Review

An English Haunting review - fear and delight

What's the matter? Ghost got your tongue?

Kieron West

Review by Kieron West

Published on Wed May 15 2024

I’ve always been a horror fan. Zombies, axe-wielding madmen, whatever was going on in The Thing; there’s something for everyone in the horror genre, but ghosts never really piqued my interest. In a world where we all carry around devices that can take high-quality photos at a moment’s notice, why is there still no definitive proof that they exist?

An English Haunting steps confidently into the room. ‘It’s 1907’, it says, ‘and society has bigger things to worry about. Women are fighting for the right to vote, gangs are fighting in the more traditional sense, and society has become much too sensible to care about things that go bump in the night.’

That’s where our story begins, and it’s gripping from the get-go. You are Patrick Moore, a university professor who teaches medicine while researching all things supernatural. He works closely with fellow professor Nelson Ward, but what’s this? Ward has stolen £5,000 of university money and disappeared without a trace? If you don’t find him AND prove that ghosts exist in 72 hours, you’re out of a job? Bugger!

Mild spoilers ahead!

So begins a ~6 hour long campaign in which Patrick travels all over London and, briefly, beyond. Despite their locales being totally different, I was reminded of The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow with the game’s lovingly recreated architecture and clothes that vary based on the wealth of the places you visit. The game wears its 1907 setting extremely well; the smoke-choked skies of London, the horse-drawn carriages… It's all wonderfully put together to immerse you in the world of yesteryear.

As a bit of a history nerd - not necessarily for this period, but in general - it’s great to see that the developers have clearly done their homework. Real historical figures appear in throwaway lines (John Tenniel’s caricatures), extended cameos (like Harry Houdini, who famously hated psychics and mediums), or are even playable in an extended sequence. I won't share who that last one is, but other point and click developers will be kicking themselves for not having thought of it first.

As lovely as the pixel art and cameos are, the aesthetic really shines in the writing. Rapid technological progress is one of the many themes of the story; gas lamps are being changed for electrical ones, much to the annoyance of frugal landlords (some things never change), while some characters are starting to voice hopes for a more progressive future - preferably one with less child labour and sexism. It does sometimes feel like the writers lean over your shoulder to remind you that this time period had some truly awful aspects, but the occasional heavy-handedness is certainly better than romanticising or ignoring them.

While society as a whole might find ghosts silly, it’s undeniable that humans have always been fascinated by the idea of life after death. In your journey to find the professor, you’ll meet characters of varying credibility - mediums, skeptics, and groups of fraudsters round out the cast and, naturally, bicker like schoolchildren for some great moments of levity.

With all the excellent dialogue and attention to detail (such as characters with strong accents having their subtitles reflect it) it's a real shame that the game features zero voice acting. For all the fun I had imagining characters’ voices in my head, it always felt like the game was missing something. Run-ins with local Irish mobsters and snooty rich folks almost fell a bit flat with nothing to listen to beyond an occasional bit of music or ambiance.

While I can confidently say the story puts An English Haunting in the higher tiers of the point-and-click games I’ve played, the puzzles may not be for everyone. Each location you visit consists of one or two screens; usually the outside of a building and / or one or two rooms inside of one. Part of me wishes we got to explore more of the university or that there was more to see outside of London, but the tight exploration helps cut down on pixel hunting.

The game is frugal with its items. You'll get two or three per location, and they'll be useful in as many puzzles. Thankfully, there's only one or two ‘fluff’ items solely tied to achievements - you'll get a few books with interesting tidbits about the story or ghosts in general, but the game makes it clear when you're getting into optional content. One laugh-out-loud moment came when a character told me the reward for completing a quiz was literally just an achievement, a cheeky fourth-wall break that left Patrick quite confused.

An English Haunting’s puzzles are effectively a large jigsaw puzzle; there's not a whole lot of thinking required beyond figuring out where each item needs to be used. That's not a bad thing - it helps keep the plot moving at a satisfying pace - but if you're looking for some real head scratchers, this might not be the game for you. It feeds into the game’s biggest strength, though - if you’re ever not sure what to do, it’s usually because you’re missing something obvious rather than any lack of logic on the game’s part.

Mechanically, it would've been nice to have a button that highlights all interactables in the environment - a feature that's basically a must-have for accessibility at this point - but the inclusion of quicksaving and quick loading was pretty nice. I really must praise the game for avoiding the awful ‘find the right way to go in a foggy forest’ puzzle trope, though.

As most gamers use quick saving as a way to see what their dialogue choices will change (hopefully I’m not the only one), it’s a shame that Patrick can say just about anything without anything happening to the story or puzzles. That’s great for writing hints to guide folks through the game, but felt a little disappointing when I wanted more content to explore (there are certainly worse problems to have!)

Patrick himself is a compelling protagonist, a smart man in an impossible situation that constantly gets worse, but close examination of the plot does make me wonder if things changed a lot during development. The 72-hour time limit is quickly forgotten about in favour of other stakes of varying importance, and by the time things really get spooky, the credits are about to roll.

There are also a few instances of traumatic life-threatening events being discarded a little too quickly, without much acknowledgement. While the steady pace of the story is consistent throughout, I do wish there was a little more time spent exploring and dealing with the consequences of some of the story’s darker twists - especially the revelations of the ending.

All in all, I have to give the game its due. As someone who didn’t care much for ghosts, they’ve been presented in a really compelling way, with characters that I enjoyed spending time with. If a sequel or spinoff is on the cards, rest assured - I'll be floating through the walls to get there.

Reviewed on PC. A review code was provided by the publisher.

Puzzle Difficulty

Straightforward

Puzzle Satisfaction

Like a long line of dominoes

Story

Gripping, if you don’t mind the reading

Overall

Recommended

About the author
Kieron West
Kieron West

Kieron has written video game guides since 2018. As a game designer and completionist, he understands video games on their deepest levels and loves helping others see everything that games have to offer. He even makes games of his own under the name WestyDesign.

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An English haunting available at itch.io

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