“Left alone, I’m with the one I most fear.”
Yeah, 2020 baby! Time to kick off the shackles of a trash decade, and altogether, we jump headfirst into the garbage fire that already is 2020. Ah well, the outside world may be terrible at the moment, but what about the world of media? Yeah, there’s bound to be tonnes of good games already released this year. I mean, let’s have a look at this one– Lake Ridden!
This is the debut title from Swedish studio Midnight Hub, a small set of former Mojang, Ubisoft Massive, Paradox, and Tarsier devs. It’s an impressive background, but the company met an end soon after the initial release in 2018. It’s honestly quite disheartening, as the developers saw sales figures that were “better than expected”, but it still wasn’t enough. The tragic tale didn’t deter them however, as they worked for a year to get this game onto Xbox One through the ID@Xbox program. A massive achievement on all factors, so let’s get into it.
The year is 1988. You play as Marie, a young Swedish lass going on a camping trip to Lake Ridden with her younger sister Sofia, along with some of Sofia’s friends. During the night however, Sofia disappears, not only worrying Marie, but continues the trend of mysterious happenings in and around the forest. With disappearances and possible murders, it’s seemingly cursed land, which begs the question…
What The Absolute Lord Above Were They Doing Taking A Camping Trip Here???
I’m serious, Marie mentions briefly about how a previous trio of campers took a trip here a while back, with only one of them being found alive (barely). It’s well-known to her and she still thinks “Hmm, okay, I have my cant-be-more-than-10-year-old sister and a bunch of her friends, let’s go camping out in this place which is well regarded to be bloody haunted”? Darwin Award nominations aside, the claustrophobic section of Lake Ridden is… alluring, to say the very least.
As soon as you start up, you’re immediately greeted with this heavenly song. Someone starts plucking at the harp like crazy, and you’re put slap bang in the middle of a forest that seems both uncaring and nursing. I state with no hyperbole that Lake Ridden is almost entirely carried by its sound design, albeit in a one-tone kinda way.
The soundtrack of Lake Ridden is phenomenal. It’s nothing entirely versatile, Swedish artist Patrik Jarlestam specialises in a lot of ambient work and field recordings, but Lord almighty, does he know how to reel you in. With that said, one could be easily tired or even frustrated with the score after a while, as transitioning between stages is an awkward thump into another slice of beauty. Nevertheless, it’s good, even great music which for the most part is your only audio accompaniment throughout your trials in this lake.
A lot of the other soundbites– ambient forest noises, birds, what-have-you, are obscured by the serene tones, and there’s not much audio settings can do to prevent that. You’re also treated to little tidbits of voice acting from Marie, Sofia, and Nora. They perform well, even if Sofia sounds like a mother of 4, and I must ashamedly admit that I thought the voice actor for Miss Nellie was from Milwaukee.
Anyway, Lake Ridden‘s gameplay isn’t as walking simulator-y as one would usually expect from a game like this. This has more in common with titles like Myst, ABZÛ, and The Witness — especially the bloody Witness, but we won’t digress just yet. A lot of Lake Ridden‘s puzzles involve sliding pieces of a talisman around so it forms the correct picture, and many of them are similar to Lights Out!, a game I’ve never understood, but am quite sure in my hatred for it. Regardless, these additions and traits work fine, except for the talisman pieces one.
The problem comes from the graphical capabilities, which are quite low. There’s not a lot of detail in the talismans themselves, at least in terms of discernible imagery, so a lot of the time, it’s like trying to find where the bloody bastard SelloTape begins in the reel. Beyond that, the Lights Out!-esque minigames do their job by offering differently-sized grids, with the prize being posthumous character-building. Almost everything else is a jigsaw that never taxes, but satiates.
As far as a begrudgingly-genred walking sim goes, it’s not bad. It’s more rewarding than a slew of Dear Esthers or Among The Sleeps could ever be, but its biggest issue comes from the seriously bewildering narrative and framing. It’s like four different horror spectacles all at once, and I’m not entirely sure which it wants to be the most.
You have the spooky forest setting and the ghosts, that’s the Blair Witch and Goosebumps! angles covered, sure, but the music is like a Bridge to Terabithia-type deal, along with the performances. What about the quite honestly horrific background surrounding most of the mentioned characters? That’s more Fallout-themed than anything, and Nora acting out of sorts with Marie? Definitely Chamber of Secrets right there.
The chain of events surrounding the second half of Lake Ridden was a confusing mess riddled with all different types of weird lines. Nora wanted to play games, Pearl did… well, nothing, bar giving a typewriter-bar-thing to Jack, who instigates the final part of the game, along with making it the most frustrating.
The section involving Jack? Literal mood killer, as he demands that you go from one end of the island to the other and return with some random answers. He’s still not completely satisfied again, which is why you go from one end of the island to the other again, and it’s just… why can’t you just bring the typewriter with you and follow me?
I appreciate that the island surrounding Lake Ridden— even though you never really see this lake, now that I think about it– is all connected. There’s no intrusive loading screens when you go from these different places all at once, it’s its own thing and it’s cozy. However, this goes both ways when you have to do these stupid goose chases with characters who aren’t being dicks for a solid reason; they’re just looking to pad out the already sub-2-hour long completion.
In fact, there’s a lot of Lake Ridden that feels pointless. An example would be the fact that you can interact with almost every loose object in the game world, which I believe only comes into the main gameplay once, and even then, it’s not like a clue or anything. Kudos to the guy who modeled a lot of the crap scattered across the attic and basement floors, but honestly? No, there’s no point.
Finally, the ending is stupid. I don’t know what [REDACTED]’s endgame is, it just happens and it’s kind of like OXENFREE. Then you do a connect-the-dots, and bam, you’re all okay, I think. It’s weird, the whole thing is weird, and because of that, I honestly recommend it quite a bit. I’m serious.
The characters are odd in their own ways, and the stilted dialogue and mannerisms only further boost this surreal feeling of watching a foreign film in subtitles other than your main language and the language of the film. That being said, I wish it showed more of Miss Nellie, a woman who easily steals the show with her fairy-tale presence behind the scenes. Everyone else can sit back and watch as she weaves some silly concoction of stories with the same manner and executions of a magic show involving one pack of cards.
In the end, Lake Ridden is only halfway to being good, but manages to be worth it based on how it got there in the first place. The gameplay is never comatose but never embroiling, the story is never charming but never horrific, and the sound design is both an omniscient force and off-putting. It’s a game that’s hard to put into words, and I bet you wouldn’t be able to pull it off either.
This Review of Lake Ridden was based upon the Xbox One version of the game.
An anomaly of weird decisions lead Lake Ridden to be an interesting trip, despite not much of it being truly fulfilled.
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