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Rusty Lake: Roots review: A grim sequel for one of 2016's best gaming surprises

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 31, 2016
You can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family

As with Rusty Lake Hotel, the standard (and rather simple) adventure game puzzles are augmented here by a dash of the odd. In the nature of the room escape genre—from which Rusty Lake draws most of its DNA—puzzles are of the “Square Peg Square Hole” variety. You find a key, it opens a lock. You find scissors, they cut. You find a shovel, it digs up dirt.

Rusty Lake: Roots

But the outcome of these simple actions is often anything but. Perhaps opening the lock reveals a hand nailed to the wall, or you use the scissors to snip the umbilical cords from a set of triplets, or the shovel to dig up graves. Rusty Lake: Roots is one part ominous, one part absurd. It’s constantly prodding at some strange gray realm in between, to great effect.

Some of the puzzles in Roots are admittedly not up to par. The “Six Frogs” puzzle makes an appearance, which I imagine is the puzzle game version of a standup comedian asking about airplane food. And the final final puzzle (which comes after solving some other optional puzzles) is about as frustrating as it is broad. Too much experimentation combined with too much repetition makes for a dull time.

There’s also ample evidence that Rusty Lake: Roots is intended for tablets, not PC. There’s quite a bit of “Click-And-Drag,” both in puzzles and exploration, and none of it works too well. I would’ve especially appreciated being able to pan the camera back and forth in rooms using the arrow keys instead of clicking and dragging the screen itself.

Oh, and it’s built in Flash. Icky.

Rusty Lake: Roots

But if you can look past those failings, Rusty Lake: Roots offers something wholly unique and fascinating. It’s got such a clear sense of identity, such a specific style and tone, such a refreshing grasp of symbolism in a medium that generally relies on surface-level storytelling. The puzzle solving is what guides you, gives you purpose, but it’s morbid curiosity that keeps you going. “What’s wrong with this family?”, “What messed up thing will happen next?”, and most of all “Who the hell is this creepy crow-man?”

I guess I’ll eagerly await the next sequel.

Bottom line

Rusty Lake: Roots is an excellent follow-up to Rusty Lake Hotel—grander, grimmer, and more gruesome than ever. The Rusty Lake games are quickly carving out a niche as my favorite point-and-click series of the modern era, with a bold confidence underpinning their unconventional and inventive world. I highly recommend picking up the pair for a night or two of surreal horror.


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