The world of Ridge rises from tales of UFO sightings and other paranormal activity in the Volgograd region of Russia–the Medveditskaya Ridge, specifically–a section of low hills known for that kind of phenomenon; the soil is saturated with radiation, and there is a network of underground tunnels, so it’s easy to see how this location and its urban legends have inspired lone Ridge creator Yakovlev Vladislav.
You will begin Ridge on the shore of a lake next to a short, steep hill. Soon after walking over that hill, your character will start to cough uncontrollably before he blacks-out. When you awake, you are in an alternate space, possibly another dimension. You turn around and see a rectangular wall in front of you with a large stone circle in the middle. Soft blue beams of light move around the circle and blend together. This place serves as your tutorial, but it’s not straight-forward. It’s easy to miss the short stone to your right with a rune embedded near the top, essential for getting through the first part of the tutorial. Once you find the rune, however, you can finish the tutorial quickly and dive into the game.
Basically, the combat consists of collecting runes from around the game, charging them at these stone walls, and using their power to fend off enemies. You have your “light” ability and your “armor” ability, both of which make a distinct sound different from the other when activated. You won’t see any visual effects to let you know these abilities are working, though, which can make knowing if you fended off an enemy’s attack difficult, leading you to waste rune charges; and it’s a tedious process to charge your runes.
While rune charging “stations” are plentiful, you can charge only one rune at a time, and it takes the station between 20 and 30 seconds to recharge so you can recharge your runes. If you have 10 runes, it can be upwards of five minutes just to charge you all of them so you can use your combat abilities. It’s also important to note that to save your progress in the game, you have to spend a rune; there’s no save option in the menu. While I planned my saves carefully, only spending one rune after I had charged all of them, I ran into problems when I left a cave and had to fight off enemies. My rune power depleted quickly, and I would often die before I could find my way to another cave. When I died, I started at my last save point and that was often far away from where I died. Save progress or keep runes to battle enemies? It’s a really unnecessary choice to force a player, especially with few runes, to make. It’s wasteful.
The enemies come in two forms: stationary and roaming. In some cleared areas you’ll find a large, red circle that will spawn a black hole if you approach too close. Others are floating red-pink balls and neon green diamonds, as well as toxic mist, but these will generally appear only when there is a lighting storm. To evade these enemies, you have to use a charged rune to employ either you light ability or armor ability, but another problem with this combat system is that it can take a lot of runes to “kill” an enemy. Pushing through thick mist requires you to hit your armor button multiple times, as it protects you for only about two seconds, and getting one of the glowing objects to dissipate can require three or four hits of your light button, compounded by the fact that you don’t ever see the damage you are inflicting.
There are a few in-game visual clues that (kind of) guide you from cave to cave as you search for more runes to add to your collection. There are rocks with painted exclamation marks and arrows, and notes from other people, even though you are completely alone in this world. However, these clues seem to more often misguide you rather than help you. For example, there is a road that cuts through (what I think is) the middle of the world. Usually, roads are something to be followed, something that tells the player, “Hey, this could lead somewhere important.” This is not the case in Ridge. The road spans from the side of a mountain to a river, and all you’ll find in between are red-pink killer orbs and suffocating blue-gray mist. You’ll need a lot of orbs to make it from one end of the road to the other, but if you stay alive, you’ll earn nothing as a reward. No soup for you!
The storyline comes in (kind of) through those same notes. Most provide tips (nothing that you already didn’t figure out), but some act like diary entries, telling you that this person who wrote the note spent the night in a car or that another travel companion went to get more wood to finish building a cabin. Whatever the case, there is no linear way to discover these notes and, as a result, the story is incredibly disjointed and seemingly without purpose. For most of Ridge, you will wander without any idea of what you need to accomplish. This is fine for some, but many people want (and need) direction, otherwise they will disengage quickly.
The game’s strongest point is the beautiful piano music that accompanies throughout. However, there is a jarring part about one of the songs. Image you have just emerged from a cave. A storm has passed, and the sun breaks through the rain clouds. Slow music kicks in, its dark tone contrasting against the cheerful scenery. You recognize the song, and you start singing “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.” Flashbacks of holiday seasons as a kid being forced to perform for all the parents at your school’s annual Christmas show come flooding back. And just like that, you are completely taken out the game. The dark version of that song in the game is gorgeous, but I don’t think any one would expect to hear Jingle Bells in a game based on urban legends. As a result, that song fits oddly into Ridge.
Ultimately, a clunky combat system, lack of a practical save feature, and a near non-existent story can make enjoying Ridge a major struggle.
Ridge was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer/Publisher: Yakovlev Vladislav | Genre: First-person, open world, adventure | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: June 30, 2016