In Lakeview Cabin, as a burly, orange mustached manly man, you can drink beer, get naked, and use an outhouse. You can also mow the lawn, chop some firewood, or hunt a deer for food. Docks on either side of a small, summer island let you take in the lake’s tranquility and contemplate skinny-dipping, which you ultimately can’t actually do, as hopping in the water just spits you right back out onto land. Boo to that. Birds and bugs provide a calm, predictable soundtrack one might expect to hear at such a place. Really, a faultless postcard-esque vacation spot–that is until the sun sets.
Controls are straightforward, mostly because this is a Flash game. You move around left to right with the arrow keys. Z picks up and drops items, while X uses an item or throws it if possible. From what I played and saw after about twenty or thirty minutes, there’s no story text or narration. You just do things until you can no longer do things, and sometimes you’ll die from walking into a bear trap twice, and other times a nightmarish monster–who I suspect is maybe our leading lumberjack’s dead wife or girlfriend–will hop out of the lake and finish the job. Then you press R to retry…or O to “summon her,” whatever that means. I was able to accomplish various tasks, like killing the deer after perfectly setting the bear trap down and then chasing the animal into it, but never defeating the monster. Oh well.
Lakeview Cabin begins more like a puzzle game than anything else. I spent my first day/night cycle just interacting with everything I could, seeing how I could use items I interacted worked with other items. Such as filling up a bucket with water or using the axe to cut a wire in half, exposing electric danger. I also frustratingly stared at items I couldn’t get, like a key and shotgun. Nothing is immediately clear, and only through experimentation and retrying will you progress, but that’s kind of the name of the genre. Do what you must to survive; do anything.
I find lake-based horror to be very effective. Maybe there was a moment from my childhood that I’m just not ready to deal with personally and publicly, but I find the isolation and restriction to be the most crippling aspect of the ordeal, the most traumatizing. Truth be told, I’d rather run from a monster in the woods or even a building, but on a small island you have nowhere to go but underwater. Over the years, I’ve read a good number of Stephen King books and short stories, but Bag of Bones has stuck with me the most, as it is based around an author with writer’s block sequestering himself at his vacation house on Dark Score Lake. The movie What Lies Beneath, which I saw in Las Vegas all by my lonesome as a young lad, has some very effective scenes set around a lakeside home. Also, you can see me writing about this fear of mine in “The Feet Eaters”, a short story published back in…oh, January 2007. The page seems gone from the Aberrant Dreams website, so maybe I should get around to reprinting it on my own sooner than later. But yeah: horror and lakes. Much as I don’t want them to, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.
I think developer Roope Tamminen has made something special here and could totally see Lakeview Cabin being expanded a bit–perhaps add an inventory to allow for multiple items and maybe some text-based guidance here and there–and put on Steam in the future. That’d be cool, even if I probably never survive past the first night. It’s a funny horror for sure, and one that doesn’t say everything it’s doing, which makes it simultaneously unnerving. Laugh while you die, I guess.