Haunting At Cliffhouse
Haunting at Cliffhouse is the third adventure game from independent developer Cindy Pondillo.
In this atmospheric, ghostly puzzler, the player assumes the character of Sarah Blake, a recent and young widow who finds herself in dire need of solace and distraction. Sarah reads a brochure advertising the tempting Cliffhouse Bed & Breakfast, situated close to Washington's sea and forests, and decides that this will make the perfect getaway. Upon Sarah's arrival she finds herself surrounded by a host of apparitions, a troubled family history and many secrets to uncover and put to rest.
Welcome to Cliffhouse
I played the developer's second adventure, Intrigue at Oakhaven Plantation, when it was first released, and I rather enjoyed it. I am pleased to report that the third game, the subject of this review, is even better and technically much improved from its predecessor.
Playing in first person point and click, with directional arrows to move the player from one screen to the next with no panning, the interface is a simple configuration. A right-click will access your inventory, while the space bar reveals the basic menu of Save, Load, Quit and Play. There are no separate options for sound or graphic tweakage. The cursor turns red at active spots, and blue when there is no further information to obtain. Dialogue can be fast clicked through if desired, and there are full subtitles. The game has unlimited save slots.
The Cliffhouse is an imposing building from its exterior. Sprawling and turreted, it comes as a relief once you are inside and beginning to explore, to realise that the likelihood of finding yourself lost in a labyrinth of corridors or a myriad of oubliettes is really rather slim. For once an area or room has been thoroughly inspected there is rarely a need to return unless, of course, there might be a box that is missing its key or one puzzle (or two, or three) that has temporarily bamboozled you. Doors are conveniently labelled when you move your cursor over them, to help avoid hapless wandering. (I haplessly wandered for a short time only. Boathouse, oh boathouse, where art thou? I know you're here somewhere.)
There are pleasant ambient sounds, and the graphics are well drawn and warmly detailed, if entirely static. Characters' lips do not move when they speak. Their limbs remain in defiant rigor mortis. The voice acting in general is done well. Of the characters themselves, we meet with the current owner, Amanda, and her adult son and daughter. We are briefly acquainted with a few of the guests and a beach-dwelling eccentric, but for the greater part of the game we are left to our own devices. Save for the occasional long spiel of explanatory dialogue, there is little that gets in the way.
The in-game bookshelves offer optional reading on regional history and folklore, if the fancy grabs you and the interest tweaks you.
Haunting at Cliffhouse offers no jump scares to throw you backwards out of your chair. It won't chill you or leave you afraid to look in your bathroom mirror after midnight, but rather it carries a misty melancholy and poignant scenes between the various spirits you encounter. It's a quiet, thoughtful game that offers a surprising twist at its conclusion. A conclusion that will come after (approximately) five hours playing time without reference to a walkthrough.
A Plethora of Puzzles
Puzzles! Lots of them! Seriously, now. If you are a puzzle fan then you will be in puzzle heaven. If you can't abide the little stinkers then this game is likely not the one for you. Because they are copious. Let's run through a tally: There is an enjoyable scavenger hunt to begin with, which runs throughout much of the adventure as you explore the Cliffhouse. Then there are matching games, a spot the difference, a slider (which can be skipped), picture and word puzzles, a jigsaw, a logic conundrum, and a maze (with a gesticulating fairy to help guide the way should you find yourself turned about). They are all well explained, non-timed and exceptionally good fun. Even the slider. Kind of.
The Mist, The Mist
For every burst of sunshine a little raindrop falls. The in-game music is initially pleasant enough, but can grow repetitive. The plinky solo piano that follows the player around the Cliffhouse had me whining after a while, and with no way to switch it off. The piano, that is, not my whining.
The night-time music at the Japanese garden and the chapel, on the other hand, was quite lovely.
I found the game's ending somewhat abrupt; it could have perhaps been drawn out a touch further from its end line of dialogue.
Haunting at Cliffhouse installed and ran without any issues.
To conclude, I would recommend this as a most enjoyable and satisfying mystery for puzzle lovers.
I played on:
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1
AMD A6-3650 APU @ 2.60GHz
4.00 GB of RAM
Radeon HD 6530D Graphics
Mystery Manor Home