It is a classic horror scenario: the car broken down in the middle of the road, the swirling snow and biting cold, the beckoning light visible just over the hill. A house! Oh, thank goodness. You can warm up, maybe get a nice cup of tea, call a mechanic. You hustle quickly through the frost and step inside the oddly quiet home...but what's this? The lights are on, cheery fireplaces crackle in every room, yet no one is there. You call out a hello, but your voice echoes unanswered through the hall. How strange. Surely the family has just stepped out for a moment....into the blizzard?
House, a sprawling escape-the-room (mansion, actually) quest from Pixelatrix Games, places you squarely into such a spooky situation. While not literally trapped inside the house, you surely cannot survive outdoors on such a bitterly freezing night; nothing to do, really, but make yourself at home. As you wander around the mansion (enormous, with more than a dozen rooms), however, you'll begin to find mysterious scraps of paper, references to codes, increasingly frantic journal entries. It soon becomes apparent that something wicked has invaded the home; if you are to survive, you must banish the evil force and bring peace back to this troubled place.
I've always loved sinking into a nice, long novel, so the length and scope of House really appealed to me. At times, however, the sheer size of the game can become daunting. This is not a game to be finished on your lunch break; depending upon how quickly you piece the puzzles together, you may expect to spend 1-3 hours playing. Unlike some escape-the-rooms, in which you may spend 10 minutes clicking vainly in an attempt to find a single hotspot, within the first few minutes of playing House you will most likely collect a number of clues and items; at least for me, however, after a while the various bits of information became a jumble, and I found myself ultimately needing to take copious notes. Still, I'd always prefer having a bit too much to deal with rather than too little.
Pixelatrix has created a truly excellent-looking game. Impressively, despite the sheer size of the game, each location is furnished beautifully; the rich environments draw the player in and create a more immersive experience. The game has relatively few "boo!" moments, which of course means that those few occurrences are all the spookier for their rarity. I wasn't, however, a fan of the bits of humor that the designers sprinkled throughout the game; to me, the random goofy references (dancing haggis?) disrupt the otherwise eerie atmosphere and undermine the suspension of disbelief.
Still, that is a minor criticism of a very enjoyable game. House has a compelling story, plenty of varied-yet-mainly-logical puzzles, and is gorgeous to boot; what more can one ask for, really?
It's time to face your demons: