Lake Ridden simply opens with a question: “When you were little, did you ever have dreams so real you believed they were true?” It’s a succinct way of describing the experience I had with the game: immersive but thoroughly confusing. Somewhere between Dear Esther and The Room, there lies Lake Ridden; in an indescribable place that feels like the disappearing memory of a dream.
To explore the first title from Swedish indie outfit Midnight Hub, you take on the role of 13-year-old Marie. While on a camping trip in the woods of Maine, USA, an argument breaks out and your sister is soon lost to the wilderness. Setting out to look for her, you come across an abandoned estate which has its own stories to tell. Over the next 6 or so hours all sorts of mysteries will be discovered and unraveled.
The Cabin in the Woods
The game’s environment and setting certainly are something to behold. Though there isn’t a lot of variety in the locations, the lighting makes every scene come to life. Combined with an excellent minimalist musical score, Lake Ridden is a game that can give you goosebumps.
This is not explicitly a horror game, there are no jump scares here, but there is a mounting supernatural tension. A rising bass note amongst otherwise light instrumentation had me looking around in fear of something lurking in the darkness. Progression lies primarily in solving the puzzles that lay around the estate. Over the course of the game there is a good variety in the style and presentation of them.
What I found to be unfortunate is that many of the ones that left me scratching my head were not satisfying once solved. Being presented with walls of text and then being asked in a roundabout way to extract the exact information needed to progress generally felt obtuse.
One late game puzzle had me infuriated: a character had been performing experiments, attempting scientific method very badly. Reflecting a light beam in different weather conditions apparently affects the results… somehow!
Now one would assume you take note of the current conditions and replicate what they did in that situation. Instead, you’re forced to set it up how they had it for their “most promising results”, despite that being a completely different set of conditions. All just to move a single rock.
Little Sister, Can’t You Find Another Way?
The first two-thirds of Lake Ridden are greatly enjoyable. Everything is mysterious and intriguing and you’re constantly exploring new places. However, the devs don’t quite manage to stick the landing when it comes to story or level design.
The same environments that are so thoroughly immersive become a nightmare to navigate, especially at night with a thick fog. After being told to go to Jack’s lodge I was left asking myself “Who is Jack? Where on Earth does he live?” You’re told it’s next to the laundry lodge, but that’s not exactly much of a landmark and “next to it” is definitely a stretch.
What I haven’t mentioned up until now is that the lodge is inhabited by a number of ghosts, all of which are entirely incorporeal and invisible. One has a voice, others either say literally nothing or talk through the use of a typewriter.
What was already a convoluted story to follow becomes close to impossible. The happenings you’ll learn about take place over a large time period. Reading about them out of order, with no easy form of oversight, is bound to leave you a little lost.
You will busy yourself with tasks in order to get help from the various spirits and save your sister, but it’s never clear how you’re going to do so or what the ghosts can or will even do to help you.
Overall, I would struggle to recommend Lake Ridden to anyone who isn’t already a big genre fan at the cross section of walking sims, mysteries, puzzles and period drama.
It’s a solid first game, don’t get me wrong! Far more polished than what I’m used to playing from small studios. If you’re keen to lose yourself in mystery for a few hours then absolutely pick it up, it is available now on Steam and GOG. Otherwise, maybe some stories are better left forgotten.