It often surprises people how good games made in Unity can look. When I saw Midnight Hub’s Lake Ridden at EGX Rezzed earlier this year, I heard many other attendees impressed by the visual fidelity. The game undeniably looks incredible, with dense and varied foliage growing all around the titular lake and the estate the game mostly takes place in. The estate itself is made up of a mansion and the many service buildings, long fallen into disrepair but still full of detail.
Lake Ridden is a narrative driven first person adventure game - I’m loathe to call it a “Walking Simulator” because the game features some decidedly difficult puzzles that completely prevent progression. These puzzles are straight out of a 90s adventure game, with convoluted solutions that do not come easily to the sane or logical. While that may be a slight exaggeration, even using the hint system in the game I think some of the puzzles could have been a little less obtuse.
The game expects you to make some rather big logical leaps, and I found that often, the best solution was brute force and trying out all of the possible solutions. I’m not sure whether this is intended or not, as during one part the game I was sent to three locations to find the combination for a lock, but I couldn’t find the third location. I had two thirds of the solution, so I just entered all possible combinations until the lock opened. When I did this, the game responded saying that I’d cheated, but I couldn’t work out where the game wanted me to go.
That wasn’t the only time I had trouble locating where I needed to go; on several occasions I was directed to a building but not told where that building was. The estate is quite large, and the derelict appearance of the buildings and the terrible guiding voice meant walking around the entirety of the estate, trying all the doors until I found one which would open for me. The mansion itself is also confusingly laid out, though that is a standard practice for games like this and I’ve certainly been in less traditional homes.
The story takes a distinctly mystical view, though throws a lot of pseudoscience in to mix up the puzzles. All of the characters are either invisible, represented by a non-human form or only appear off-screen, and that’s almost entirely explained by the direct plot that is given to the player. There is a subplot, hidden in locked boxes which give audio logs full of backstory. The biggest problem I have with these is the boxes are locked behind Light’s Out style puzzles. I actively hate these puzzles, to the point where I stopped collecting them.
The audio design is pretty great, from the music to the voice acting to the general foley. Too often in games they overdo the sounds of the world, with extra creaky doors and footsteps that could be heard from a mile away, but Lake Ridden has it right. The doors don’t creak, the footsteps are appropriate for the teenage girl protagonist. The music fits well with the mystical themes, and adds to the mystery in the game. The three voiced characters all play their parts well, however, the player characters’ lines are quite a bit quieter than the other two voices - though she has little to say unless you’re trying to open a box or door you need a key for.
The game runs superbly considering the strain it must be putting on the engine, keeping a consistent frame rate even when there are big particle effects on screen. Lake Ridden takes place in a large area, and subsequently sections off areas to load them separately. This is generally quite smooth, but the pauses when moving quickly between different zones are quite noticeable. You’re never left waiting for more than a few seconds, and I suspect that the loading times would be practically unnoticeable if you run the game from an SSD. Otherwise, you can expect a few seconds of the game freezing every time you move between zones.
All in all, Lake Ridden is an interesting game, one to definitely look at if you’re into a more mystery-based puzzle game. The game looks and sounds incredible, and has a competent enough story. I wish the subplot wasn’t locked behind a puzzle I can’t stand because I’m fascinated by it. It otherwise didn’t set my world on fire, but I’m not upset that I spent five hours with it, particularly since solving the puzzles definitely made me feel smart.
Lake Ridden (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
A mystery game with some obtuse puzzles set in a beautiful world, worth looking at but be prepared to look up a guide for help with some of the puzzles.