Adventure Gamers Awards
There's also a very nicely implemented hint system. Designed to look a bit like old file folders, it both provides multi-step hints and keeps track of all the various notes and letters you find. On occasion, it even stores rough drawings of things you've seen and might need to refer to again. Unlike many reading-heavy games, I never felt the need to take many notes, which (I feel) is how it should be.
The puzzles themselves, unfortunately, are a bit of a mixed bag. While the game does make an effort to explain why you're surrounded by so many logic puzzles and weird locks (as either games Nora plays or the product of an eccentric inventor), Lake Ridden is very definitely an old-school puzzler. That said, I enjoy those as much as anyone, and there are quite a few quality brainteasers here. You'll find yourself navigating a toy ship by decoding clues from a bunch of old books, operating a lift by pulling levers to match the tune of a musical box, and putting together a wine bottle cannon. There's even a minor mystery to solve, involving a lost ring, to get your little grey cells working.
The problem is that, at other times, the same puzzle types are reused over and over again. Quite a few gates are sealed with locks consisting of a series of concentric rings that must be lined up just so, and several boxes are locked until you play the same pattern memory game. There's also a series of (admittedly optional) puzzle boxes that require you to play “lights out” on bigger and bigger grids with only minor variations. Solving them does reward you with some quite entertaining stories from the inventor's life, fleshing out the story a bit, and my lights out technique is now much more accomplished than it was before, but a little more variety would definitely have been welcome.
Navigation can also be a bit of an issue at times. As much as the mist adds to the atmosphere, it also makes it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you. You do find a rough map of the area, but I found myself all too often getting turned around in the fog and wandering off in the wrong direction. There's no quick travel, and several puzzles ask you to make your way from one end of the estate to the other and back again, exacerbating the problem. Sure, getting lost with poor visibility is realistic, but I could really have done with a lantern or something to guide the way. Somehow, even in a world full of lights, they never seemed to be around when I really needed them, dang it!
While we're talking about minor annoyances, the autosave system can also be a little frustrating. It must rely on saving the game periodically in the background, because more than once I jumped back into the game only to find that a little bit of my progress had been undone. Never very much, but just enough to mean I had to re-solve a puzzle on a couple of occasions. Why it doesn't just save on exit or after every significant event is a mystery. That said, one nice touch is that the story is divided into chapters that you can replay at any time. I wish more games had something like that, letting you get straight to your favourite part and remind you how the story fits together.
Lake Ridden is a bit of an oddity in that it never seems quite able to figure out what it wants to be. The central plot, involving a spooky old village, missing children and ancient, malevolent supernatural creatures, is a horror classic, and it certainly does its best with the graphics and sound to build up a haunting, unsettling mood. Having set all that up, though, it then introduces an eccentric and naive inventor as the owner of the house (who leaves some quite hilarious notes about the place for his exasperated housekeeper) and undercuts much of the feeling of immediate threat to Marie by telling the whole story in flashback. The puzzle-heavy gameplay also encourages you to think analytically about what you're seeing rather than reacting emotionally. The game still clearly wants to be a horror story, but one that's not too scary, while making you laugh now and again and keep you thinking.
On top of that, with some definite exceptions, the events you uncover as you piece together what happened on the abandoned estate are more sweetly tragic than horrifying. Although saying "piece together" might be putting it a bit strongly; trying to link all the hints and notes together left me as confused as I was enlightened, particularly as one of the characters spends most of her time trying to mislead you. It's not just a simple case of too many cooks (or plot elements) spoiling the broth, though, because it very nearly works, representing a noble attempt to leaven what could otherwise have been a slightly plodding and clichéd plot and giving us characters that are a little less one-dimensional.
All in all, Lake Ridden comes across as a little unfocused, but comprised of plenty of memorable and interesting elements. There’s much to experience in the 8–10 hours you’re likely to spend there, from eldritch horrors to Poirot-esque investigations, but where it really shines is in the atmosphere and sense of place: its world is detailed, often beautiful, and manages to feel authentic and lived-in. The visual and sound design both really draw you in and create some genuinely startling moments, even if the muddled storytelling and mood serve to undermine all this good work just a bit. This is a game that tries to include something for everyone, from the horror fan to the puzzle fanatic, even if it doesn't fully gel together seamlessly. Still, the end result is well worth a try if you love logic puzzles with a side of the creepy, creaky, and mysterious but still want to be able to sleep at night.