You wake up alone, locked in an empty room. You lift up the phone from its cradle, and a scratchy voice intones, “All that you touch, you change.”
The message repeats, no matter how many times you try to use the phone. It’s flat. Insistent. Its cadence is off, like something trying to sound human.
So begins Cube Escape: Seasons, the first in a series of surreal horror games set around, and beneath, Rusty Lake. On the surface, the Cube Escape games are lovely, pastel escape rooms. Haunting music plays as you explore. You find objects while exploring each room, and you figure out how they work together.
The deeper you explore, the more unsettling things seem. The Woman first appears in Cube Escape: Seasons, and you play from her point of view. But time is tricky, and you see hints that something terrible has happened to you. That voice comes through the phone again, but this time it says, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
And yet, Cube Escape: Case 23 opens with The Woman’s bloody corpse.
The Rusty Lake games are set in the same mysterious place as the Cube Escape games, and they build on the story. The denizens of Rusty Lake – shrimp, snails, fish, other creatures – show up in unlikely places, often with secrets to reveal. There are mystical forces at work, and people trying to exploit them. Rusty Lake: Roots follows generations of a family on the lake, and the artwork is dark and gorgeous.
The scores of Cube Escape and Rusty Lake fully immerse you in the world. Game play is almost soothing, set to a melancholy soundtrack. Machinery churns. Lake water laps against buildings. You are lulled into the dreamlike story, until music crashes around you, terrifying things happen, and you scramble to escape.
If you see a disembodied hand, reach out.
If you see a cube, take it, but know you’ll likely be changed forever.
Cube Escape and Rusty Lake games were created by Rusty Lake, an Amsterdam-based indie game studio whose goal is to become the “Twin Peaks of gaming.” The Cube Escape games are free on iOS, Android, and online. Rusty Lake: Hotel and Rusty Lake: Roots are available at a low cost.