Game Review: “Varney Lake” (PC, Consoles)
I just finished up playing Varney Lake,* the follow-up to Chorus Worldwide’s previous game, Mothmen 1966. First things first, you certainly do not need to have played Mothmen 1966 to enjoy Varney Lake, but for those who have already played through it, you will definitely get some extra satisfaction in seeing how the two are intertwined.
Just like Mothmen before it, Varney Lake is an interactive story told through the perspectives of multiple characters at different points in their lives. Aesthetically, it looks like one of those 1980’s computers, and certainly aims to evoke some nostalgia from those who enjoyed those types of games from back in that era. If you weren’t around for the 80’s and have a curiosity about how games played back then, or at least – How should I put it? – Whether you can find enjoyment in games with less than ten colors on the screen, then there is an eerie, yet enjoyable story to experience with Varney Lake.
Speaking of the graphics, even with so few colors on screen, the art in this game is quite impressive. When capturing screenshots for this review, I wound up with more images than I have for almost any other game I have reviewed previously, and that says a lot for a visual mystery novel. Varney Lake’s art style definitely sets the tone for the game and the overall plot as it unfolds. Considering that the whole story is referencing the past, the retro aesthetic does feel more authentic in a way.
Sound wise, there really isn’t anything to write home about. There is a staple sound effect for text filling in each screen, and an occasional “computer sounding” frog croak or fireworks or some other environmental sounds. As for music, there’s little more than a “duh-dum” here or there for emphasis in certain scenes. I imagine many of you might decide to play your own soundtrack while visiting Varney Lake (as I chose to try), but I noticed that when cranking my own music over the creaks and blips in in the game, I was much more immersed into the game when I turned off the lights and had nothing but the game sounds playing over my speakers.
The “game” itself is mostly just scrolling through the story, however, you are sometimes presented with a choice to make. Sometimes your choice is permanent and advances the story, and other times, you are allowed to answer with one of the other choices to see the reaction for every decision. If you’ve played Mothmen, or any other visual novel… or read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, then you know what to expect for the most part. There is a card game, and a few other puzzles to give you a chance to break things up a bit, but by time the last “matchstick puzzle” came up, I was already sick of them. Not that I don’t enjoy a good Mensa test every now and then, but this one was just a variation of the same puzzle multiple times over. Oh, and speaking of the matchstick puzzle, my one real nit-pick of the game is that I wish you could use your mouse pointer to pick up and drop the matches you want to play. Scrolling through each stick to get to the one you want got old much quicker as a result. Seeing that nobody is playing a visual novel for the deep gameplay, I don’t think the “mini-games” really get in the way too much, and they do feel like they fit in with the story as it is unfolding.
Like Mothmen before it, the atmosphere and story are really where it’s at in Varney Lake. There are moments that catch you off guard, and I got pretty angry at the developers once. I don’t want to spoil anything, but they “got me” with one of the game’s twists early on. While it isn’t really a “scary” game, Varney Lake does create a certain mood of uneasiness, and some dark moments that may be off-putting to the more easily off-puttable (?) player. However, if you are like me and look forward to the Halloween season each year simply for the ambiance, then Varney Lake is going to be right up your alley.
Seeing that Varney Lake is a visual novel, and a fairly short one at that (I got through it in about three hours), I don’t want to go too much into a story analysis. Instead, I’ll sum it up without spoiling anything- it’s really the story about three kids whose lives are greatly altered because of the choices they made when they decided to visit Varney Lake in the summer. During this visit to Varney Lake, there are a few times when I scratched my head as far as the “forced” part of the story, but generally, I was able to immerse in the moments and maintain a wonder of “what’s next” in the stories of these children.
With Varney Lake’s branching narratives and different choices, there is a little bit of replay value in trying to see the story evolve from different angles. Plus, there are some unlockable wallpapers for achievements, too, and some hidden scenes to be discovered, so kudos to the developers for giving the game a little extra to keep it from being a “once-and-done” kind of thing. I probably won’t play it again until Halloween time… along with Mothmen 1966, too, to get that “Sonic 3 + Sonic & Knuckles” kind of 1, 2 punch. That being said, I am looking forward to revisiting Varney Lake and reinvestigating these tales once more when it’s colder outside, and when the season for creepy games is upon us once again!
Varney Lake is now available via Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and Steam PC.
*Disclosure: A Steam PC download of Varney Lake was provided to The Splintering for the purposes of this review.
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