unfortunately, this has the effect of denying the game a throughline. Rather than juxtaposing some horrific force with Angie’s illness, Burnhouse Lane casts about, trying different things without really making them connect with what’s gone wrong in Angie’s life.

The horror elements of Burnhouse Lane lean heavily on combat and fatal outcomes that result from missteps in solving its often-brittle puzzles. If a save point is missed or passed up, an unexpected death (or glitch) can lead to a long slog of repeated gameplay. In a nice touch, the save points are ashtrays — so like Angie, the player will often be dying for a cigarette.

Burnhouse Lane’s only consistently-repeated motif is the imprisonment of women, which is either implicitly or explicitly part of almost every one of its seven chapters. Of course, cancer is the world’s most extensively analogized disease and doubtless someone has compared it to a prison. To me, though, this doesn’t seem intended as a metaphor for her disease or her personal problems, and would be an inapt one if it were.

Some of the individual chapters do hit the mark, though. In “The Valley of Many Noises”, Angie’s body betrays her and she must make use of outwardly-perfect wax bodies that mask rotting, putrid flesh. This plays nicely against another character’s accusation that Angie is faking her cancer (as she has opted not to do chemotherapy).

Another standout chapter is “Bloody Mary”, about a reclusive old woman who spoils her pet pig terribly. Its premise feels original, and pushes the line of absurdity without toppling over it into full camp. The violence of the chapter surfaces in ways that at least obliquely recall Angie’s malady, and the villain, despite the brevity of her appearance, is intensely memorable.

Unfortunately, the lack of a continuous narrative thread costs the game in the end. Some chapters feel like they lean too much on lazy horror tropes like serial killers and demonizing fatness, ideas that likely would have fallen by the wayside had things been built around a more centralized horror concept. Worse, the finale arrives with a whimper and the ‘climactic’ boss feels like an afterthought, although there are some satisfying callbacks for players who manage to preserve their friendships (and friends).

Narrative aside, Burnhouse Lane has little to recommend it mechanically. Its inventory system is surprisingly awkward for an adventure title, and movement through the world frequently feels sluggish. Combat with guns feels perfunctory, lacking any real aiming system, while the primary melee weapon (an axe) had wonky and frustrating attack timing. The thankfully rare platforming is unpleasantly floaty.

Having the freedom of an anthology format allows Burnhouse Lane to play with multiple horror ideas, with some notable successes. While I wish it had more of a throughline and fewer overdone horror tropes, Burnhouse Lane does contain a few fresh ideas for lovers of gore. For everyone else? I doubt it’s worth the struggle.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Harvester Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5, XBO/X/S and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs. A particular warning: the first scene of the game is of a woman attempting suicide. Aside from that, multiple characters are murdered or mutilated on screen, characters are shown in various states of dismemberment, partially nude women are tortured and killed, and a woman literally suffocates in a mound of excrement. Kids do not belong here.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. They can be repositioned (to either float above characters’ heads or stay at the bottom of the screen) but otherwise cannot be altered. There is at least one essential sound cue in the game’s third chapter. While the segment where the sound cue appears is potentially survivable without using it, the difficulty is enormously increased. As such, this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, on PS5 this game’s controls are not remappable. No controller diagram is available in-game. In general the left stick is used for movement and the face buttons are used for action or opening the inventory. The left trigger readies a weapon and the right trigger attacks with it. Certain movements (jumps, dodges) require simultaneously holding a face button and using the right bumper.

Sparky Clarkson
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