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Varney Lake Review

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Visual novels have become an extremely popular gaming format over the last few years, originating from Japan in the 2000s and dominating the PC market. Their definition is a game that focuses on narrative told through text, with animation backing up the story. That animation is normally static with minimal movement. The same can be said about the interaction too, which normally boils down to the odd player choice and decision to make about where the story goes. 

LCB Game studios are continuing the trend with a series of these games that are linked through themes and characters. The first game was Mothmen 1966 which we enjoyed and now Varney Lake tells a new tale in this connected universe. 

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Varney Lake is a tale told in two different time periods. The first centres on a group of teens in the summer of 1954, in middle America living around a place called, well, Varney Lake. Christine, Jimmy, and Doug are having a lovely summer playing cards, fishing, looking at clouds and trying to make shapes. Jimmy is secretly in love with Christine, but she has a boyfriend. There’s a nice “Stand By Me’ vibe to it and is enjoyable to read. They suddenly help an old man in a shack who turns out to be a vampire, indebted to them. It’s then when their lives change forever. 

The next part of the story whips forward to 1981 as Jimmy is being interviewed by Lou, a paranormal investigator shacked up in a diner. The investigator was one of the stars of the previous game, but here he is, interviewing an older Jimmy and Christine about their experiences with the vampire, as we learn about the fateful events of that summer of ‘54. 

The writing found in Varney Lake is very tight, brilliantly nuanced. Not a line is wasted and I felt myself hanging off every chapter. The warm tone of the friendship between the three teens in 1954 is full of charm and nostalgia. In contrast is the sharpness and harsh vibe of that 1981 world, as you begin to understand what has happened to them and the effect of years gone by. The whole vampire stuff is equally well-written and three-dimensional, rather than the usual tropes that we see covered in the gaming world. 

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The other bit of gameplay on offer – apart from just reading – is found in a couple of little mini-games. One of them is a fishing game with an achievement for finding an unusual catch. Another is a card game working some new rules but based around solitaire, which you can also play separately if you want to, accessible from the main menu. The other is a sort of guess-the-cloud shape rhythm game. These work well and are nice distractions and diversions from the main narrative. 

The visuals found in Varney Lake work through a pixel art style that is similar to the kind of work you used to find on an Amiga back in the early ‘90s. But even though the team behind Varney Lake utilise this old style, it is beautifully made and edited. Like the writing, no image is wasted and it feels lean, sharp and full of nicely  surprising use of multi-comic frames in a scene. 

Sound-wise and we’re taking in some great ‘Stranger Things‘ type twangs and synth tracks that add to the atmosphere and storytelling. 

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Varney Lake is a charming addition to an interesting game franchise. Seeing returning characters come back with a fresh new story to tell, working an X-Files and Stranger Things vibe, isn’t a bad thing at all. You’ll need to be aligned with the genre though and so if you hate stories and don’t like reading then this is far from the game for you. But visual novel fans should definitely add this new one to the collection. 

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Great writing
  • Mini games
  • Pixel visuals
Cons:
  • You’re going to need to enjoy the genre to get the most out of it
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Chorus Worldwide
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Swtich, PC
  • Release date and price - 28 April 2023 | £8.49
Gareth Brierley
Gareth Brierleyhttp://www.garethbrierley.co.uk
I am an actor and a writer. I act quite a bit on stage, a little bit on tv and never on tuesdays. I have had some of my writing published and have written for TV and stage. I have been playing games since they begun and don't seem to be getting any better.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Great writing</li> <li>Mini games</li> <li>Pixel visuals</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>You’re going to need to enjoy the genre to get the most out of it</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Chorus Worldwide</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Swtich, PC <li>Release date and price - 28 April 2023 | £8.49</li> </ul>Varney Lake Review
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