Despite it’s appearance, Lake Ridden isn’t a walking sim, nor a horror title – a statement made clear on the store page for the game. That’s not to say it’s atmosphere isn’t creepy; it certainly has a strong sense of foreboding and tension, and you definitely spend a lot of time walking around. But the main aspect of the title sees us solving puzzle after puzzle in the search for your missing sister. Early impressions are strong, though by the climatic sequence of events I was unfortunately more than ready for the adventure to end.
We play as Marie, who while out camping with her sister awakes to find her gone. Wandering through the woods, it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Lake Ridden lays on the exposition almost constantly, so to say much more would be to ruin a rather enjoyable tale. We meet several other characters along the way, and dig deep into a mystery that precedes our arrival. I enjoyed this aspect of the title, with some genuinely intriguing plot points and arcs that, though not wholly unpredictable, did at least keep the twists and turns coming fast enough to hold the interest.
These serve to lay up the meat of the game; the puzzles. I’ve never been one for point and click style puzzles, with leaps of imagination needed to figure the steps out, and Lake Ridden relies on them a little too often for my liking. Early on things are simple enough, requiring you to dig into some scattered notes to figure out a code or line up distorted patterns on a ring to unlock a gate. By about the half way point though things start to ramp up and it’s here that I began to get lost. As I’ve noted before, I’m hardly to sharpest knife in the drawer, but some of the leaps needed to piece together the solutions are, I feel, way too large. I have to admit that YouTube was my friend on more than one occasion. Maybe I lack the attention span needed, or trying to play after a full day’s work had my brain on reserve power, but I honestly don’t think I’d have finished the title without some help. Upon learning the solution to one of the final puzzles, I can confidently say that I would have never thought of solving it in the required way. I did find a few of the latter tests felt this way though, so perhaps again the problem lies more with me.
Items picked up can be used on certain areas, but again, sometimes the actual application of an item is unclear. There is, thankfully, a in game hint system too that offers up slowly more detailed information on how to bypass an area, up to a fourth hint. But even these keep things too vague at times, one example requiring me to line up the dialogue in pages of a book with a code at the back of said book, before exiting out to input the data. Get it wrong and you’ll need to dig back into the slightly clumsy menu system to go through it again. The hints offered did little to really aid me in solving the puzzle, leading to another trip to a video guide. A later example has us solving a crime using several different notes at a time; flicking between them and collating the data proved time consuming and frustrating – especially when the answers you give are handed out in a slow crawl of text. Press the wrong answer and you have to go through the whole spiel before you can try again. Some of the time I felt I lucked my way through more than anything, which is not really the best way to feel about a puzzle game.
The majority of achievements are locked behind the optional puzzle boxes hidden around the world too. Offering up extra world detail and background, they are going to be a must if you want to get the most out of the story. Again though, the actual act of unlocking them was incredibly hard. A grid of buttons adorn the top of the box; when pressed, the adjacent ones flip over to reveal a dot. All of the buttons must be flipped over in order to open the box. The first couple were solved fairly easily, but by the time I found my 3rd (that turned out to be the 7th overall as I’d missed some) the amount of moves required to open it meant I never did complete the set.
A shame then, as the world building and story really kept me wanting to come back for more. There’s a constant sense of dread and suspense throughout, the abandoned mansion and surrounding village and lake covered in a thick fog. Lanterns can be lit along your way to help with navigation, lots of incidental items can be picked up and examined, then tossed aside. Navigating the outside is a little disorientating at first – the map not exactly the clearest we’ve seen – though that just adds to the experience for the most part; both you and Marie are exploring this unknown place together after all. Story is filled in via voice-over work from most of the small cast, and at time’s can be quite touching. Despite the rather minimalist look to it, it can be quite a good looking title. A later spell locked in a basement offers up some lovely artwork and effects that show off what Midnight Hub can do, though it’s soon back to the more muted colour palette of the outside world.
I’m being a little unfair perhaps; clearly I struggled with the difficulty where others may just revel in it. If you’re of the puzzling mind, I would imagine that you’d get right along with Lake Ridden. The roughly 4 hour run time is just the right length to not over do things or start repeating puzzles too often. The atmosphere is finely tuned to where you’re never quite sure if something may just pop up behind you and the visuals and audio do a great job of sucking you in to the world. The story is quite engaging, though it’s a shame that some of the filler is locked behind those harder box puzzles.