Developer: Midnight Hub
Publisher: Midnight Hub
The term “walking simulator” has become a pejorative in gaming fandom. The disdain for this genre of games is so prevalent that some developers make sure their games are not categorized this way. Midnight Hubseems to share this concern since they proactively describe Lake Ridden as a game that is not a walking simulator. Fortunately, the developer has nothing to fear as Lake Ridden is clearly more than a walking simulator and it is a game they can be proud of.
Spiritual Content: The protagonist in Lake Ridden interacts with spirits and ghosts. Some of the spirits are malevolent, while others are helpful. The game depicts an alternate dimension that seems to house spirits. However, the player does not receive much information about this place. The game’s lore contains several references to judgmental people who made accusations about behavior that they considered not Christian-like.
Sexual Content: There are subtle references to accusations of sexual impropriety. However, the game does not elaborate nor depicts any sexual acts. Additionally, the player can miss these hints altogether as they are part of optional game lore.
Positive themes: The game’s protagonist has a child-like innocence and a positive attitude. She displays great courage and love as she relentlessly searches for her lost sister.
I am a huge fan of story-driven puzzle-adventure games like Myth and the original The Longest Journey. These games reel the player in with their compelling narrative, challenging puzzles and exploration of the game world. Midnight Hub‘s Lake Ridden fulfills each of these categories and then some.
It is an understatement to say that Lake Ridden is a beautiful game. Midnight Hub masterfully blends the game’s visual and musical elements to craft an incredible atmosphere. The developer’s usage of weather effects, like rain and fog, set an appropriately eerie mood. Likewise, the locations depicted in the game leave a melancholic impression as one navigates the dark corridors and solitary locales.
The score is a delight to listen to. The game’s musical pieces are adequately matched to their environment and the transitions from one piece to the next are fluid and seamless. Each soundtrack incorporates a blend of lighthearted major chords with mysterious minor and diminished chords. This blend creates an atmosphere of mystery with the right amount of eeriness to keep the player on their toes but not enough to enter horror territory.
Lake Ridden‘s gameplay consists of solving puzzles to gain access unlock new areas and discover items necessary to advance through the game. There are no action sequences, but there is a challenge that involves shooting glass bottles with a custom stationary crossbow to knock down an item from a shelf. The puzzles are varied and challenging and include a mix of old and innovative mechanics. The game has some repeating puzzles; however, each chapter has unique puzzles to solve. Most of the puzzles have logical solutions that the player can reasonably deduce from the context. However, there is one puzzle in the game that is so obscure that the solution feels arbitrary and disconnected from the clues.
Lake Ridden‘s narrative unfolds through the conversations between the protagonist and the otherworldly denizens of the game world. The dialogue provides just enough information to drive the plot forward but almost no background or context. In order to understand the history of the game world, the player must collect notes and letters hidden throughout the game. These notes give a deeper understanding of the events that led up to the current state of the world.
Lake Ridden is not without its flaws. First, the controls do not feel polished. A large part of the game is about traversing the game world to unlock the secrets and new areas. Unfortunately, the traversal controls feel very sluggish and unresponsive at times. The developers should have spent more time fine tuning the movement mechanics and feel. Likewise, the controls for some of the puzzles feel counter-intuitive.
One particular type of puzzle involves concentric circles that the player aligns to form a pattern which opens a lock. The game reuses this type of puzzle several times. However, a large part of the difficulty with these puzzles is the poor controls. In order to align each piece, the player has to hold down the mouse button and attempt to spin each circle in a single motion. This motion feels very unnatural and makes the puzzles very frustrating.
Second, the game’s lore and history found in the notes throughout the world are fascinating. Each note has a number and one can view how many notes of a certain type one has collected. However, this log deletes itself in between chapters and sometimes even in between play sessions. The lack of a persistent log makes it very difficult to know which notes one has yet to collect. Additionally, the player cannot read through the notes sequentially after they have all been collected.
Third, the game world is largely empty and filled with useless interactive elements. A lot of items are strewn around the game world which can be picked up, dropped, examined and/or thrown. However, the majority of these have no utility; they aren’t used to solve a puzzle nor do they add to the game lore. Likewise, there are many cupboard drawers and cabinets that the player can open, but all but a precious few contain anything in them. Additionally, once the main story is completed there is little reason to return to the game world. The game does not offer much replay value as there is not much else to discover past the main puzzles.
Fourth, the game has some technical problems, ranging from minor glitches to game breaking bugs. There were small visual glitches that appeared from time to time. These were often brief and did not distract from the game too much. Also, the notes found throughout the game had misspellings and grammatical errors that did not seem intentional.
The major bug I ran into was during the laundry room chapter. At the end of this chapter, the player needs to run back outside in pursuit of a ghost. However, when I reached the door there was a physics glitch which caused the door to close and I could not open it. I tried reloading my saved game but the results were the same each time. Luckily, Lake Ridden allows the player to start the game from any chapter they want, and I was able to replay that chapter and complete it the second time around.
In spite of these flaws, Midnight Hub has crafted a beautiful experience in Lake Ridden. The developer has taken the best parts of the puzzle adventure genre and brought them together to create a breathtaking game world. Most of the issues listed above stand out because of how amazing the game is in other aspects. If Midnight Hub patches these problems, they will undoubtedly have on their hands a game worthy of mention alongside the classics in the genre.
Review code generously provided by Sandbox Strat.
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