Angie in Burned Wonderland
It's a baffling, really, how Rem Michalski's games haven't gained more recognition. Perhaps it's not so surprising after all, when you look at the landscape in the modern gaming industry, where fads, multiplayer and all manner of games that draw audiences like flies to the jesters on Twitch, leave no room for thought-provoking works to emerge. Be that as it may, it's sad that the gems of Harvester Games, (The Cat Lady, Downfall, Lorelai), have gone unnoticed, with little to no coverage from the gaming press and thanks to word of mouth being held in esteem by a small portion of aficionados of their bizarre and dark art.
Burnhouse Lane is the 4th consecutive game by the Michalski brothers. A game, which, as we have been informed within it, would have been The Cat Lady 2. Along the way, the creators (and I use plural, because this time Michal Michalksi aka micAmic, has taken on more duties than just music production) determined that the ideas they had were enough to create something new. But since it started as a sequel to The Cat Lady, there are some concepts and themes here and there we have seen before.
The original scene is quite familiar. Angie Weather, a nurse with terminal cancer, is having her last cigarette. Further back in the room, a chair and a noose hanging over the roof beam. Suffering with depressed, having already lost her significant other to the cursed disease - the irony of fate - and with her own time running short, she proceeds to attempt suicide. But things don't go as she expected, as the beam won't hold her weight. So she decides to accept one last job, which involves caring for an elderly man, in the countryside. Her motivation is to save enough money for a trip to Japan, something she and her husband wanted to do. Everything was going smoothly, and rather boring you might say until an excursion takes her to Burnhouse Lane, a place that acts as purgatory, a place of tortured souls looking for a second chance. I'll stop here, because Rem's stories are worth discovering for yourself.
Once again he explores heavy themes of the human psyche. The boundaries begin to become increasingly blurred as to where the auspicious dream ends and the bleak reality begins. A strange, surreal journey awaits you, sometimes serene and sometimes nightmarish, asking hard questions. What will you do is purely up to you. I think anyone who has played The Cat Lady will find the experience of Burnhouse Lane to be like meeting a old friend.
This is not limited to familiar themes but also there are references to the The Cat Lady etc. and you'll find that it's set in the same universe as the previous Harvester Games games, although it's not part of the "The Devil came through here" thematic trilogy. If I had to assign keywords to the previous games, The Cat Lady would be bereavement and misery, Downfall would be paranoia and despair, and Lorelai would be hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Burnhouse Lane combines all of the above, especially the futility of the first game with the optimism of the third, with some repulsive scenes that directly rival those of Downfall.
The horror element is more pronounced this time. Not from the imagery you'll see or the atmosphere of Burnhouse Lane, but from the fact that the title seems to be an extension and natural progression of the gameplay in Lorelai. So whereas that game limited the traditional adventure elements of its predecessors and the scale was tilted more towards interactive drama, Burnhouse Lane has slightly increased the action aspect. What do I mean by that? Avoiding characters that want to do us harm (if you remember the last sequence in Lorelai, you have an idea of what to expect), as well as direct encounters with some of them, leading to some simplistic yet entirely functional boss fights, within the standards of an arcade adventure. Don't worry, the inventory is still present. Likewise the puzzles, which once again are perfectly logical and for the most part won't give you any trouble.
This intersection where the adventure game design meets sidescrolling horror like Lone Survivor and Claire delights me immensely. And as I found earlier with the utterly melancholic and pitch-black gem Detention, this recipe can work beautifully. So it was with Burnhouse Lane, where all the ingredients were there. And when I say everything, included are the scenes we get to experience, their direction, the mature writing, the music that embellishes them, the voice acting, and even little details like saving by having by a smoke. It's all there and it serves to convey the appropriate emotions. Artistically, the game is on a level that few others in the category can match.
Lorelai had already made the transition to Unity, using a wider color gamut and more detail, in an intertwining of photorealistic environments and hand-drawn 2D art that merge naturally into the psychedelic nightmare displayed on our screens. Burnhouse Lane's soundtrack is dreamlike (which comes as no surprise), bearing micAmic's signature on the original compositions (which make up the vast majority of it) and covering a wide range of genres, from post-rock and electronic to ambient.
The Michalski brothers' work is like a lump of gold covered in ash. Gritty, uncompromising, for a select few. Even fewer will reach the finale - especially the gold ending takes extra effort but rewards you with the fulfilment and deliverance it brings. The daring ones who join Angie on her journey will smile, shiver, and be deeply moved. Her thoughts will become their own. And a part of themselves will remain there, at George's farmhouse, long after the credits have rolled...
RATING - 90%
The roof is on fire
You see "Michalski" on the tag and you know it's going to be good.