Puzzle games and walking simulators have become rather synonymous in recent times. Whether it’s 2014’s The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or one of the genre’s founding fathers in Myst (released 25 years ago this year), puzzle solving has been a cornerstone of the first-person exploration game experience since day one. The other key ingredient to a good first-person mystery/adventure game is story; it must have an engaging narrative so as not to bore the player into submission. Take the recently released (and excellent) What Remains of Edith Finch or 2016’s Firewatch for example, what both titles lack in puzzles is made up in spades with their immersive and first-rate stories. Lake Ridden from Swedish developer Midnight Hub is the latest entry in this fast-growing genre. It’s largely an amalgam of the aforementioned titles, although Midnight Hub emphasises that the PC exclusive game is not a walking simulator. While it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the game’s above, its challenging puzzles and the story’s air of mystery ensures that it holds your attention the whole way through the roughly 10-12-hour campaign.
Welcome to Lake Ridden
Set in Maine, 1988, Lake Ridden puts you in the hiking boots of Marie, a young girl whose sister, Sofia, vanishes while the pair are hiking with friends. Marie then goes searching for her lost sister in the nearby town of Lake Ridden, a place with a dark history. In order to solve the mystery of her missing sister, Marie must piece together clues that link the town’s secret to Sofia’s disappearance, with assistance from several intriguing characters along the way.
The story itself is nothing we haven’t seen before (find missing person), however it’s the premise’s setting and atmosphere that really stand out. Lake Ridden is not a thriving town. It’s a desolate and dismal locale surrounded by beautiful forestry and, of course, a lake. Every remaining remnant tells a story from its former days and what went on in the quaint town. Early in the piece you come across an abandoned camping site, which is linked to the disappearance of both a male and female teenager. As you explore the area you learn about the reason for their disappearance, which serves as an introduction to the mysterious occurrences that afflicted the secluded town.
Much like in games of similar ilk, exploration is paramount. If you fail to search thoroughly it is possible to miss clues or morsels of information about Lake Ridden’s history, which can affect the difficulty of the game’s puzzles. The puzzles are without a doubt the star of the show. They are cleverly crafted and offer a good challenge, with a keen eye and fair amount of tact required to solve some of the more complex ones. There’s also a good variety on offer too, with some ranging from simple puzzle boxes with patterns to more advanced conundrums with several steps. On more than one occasion I was stumped for upwards of twenty to thirty minutes searching for a solution, with my ego taking a hit each time. While the game does a relatively good job of giving players enough information to solve the puzzles, there were a few times where I felt the devs were a bit stingy with information and I was left to figure it out for myself without any real direction.
Puzzles can be simple puzzles such as this
One of my favourite puzzles required me to place bone charms on corresponding stones and then rotate them into the correct position. While another tasked me to use the information at my disposal to find a pattern and then use that information to find the right dials to select. Sometimes clues will be relatively straightforward, while other times they will be more subtle. On several occasions I had to pull out the old pen and paper and write possible solutions down before finding the answer. If you do get stuck there is a hints button you can push to give some guidance, although unlike in some games this hint system will not tell you the solution. You need to go over all the clues you have found (journal entries, letters, photos etc.) to get a clear picture. It reminded me a lot of Myst and how its puzzles required more lateral thinking than most other puzzle games. My biggest gripe with the game’s puzzles is that perhaps there are too many in such a short period. What could have been a tight 6-8-hour experience was bloated out to beyond ten hours due to the sheer volume of puzzles (and their difficulty). It’s not a negative per se, but I would have perhaps preferred some more narrative moments over a few puzzles.
While it’s no technical marvel, Lake Ridden is, for the most part, a visually and aurally appealing piece of work. The setting is nailed thanks to its gloomy atmosphere, which is supplemented by its apposite soundscape and the voice-actors do a good job of giving their characters believability. The only other grievance I have is that about halfway through my game glitched out and I couldn’t progress. Thankfully I could select an earlier chapter and didn’t lose my playthrough. The most annoying aspect of Lake Ridden is that the game doesn’t offer controller support, which for a game of this type is slightly confusing. I’m the type of guy that prefers using a controller over a keyboard and mouse whenever I can. However, Midnight Hub has confirmed that they are working on controller support and that it will be implemented in the near future.
Of course, now it all makes sense…
Lake Ridden is a charming little first-person mystery solving puzzler. A fairly rudimentary premise is given life and intrigue thanks to its secluded setting and excellent puzzles. While the puzzles can perhaps overstay their welcome towards the game’s finale, they are some of the most challenging and superbly crafted puzzles I have ever played. If you’re a fan of walking sims, puzzle games or first-person adventures, Lake Ridden should be on your list of places to go in the near future.
Reviewed on Windows | Review code supplied by publisher