1980’s pop band Haircut 100 once asked – “Where does it go from here? Is it down to the lake I fear?”. They must have known something about the future as their lyrics perfectly sum up the themes around one of the latest adventure puzzlers to arrive on Xbox One – Lake Ridden. Now, the developers have been keen to announce that this isn’t a horror game, so Haircut 100 need fear little, and it’s not a walking sim experience either. But what is it then – I hear you cry?! Well, it’s a mysterious, enchanting and beguiling game that will have you scratching your head as you look to discover what secrets Lake Ridden may hold.
After a couple of years in development, this new experience has been created by former Minecraft and Paradox developers to arrive on Xbox One. Lake Ridden is a story-driven, first-person puzzle game, and the developers themselves describe it as “a cozy supernatural adventure”. You play the role of Marie, a 13-year-old girl, and the year is 1988. Summer is nearly over and you are going to join your younger sister and her friends for one last camping weekend in the wilderness of Maine. After the second night by the campfire, an argument with your sister ends with her running off into the forest. Your mission is to find your sister, with the journey leading you into an old estate with huge history. However, you soon find out you are not alone and former residents are trying to communicate with you.
The narrative and mystery that unfolds is very strong indeed. The developers have managed to create a real sense of atmosphere and place with Lake Ridden. There are some brilliant documents, photographs and diary entries scattered around that provide a backstory to the world. And it has to be said that there is a good detective story to be taken in as you solve clues in a quite interesting and complex manner.
Gameplay-wise it puts you into the first person, leaving you to walk around the world exploring; basically trying to work out what the hell is going on. There isn’t any fighting to be had, but there are loads of exploration opportunities to take in, as you pick up items, drop them and examine the finer details at your leisure. You can collect these items too, dropping them into your inventory for later use, whilst a basic dialogue tree setting ensures that you’ll be able to take in some seriously strange conversations, especially as things progress. The main meat and drink with this game though is found in the puzzle elements and it’s obvious that it is here where the developers know their stuff.
The puzzles are the highlight of the game, delivering some old favourites in the way of sending water through pipes, or repeating what you see. Others are much more complicated and intricate though, with one involving the need to digest something that should kill you; very different results are found here. There is also some fun found in delving into shipping logs in order to discover the best way to move a toy ship across a board. All the puzzles work well, and are expertly crafted and cleverly integrated into the experience. Fans of puzzles will certainly discover much fun throughout the game.
There are a few niggles to be had though. I personally found the backtracking a bit annoying, and becoming lost, wandering around in the fog, certainly makes the playtime a lot longer. Further to that, if you leave the game and take a break before going back to it, it’s real easy to forget the next plan of action – there isn’t really any type of prompt and you just have to remember what you were doing. Overall though none of this has really hampered my enjoyment of Lake Ridden and what has turned out to be a really enjoyable tale and experience.
Visually the game first reminds of the likes of What Remains of Edith Finch, especially in its tone and style – which isn’t a bad thing at all. The outdoor areas look great, even though the fog can get a bit frustrating at times, yet when the sun comes out this is an experience that looks beautiful. It’s helped by the dream-like sequences included too. The interiors are excellent as well though, with some lovely bits of attention to detail like the puzzling photographs hidden around the world which tell an interesting anecdote. It’s a game where the visuals make you feel comfortable and warm even though the story can go to some dark places.
The soundtrack is also a lovely piece of composition, changing and adapting to the environment and gameplay. The effects are good and work perfectly well; there is always a satisfying noise or thunk when you finish a puzzle and this strangely makes you feel better about yourself. The voiceover work is just as decent, especially from the main narrator, but unfortunately some of the casting doesn’t quite work with the other characters.
To conclude though and I’ve had a great time with Lake Ridden on Xbox One. The narrative and atmosphere are both great from start to finish and it’s easy to pick up and play. The puzzle elements are excellent, and for conundrum fans out there this delivers a bit of a treat. It can get tricky mind, so you’ll want to be aware of that, and there are definitely a few odd issues that crop up – the ease of getting lost and lack of mission signposting both worry. The price though is superb for a game of this scope and it’s going to take you a decent number of hours to complete, so much so that you’ll want to forget about Haircut 100’s fear of the lake and get yourself down to the shores of Lake Ridden.