The term walking simulator gets a bad rap, essentially referring to exploration focused games like Dear Esther, Everybody’s gone to the Rapture and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to name a few, as simple slogs through a predetermined or linear path.
Lake Ridden, like the aforementioned games before it, is an exploration title that follows in the same footsteps (no pun intended) and by doing so, further adds to issues I have with the term walking simulator, which I find grossly undermines the true beauty of the genre. Instead, terms like exploration or even adventure puzzle should be used to describe games like Lake Ridden.
Lake Ridden is a narrative-heavy exploration and puzzle-focused romp through a mysterious and foreboding campsite, with the player character tasked with finding her sister who has mysteriously disappeared into the labyrinth-like surroundings of Lake Ridden after a heated argument.
Lake Ridden is a beautiful game that brilliantly uses colour to change the mood of the game as the player progresses through its world. Early on, the game uses a muted and cool colour palette that exudes a feeling of isolation, loneliness, and intrigue. As you explore the game world, you quickly find a cabin with the only reminder of human occupation coming in the form of litter strewn about the floor.
One of the best aspect while playing Lake Ridden is the sound design. Something I found masterfully helps bring the game world to life, everything from the sound of the crows (ravens?) that remind the player that you are far from any settlements or human dwellings, to the eerie and somber music that lends an almost storybook-like feeling to the game.
After some lite digging around the cabin, players will realize that not all is well and that people tend to go missing whenever they visit the titular Lake Ridden. This gives the game some urgency and helps shift the almost tranquil mood of the first few minutes of gameplay into a darker and more poignant experience.
This shift in mood can also be felt through Lake Ridden’s visual language, as I progressed deeper into the forest, the stranger and more alien everything felt. An early example of this can be found after the player successfully manages to make it past the gates just outside of the cabin (something which I admit, took me a few attempts to figure out) and eventually, to a clearing where a strange stone with runes can be found, situated in the middle of the lake, covered in all manners of bramble and sinister looking roots.
Suddenly, the quite (albeit creepy) atmosphere of the game thus far gave way to a feeling of mystery and excitement, something that made solving the numerous puzzles throughout the game feel that much more rewarding.
MidnightHub has done an admirable job in striking a balance between exposition intermingled with puzzle solving and exploration beats. Although I never actually ran into another living soul with the little over two hours I spent with the game, Lake Ridden always felt like I was in a setting that was very much once full of life, from the discarded pizza boxes that lay strewn about the campsite, to the numerous journal entries, newspaper clippings and notes scattered throughout the world, I never truly felt alone.
The few times I did get stuck, the in-game clue system helped me figure things out and quickly make progress to the next area. In terms of interactivity, Lake Ridden offers little in the means of action, but that’s kind of the point and things like interacting and examining objects are all present and feel perfectly implemented. All notes and journal entries discovered are also saved and easily viewable with a simple keystroke, making inventory management easy and intuitive.
If it isn’t obvious already, the fun in Lake Ridden lies with its puzzle solving, which from what I played all feel unique and interesting enough that even without the promise of new story bits or areas to explore, would be fun in their own right to solve.
Saying all this, Lake Ridden is not for everyone but that should be obvious, exploratory puzzles games are somewhat of a niche and Lake Ridden is an excellent example of the genre, harkening back to the early days of point and click PC gaming with a much more contemporary coat of paint thanks to the Unity game engine and modern graphics capabilities.
Lake Ridden deserves a look for those in the market for a quieter, narrative-driven and atmosphere-rich puzzle game.