I’m kind of struggling in trying to describe Roope Tamminen’s game Lakeview Cabin Collection. It’s a horror game with an emphasis on gory slapstick comedy that still kind of manages to be genuinely disturbing. It’s a puzzle game where you need to kill extremely resilient enemies who resemble slasher villains. It’s a game with an interesting story that never says a word of dialogue or exposition. It’s fun to mess around with but frustrating to complete. It’s a lot of things, and because of that, it’s most certainly not for everyone. But it’s also extremely unique in the realm of gaming, and worth a look for people searching for something different.
Essentially a horror anthology in video game form, Lakeview Cabin Collection chronicles the fictitious movie series (surprise surprise) titled Lakeview Cabin. For the purposes of this full release, we actually have access to 3-6 in the series (the original two are flash games that, if I’m not mistaken, are available for free online).
Each game has its own storyline that connects to the others in a surprisingly expansive mythology that is rather intriguing in a silly, horror-franchise sort of way. Each game also offers up an entirely different experience, and each is jam-packed with secrets for adventurous players to find.
Perhaps the most infamous of the games in this collection is Lakeview Cabin 3. Not only was it the only episode available at release, but it’s also the most deceptively basic. A group of four teenagers is vacationing on an island. At first, the game seems rather slow. You control one teenager at a time, going around the small environment and interacting with the various objects in it. There’s beer to drink, which makes the screen go all wobbly. You can smoke weed if you want, or even have a no-holds-barred orgy in a surprisingly graphic depiction of fluid sexuality seen in the trashiest of horror movies (and believe it or not, doing so makes a key, that you need in order to access an important location, fall from a shelf).
Even though this environment is small, it’s jammed with things to find, and when night falls, you’ll discover their purposes one way or the other. See, the game wisely lets the player loose to experiment and demands that they make their own progress through repeated play-throughs. That’s because actually defeating the villain who shows up after a little bit is extremely difficult. There are plenty of ways to inflict damage on the enemy, but they take an almost comical amount of punishment. And, like any slasher movie, it’s not over when you think it is. Defeating the villain is just the first part. As we will come to see, this microenvironment sets the tone for the rest of the game- brilliantly detailed, and frustratingly cryptic.
The second game, Lakeview Cabin IV, riffs heavily on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You play as a band of women who take a back road as a short cut to their gig, but they run out of gas right near an eerie white mansion. Going inside reveals all manner of horror, and it’s here that the game really reveals the perverse edge it hides beneath its charming pixel graphics. While the first game had the aforementioned option to have an orgy if you wanted, it was still relatively straightforward fare for slasher fans. Here, though, everything is doubled down on.
You go through the mansion, but the way specific rooms are laid out is entirely random every time you play. The 2D plane means making a mental map of the mansion can be very tough, leading to a feeling of confused revulsion when you walk into one of the many gruesome rooms. In one room you find a few naked people bathing with some corpses, while in another a guy having sex with a gimp. All the while, the superb but minimalist sound design sells a sleazy and gross atmosphere.
From a structural standpoint, this one is a mixed bag. The above-mentioned horror elements are just nasty and really get under your skin, but the random layout each time you restart can be frustrating. Like the first game, this one is intended to be played over and over again until you get it just right. Getting close to surviving the family that lives in the mansion only to die at the last second from the guy in the pig mask who wields a chainsaw is immensely frustrating, but at the same time, surviving and finally beating the level is immensely satisfying. This one is even more open-ended than the previous and there are several side objectives that affect the ending you get. There are so many ways to survive that it’ll make your jaw drop (I used a dildo a few different times to fend off my attackers- it makes for a surprisingly resilient weapon).
The third game is perhaps the most brilliant, but also the most frustrating. On the surface, Lakeview Cabin V is a heavy riff on Halloween. You control several teenagers in an idyllic suburb on Halloween night, only to find out that there’s a mysterious man in a mask stalking you for reasons that are at first unclear. There’s a fantastic Halloween ambiance to everything, and it has moments that are legitimately terrifying, with lots of surprising story crammed in there for good measure. I would go as far as to say it has the most story development out of all the episodes. As you play further, you never know quite what to expect from this episode.
The problem is that this borrows heavily from the more obtuse adventure games from the ’90s in that puzzle logic is thrown out the window, to the point that I would say you should just use a walkthrough for this one. The story you get for progressing is solid, but there are solutions and hints that no sane person would ever even think of on their own, including killing characters in several different ways, which entirely goes against the survival philosophy of the first two titles. It’s rather frustrating, but extremely memorable as well.
The final game is Alien meets The Thing. Time has leaped forward and, like all long-running horror franchises, this one takes place in space. You can play as one of several different people throughout the ship, and ultimately your goal is to save as many people as possible from an impending alien threat. See, it turns out that there’s a shape-shifting alien on board, and you need to get people off the ship and blow it to kingdom come. Surprisingly, this one is the most like a traditional horror game, with the monster appearing at various points throughout the massive environment. It’s a very challenging sandbox, with an ending that totally jumps the shark, in a way that’ll likely make you scratch your head and want to go back and replay previous episodes in order to get a better grasp on what the overarching story is all about.
Lakeview Cabin Collection is a fascinating little game, with a subversively disturbing aesthetic and gameplay that can sometimes be a bit too cryptic. It’s clear that this was a passion project for Roope Tamminen from the level of detail given in each game. There are a ton of secrets to uncover and always more than one way to beat a level. In many ways, I love the game for being as unique and weird as it is, warts and all. In others, I think it could have used some refinement in nudging the player in the right direction. The sometimes obtuse nature of its puzzles and objectives means a lot of players will likely give up before too long. But those who stick with it are rewarded with a funny, surprisingly disturbing horror puzzle game with an in-depth narrative worth seeing through to its conclusion.
All images courtesy of the game’s Steam Page.