The puzzle adventure genre suffered from a bit of a downward spiral throughout the 2000s. The heyday of Grim Fandango, The Beast Within and Myst gave way to a barren period that offered little but an array of increasingly uninspired sequels and, God help us, Leisure Suit Larry. The reason for this decline can probably attributed, at least partly, to a couple of minor developments in the market called the PS2 and the Xbox. After all, puzzle games are fun, but pointing and clicking and WASD could hardly compete with bombing a Warthog around Halo, or getting over a tough day in the office by becoming one with Kratos. However, times change, and a surge of indie developers and publishers are breathing new life into old genres with new IP for those with a case of AAA fatigue. Enter Lake Ridden.
The game presents us with a standard, tried and tested formula for this genre; you play in first person, following a predetermined path throughout the game world, uncovering clues and solving puzzles to further the story. At points you have a fair amount more freedom of movement, like when exploring a large garden or house, but you are very much led to those places. This is a bit of a step change for me, being an open world worshipper, but while following the path of the game is very much compulsory, it manages to not come off as too heavy handed. Background and information are provided by a narrator, yourself, and character audio along with the info gleaned from puzzles and scattered letters and the like. The narration is key to progression, and it will often provide clues to keep you moving, such as saying that a door handle is missing a piece when you find yourself unable to go through a door.
You play as Marie, who is hunting for her little sister Sofia. Sofia has got lost in the forest after wandering off during a camping trip – said forest is very ethereal and, to start with at least, a bit creepy. However, the dark misty paths that steeply wind up and down are offset by the fact that you are almost always able to see the night sky and stars, not to mention that light fixtures of varying types are scattered along your route, e.g. candles, lamps, oil burners etc. This generous illumination also acts as a handy trail of breadcrumbs should you become lost. The artwork is very pretty, in a glowy, Galadriel sort of way, and has a slightly washed out look that reinforces the fantasy of the setting. There’s also a hint of Blair Witch about the clues you find, and a slightly unsettling vein of ‘eccentricity’ running through diary entries and letters. It adds up to be very atmospheric, and quite engaging.
However, it was partially spoiled for me fairly early on. Why, you ask? Well, any motifs and inferences channeled from Outlast or Amnesia, or even Myst, are disintegrated totally by the narration and the voice acting. As far as I can tell, it’s all performed by the same actor playing a variety of different parts, some disembodied or distant memories, such as when reading a diary. The characterisation seems way off to me, and pulls the game in a completely different direction from the atmospheric puzzlers of yore. Not a bad direction necessarily, but not one I’m a big fan of, as for me it just makes it feel a bit ‘childish’ – a case of unnecessary handholding. It’s a small gripe, but a jarring one.
All in all this is a fun game, benefiting from its light touch and gentle setting, which I think will serve it well in a market currently overflowing with intense FPSs/battle royales, complex simulations and endless RPGs. You can dip in and out here and there when you have time and still enjoy the story, without having to worry about your skills becoming dulled with unfamiliarity, dooming you to death after death at the hands of militant 12 year olds who should be doing their maths homework. I’d advise definitely giving it a go if puzzles and mystery are your type of thing.
Lake Ridden is available on PC via Steam, GOG and Humble Store.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Lake Ridden was provided by Indigo Pearl. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author