I play a lot of games for this channel, and when you have enough experience, you can usually tell pretty early on what you’re getting into. Some games you can surmise from their first hour that you’re in for a good time. While others you realize quickly that you’re in for a bumpy ride. Lake Ridden, however, is one of those titles that falls into a strange pattern of both. Throughout my experience playing this puzzler, I found myself unbelievably frustrated and then charmed by its uniqueness, and then frustrated all over again.
Lake Ridden is an indie puzzle game developed and released by Midnight Hub for PC on the 10th of May, 2018. And right off the bat, I had a hard time figuring out what I was in for. The marketing material and trailers I’d seen suggested a horror experience, which Lake Ridden is not. Oh don’t get me wrong: this game has got foggy hallways and ghosts a plenty, but we all know that the presence of ghosts does not necessarily a frightening experience make. As I played, I started to get a solid Walking Simulator vibe from it. And while Lake Ridden has plenty of notes for you to collect and soliloquies for you to listen to, it’s really not that sort of experience either.
Lake Ridden is, in fact, a mystery puzzle game. And that’s good, because the puzzles and brain teasers are one hundred percent where this game shines. You play a young woman who is searching for her sister who’s gone missing in a mysterious locale with a mysterious past. As you work your way further and further into Lake Ridden, you learn more about its former inhabitants, and the strange events that took place there. And in order to move forward, you’ve got to solve some puzzles. A ton of puzzles.
As I said, Lake Ridden has one major strength: its puzzles. And they’re great. I’ve played plenty of indie puzzle games that were pretty predictable on what they’d ask you to do, or were at least one trick ponies when it came to their design. Puzzles are tough to design well, and when a lot of developers get going, I think they find out that fact a little too late. As a result, the game is either boringly easy or offendingly short. Oftentimes both.
But Lake Ridden takes a great deal of pride in the sheer variety and challenge of their puzzles. Don’t get me wrong, some of the styles of puzzle are repeated. If I never have to work out one of their box puzzles ever again I’ll be absolutely fine with that. But the creativity and depth that go into each area’s climactic puzzles are genuinely impressive. Solving riddles, doing lateral thinking, and searching found texts for clues are the foundation of this game, and when I found myself attempting to solve these conundrums, I was always engaged.
However, a lot of what comes between those puzzles left me wanting a whole lot more.
The first thing that comes to mind is the visual design of Lake Ridden. Now, I’m not expecting an indie studio to crank out AAA, photorealistic graphics. I’m not here to admire a sunset or marvel at an animation: I wanna figure out what ancient demonic rune goes where. But when those visuals affect the solving of the puzzles and your ease of use with the game, you’ve got a problem. One puzzle, for example, requires you to arrange a series of gears in the right order and shape to make a crank work. Cool puzzle. However, it took me far too long to solve, because all too often the teeth of the gears didn’t even come close to connecting. Out of frustration I gave the crank a turn, and found out that the hit box for those gears extended far further than the visuals suggested.
The settings themselves lack a level of polish that isn’t very fun to look at, but that didn’t bother me until I was informed that I needed to find a specific building. I’d know the building because it was burned down many years ago. The problem was every building in the nearby vicinity was falling apart at the seams. All of them looked like they could have fallen victim to some kid with a can of kerosene in the very recent past.
The writing needs some work as well. It’s a great idea: investigating long abandoned areas and finding clues to its history. But to me, the real story comes from looking for your sister. What was she about? Why’d she run away? Why is my protagonist so nonplussed at the idea of speaking with disembodied voices and ghosts? You don’t get any solid answers until the end, and I’m sad to say that by that time I didn’t really care all the much.
It’s that lack of polish that’ll keep players from truly appreciating the fun that Lake Ridden has to offer. To Midnight Hub’s credit, they include a hint system that is pretty generous. That system doesn’t always come into play, however, between locations when you might find yourself wandering for ages looking for the next series of puzzles. Again, Midnight Hub is kind in offering the ability to choose levels from the menu screen, which is great if you get lost. But I can’t help but feel that if there was more polish and attention paid to a lot of Lake Ridden’s between-the-action moments, we wouldn’t need options like that.
Overall, I’d say that Lake Ridden is a great purchase for fans of puzzles. Midnight Hub’s interest in creating a longer, more complex game with a real variety of riddles and investigation has lead to some truly satisfying moments. It’s just a shame that they’re sometimes outshone by a lot of the tedium that goes with it.