The scariest part is not knowing what the hell you’re doing
You begin on a boat in the middle of a vast body of water. Rain pours down as thunder cracks in the distance and lightning strikes repeatedly. You have no indication as to how you have come to be here, but as you read the note from your nameless partner who has already explored the area, you learn that something is very wrong. When your watercraft reaches dry land and an ominous feeling of dread overtakes you, one thing is certain—Indigo Lake is not a normal place.
Armed with only a pistol and your wits, you must traverse from cabin to cabin in what must have been a rather charming locale once upon a time. Perhaps children played here by the shore of Indigo Lake as their fathers barbequed and their mothers relaxed on the porches of the rustic wooden cabins. Those days are long gone, however, and a mysterious trail of notes and laptops begin to shed light on the chilling facts. Those who dwelled here began to commit suicide in alarming numbers as the spirit of a young girl terrorized the area. With each cabin you discover, information left by your nameless partner reveals more of the story. The inhabitant of this cabin hung himself; those who lived in that cabin jumped from a bridge to their death. Heart attacks, gunshot wounds and on and on and on…
All the while, the spirit is nipping at your heels and supernatural phenomena serves to intimidate and disorient. Crates, pianos, and beds hang in mid-air as you make your way forward. The girl even appears from time to time, seemingly toying with you. It’s almost as if she can sense the moment your heart finally starts to beats slower and you think you’ll be okay, and then she shows her ghastly face or screams an ear-piercing scream from someplace in the distance.
From an atmospheric standpoint, Indigo Lake is one of the scarier games to release on any platform in some time. As the survival horror genre leans further and further toward more action-oriented experiences in a bid to up accessibility, many similar titles have ditched the jump scares and resource management for semi-spooky monster enemies and an experience that seems to underestimate a certain cross-section of gamers’ love of fright. Indigo Lake, however, showcases developer 3 Cubes Research LTD’s attempts to revisit the roots of the genre. You’re given very little information and tension mounts with each step you take. Even the sound design serves to create a feeling of unease, from the inexplicable disembodied whispers in the distance, to the shriek of the young girl: a sound that will reach into your very soul and ruin your life forever. Monuments and landmarks emit bizarre sounds as well, and the ever-imposing cacophony of rainfall is your constant, unsettling companion.
But this is where the excitement ends. Once you have acclimated to your surroundings and the initial shock of ghostly happenings wears off, you are left with an endlessly frustrating experience. Certainly no gamer likes for a game to be basically played for them, but a little more information would have been nice to go on. At a certain point, there is literally no clue as to what you must do next. Info left by your partner and suicide notes left by the former inhabitants of Indigo Lake provide vague clues such as “The key is missing,” but when you’ve walked or driven the entirety of the path from where you began to any number of locked doors, the rage begins to set in. You start to think about why the survival horror genre has evolved, and even though it might be a little easier than the days of the original Resident Evil, nobody likes to spend their gaming experience in an endless loop of irritating backtracking wondering if there was some small clue they missed.
Controls are assigned to an invisible virtual button/joystick configuration, and other than having the ability to invert the Y-axis and adjust sensitivity (thank you, developer 3 Cubes, sincerely!), the jerky frame rate and unfortunate glitchy moments often stand in the way of what might have been a more fluid experience. Aiming and shooting at floating crates that serve to knock you down usually results in a frantic misfire, which might be a drag if you didn’t stop and think about how flying crates are the most immediate danger you’ve faced in something like 2 hours of gameplay. Eventually things do grow scarier and things start to happen; it’s just that these events will be hard to reach for more casual gamers. In other words, unless you’re very familiar with the landscape of gaming and how certain conventions and concepts thread throughout them regardless of genre, you’re going to spend a lot of time running back and forth from cabin to cabin, cursing the day this game was born.
That said, Indigo Lake is certainly a beautiful game. Everything from the spooky cabins and lush forest, to your weapon and the spirit of the deceased young girl is rendered with care. This is a title that wouldn’t be out of place as an indie download on console or PC. Lighting, physics, driving, and gunplay are all very well done from a technical aspect. Yes, this serves for a greater sense of immersion, but the aforementioned issues overshadow whatever development accomplishments may have otherwise been worth celebrating.
One of the cooler aspects of Indigo Lake is its picture-in-picture functionality. This allows your front camera to record your face as you play and results in quite a few laughs. During moments of high-stress or unspeakable horror, the look on your face is often priceless. This doesn’t necessarily add to anything, but it’s a thoughtful touch that even adds to the scares when you forget you had activated it and you notice a giant, disembodied head floating in space. I absolutely freaked out more than a few times before recalling I was just looking at myself.
Good looks can sometimes hide an otherwise lacking package, and despite Indigo Lake‘s fantastic graphics, killer sound design, and chilling environments, it cannot overcome its aimless nature. There are games that consistently propel us forward with interesting storytelling, sharp mechanics, and exciting atmosphere; and whereas 3 Cubes has absolutely nailed these things, an overall lack of structure holds this title back from true greatness. Hardcore gamers will certainly be able to sink their teeth into Indigo Lake and enjoy an edge-of-your-seat experience, but anyone who is, perhaps, a more casual player will have trouble staying patient or tenacious enough to reach the real meat of the game.