Lake Ridden by Midnight Hub is an exploration puzzle game with a light story. It starts out a little underwhelming as mostly a relaxing walk through the woods, but that will soon change and you’ll realize how amazingly put together the environments are: the attention to detail is great and everything looks fantastic — the best I’ve seen in a while in an indie game. The puzzles are a mix of classic ones with a twist, some new ones, and some inventory-based, but also with some repetition. The story wasn’t anything too impressive, but okay. The music was mostly a relaxing background thing.
I recommend playing — although not so much for the story, but for the puzzles and the exploration.
The inventory looked nice and worked well. All readables you find are automatically collected, so they are always handy when you need them. There is no way to note things down in-game, though, so have some pen and paper ready. Objectives are easily accessible if you need them. One thing I especially liked with the interface was how clean the HUD was: there was nothing to clutter up your view, except the light source, which naturally belonged there. Rebinding the keys was possible, which came in handy.
Most puzzles had an extra twist at the end, which was, for the most part, good because it provided an extra challenge, but there’s also a hint system if you get stuck and don’t want to take a think break.
The voice acting was competent, if a bit emotionless or hysterically cheerful at times.
The developers describe the story as “A cozy supernatural adventure where you unravel a mysterious past, trying to find your sister.”, which is accurate. I wasn’t too impressed with the writing, but it got the point across and provided some extra fun while it lasted. After playing a game like Beckett, where the writing is everything, this was certainly a step down in that department, but, then again, every game doesn’t have to be edgy or avant-garde, and Lake Ridden is a quite competent puzzle game, which will challenge your noggin in other ways.
The game apparently started out as a horror game, but got changed after demoing it, and instead turned into a ghost mystery with a focus on puzzles. There were a couple of empty wardrobes (for hiding in?) that seemed like leftovers from the skipped horror theme.
Could this change also be why the story felt like a bit of a mess? It started as a typical horror story, with people gone missing etc, and then changed into more of a children’s ghost fairytale. Events and characters from the first part were just dropped — as if the story had to be quickly rewritten to acommodate the other changes. The story also felt more like a container for the puzzles — as is easily the case in puzzle games — as well as an excuse to send the player across the map several times to get some filler and extend the playtime. One of the characters even commented on the latter, calling it a “wild goose chase”, which, fourth wall breaking or not, felt pretty accurate. This unfortunately made me lose a bit of interest around three quarters into the game, so for the last part I wasn’t as invested as I had been.
One bug I encountered was when starting the game the first time: The screen went black and then nothing happened. I waited 5 minutes just in case it was loading slowly, but the game had apparently stopped working, so I restarted it, and the second time everything worked and the game loaded quickly too, so it seems like this was a one time thing or rare enough not to happen again.
A few, mostly cosmetic glitches here and there¹, but nothing major or showstopping. One annoyance I had was how the mouse lagged for the cog wheel puzzle. Sprint wasn’t significantly faster than walk, which could otherwise have made all the running back and forth, towards the end, into less of a chore. Some repetition in furniture and most of the cupboards and drawers were empty.
The rune stone puzzles at the end allowed for too much ambiguity in my opinion (e.g. I had the right solution, but still it didn’t work, because it had to be moved one step down or done on another stone for no apparent reason, which felt unfair).
The root cellar puzzle felt a little weird and didn’t make sense to me: why would the player character ever want to do something that would surely make her very ill or even kill her when this wasn’t even the actual end-goal (luckily)? Why would eating something that is designed to kill rats “open your eyes”? Doing something like that would only harm or kill you. Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, but it rubbed me the wrong way.²
The cannon puzzle felt unnecessarily involved, because things had to be done in the exact right order even though they could very well have been done any other order too, like getting the spring before trying out the cannon, without it effecting anything. I was stuck on that one for a while, because I couldn’t get the crane to work (because I had totally missed that there were two wheels), so I checked the hints and got confused when they mentioned getting a replacement spring, which, at the time, didn’t exist, because it was made visible only when actually needed.
Final words: If you want to go explore a fantastically realized mansion and solve some puzzles, this is the perfect game for you: there is lots to explore and be challenged by. Just don’t expect too much from the story; it’s an okay fairytale, but that’s about it.
¹The LOD(?) got a little extreme in some places, with things noticably popping in and out (even with the view distance at max). The text for one readable was rendered outside the paper it was written on. One visual effect disappeared when looking in a certain direction. Some cans had quite an off rotation centre. Fullscreen mode was set as default, but the game was still in windowed mode when entering the options screen. Some of the rain was visible inside. The third spring for the crane was made visible only when it was needed.
²This kind of game-logic did remind me of the point & clicks of yore, though, so some nostalgia points for that, I guess. 😉