Narrative adventures have become a staple of the year indie game scene, and quite rightly so. Titles like Tacoma, What Remains of Edith Finch and The Station all fall into this category and all take us on a rich, story-driven adventure through an intrigue world or setting. Lake Ridden is a new addition to this prestigious list, and although the game doesn’t quite manage to hit the narrative heights of the previously mentioned game, it does deliver classic inspired environmental puzzle that pushes the genre into a completely new direction.
The story here takes place in 1988 where you play as Marie, a young girl who has embarked on a camping trip into the woods with her sister and her sister’s friends. The game starts with you looking for your sister, who rather stupidly, has wandered off into the woods on her own. The blanket of light-sapping trees instantly helps set the eerie atmosphere in Lake Ridden, an atmosphere that often makes you question the true motive of the over-arching narrative.
Pretty soon into your quest in finding your sister, you stumble across an old estate and it’s the exploration of this estate that acts as the main fuel in the game’s narrative. One element that really stands out with this narrative is the way to presents itself early in the game. The clear supernatural inspirations are apparent, but you’ll often find yourself asking the questions ‘what are the games true intentions’? Much like the first time, we set foot in the Greebairers house in Gone Home and we all asked the question ‘is this a horror game’?
To its benefit, the game leans further into the question as you delve deeper into the mystery of Lake Ridden; thick eerie fog and dark underground caverns all made some moments of the adventure feel almost uncomfortable, but not in a bad way. Although this progressively growing sense of tension help immerses you into the mystery of Lake Ridden, the actual narrative itself doesn’t quite hit the heights it looks to promise.
Let’s get one thing clear, the story of Lake Ridden isn’t bad, in fact, it’s very good. The issue here is that it’s not Tacoma, What Remains of Edith Finch or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter good. And this is for a few select reasons. Firstly, the environment your explore and almost too linear in the delivery of their narration. For example, when exploring the Tacoma space station almost everything you interacted with told a story. Unfortunately, Lake Ridden doesn’t quite carry the same fidelity towards its environmental storytelling. Granted, there are a selection of journal entries, letters and pictures that all help add to the narrative, but there’s a lack of the more intricate hidden notes of the over-arching story.
When we spoke to developers Midnight Hub earlier this year at EGX they mentioned how their approach on Lake Ridden was What Remains of Edith Finch meets Myst. While they may not have hit the perfect narrative note that Edith Finch managed to do, they have most definitely delivered on the Myst front, offering genuinely challenging puzzles that seamlessly fit into the environment. It’s these puzzles that are the heart of Lake Ridden, and although completing them progressed the narrative, I was more excited by coming across the next puzzle and seeing what brilliance the developers had conjured up.
If you want to approach Lake Ridden as a narrative game and not a puzzle game then you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a brilliant hint system embedded in the game. What I loved about this system was how you have to ask for the hints, your not force fed the answer. What’s even better is the layered approach to the hint system. Your first hint will simply point you in the right direction, whereas the final hint will all but give you the answer. On so many occasions I was torn between my ego of not using the system and the full on the frustration of wanting to be fed the answer. I won’t lie, I did use the system on the odd occasion and more often than not the answer was a lot simpler than I first thought. Having the choice on how much help you want is a brilliant addition to the game, especially when the puzzle here can get genuinely hard.
If you approach Lake Ridden as a fleshed out narrative adventure then you’ll no doubt enjoy the mysterious story on offer, but possibly feel a little underwhelmed. However, if you see the game for what it truly is, a puzzle game that tells its story through both the narrative and the brilliant design puzzles then you won’t be disappointed. The ability to tailor the challenge through a well thought-out and layered puzzle system makes Lake Ridden one of the most accessible puzzle games available and one that is a must play for fans of classic puzzle-driven games like Myst.